You are currently viewing Editorial: A Look Back in History – United Kingdom Hosting 🇬🇧

In its 67 year history, the United Kingdom is the country which holds the record for hosting the Eurovision Song Contest the most number of times. With the 2023 contest being hosted in Liverpool this year, the UK will have hosted a whopping 9 editions! Let’s take a look back at the history of the UK as a Eurovision host country.

1960 – London – The UK’s debut as hosts

The United Kingdom’s first time hosting the Eurovision Song Contest came in 1960 however not due to the UK having won the contest in the previous year. The Netherlands won in 1959 with the song Een beetje, performed by Teddy Scholten, however they declined to host the contest again so soon after hosting in 1957 so the honour fell to the United Kingdom who placed 2nd that year – the first of many second place finishes to come!

The BBC chose to hold the contest at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank – what is now known as the Southbank Centre. It had space for nearly 3000 spectators and was the largest venue used to host the contest to date. On Tuesday 29 March 1960, 13 countries competed with Norway making its debut at the contest. Katie Boyle had the honour of hosting the opening and the exciting voting sequence displaying the jury votes from each participating country. Under the system used for voting from 1957-1961, 10 jury members per country gave points from 1-10 to their favourite songs.

Staging was simple in comparison with today’s shows and featured an orchestra situated in the orchestra pit at the front of the stage. The scoreboard was operated manually with people changing the scores by hand as the votes were announced from each country, again very different in comparison to the contest we know today. France secured their second victory at the contest with the song Tom Pillibi, performed by Jacqueline Boyer gaining a total of 32 points. The contest was largely seen as a hosting success by the BBC with the UK entry Looking High, High, High by Bryan Johnson finishing in second place.

Eurovision 1960 stage, orchestra and scoreboard inside the Royal Festival Hall. Photo: BBC/EBU

1963 – London – The Controversial Contest!

It wasn’t long after 1960 that the United Kingdom got its second chance to host the Eurovision Song Contest when France who had won the 1962 edition declined to host the following year in 1963 citing financial difficulties. The United Kingdom despite only finishing in fourth place in 1962 was asked to host the contest and the BBC stepped up to organise the 8th edition of Europe’s favourite TV show.

Eurovision 1963 Logo BBC

The show was held in the BBC Television Centre in London on Saturday 23 March 1963. From this year onward the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest has always been held on a Saturday! Television Centre is still in use today and is easily one of the most recognisable buildings in London having played host to many different BBC shows and programmes across the years.

The BBC decided to try something different with the presentation of the contest this year in a never before seen method of having the audience, presenter and scoreboard in an entirely separate studio to the performers. Acts were able to have their own individual staging designs for the first time ever instead of everyone performing their song in front of the same backdrop the host had provided. Unfortunately this sparked some controversy that the songs were not being performed live as people believed that due to the scenery change between each song, it could not be possible. This was later proved as a false accusation.

The artists performed on a stage in studio TC4 (Television Centre 4) accompanied by an orchestra which was tradition. Katie Boyle returned to host the contest again for a second time overseeing the proceedings from studio TC3 (Television Centre 3) where the audience and scoreboard were located. A total of 16 countries competed to win. In 1963 the voting procedure was altered slightly from the previous year. Jury members from each country awarded points from 1-5 to their favourite songs.

Controversy struck yet again in this edition, this time during the voting sequence. The Norwegian spokesperson, Roald Øyen was still counting the votes from the jury members when Katie Boyle connected with him to receive the points! In panic Øyen revealed a set of incorrect points resulting in the wrong totals on the scoreboard. The Norwegian spokesperson was asked to return to give the correct points from Norway at the end to allow time for the result to be properly calculated. Once all other votes were counted, Switzerland was in the lead, however when Boyle returned to Norway to receive the correct result, the points awarded to Switzerland changed stealing the win away from them at the last second and instead making Denmark the eventual winner with 42 points! This was Denmark’s first victory in the contest.

Despite the controversy, the BBC set an example for what could be achieved in a live event with the innovative scenery design for each country, something which is commonplace in today’s contest.

1968 – London – The First Contest to be Broadcast in Colour

Performing barefoot on the stage at the Großer Festsaal der Wiener Hofburg in Vienna in 1967, Sandie Shaw secured the United Kingdom’s first ever win at the contest with the song Puppet on a String. This gave the UK the opportunity to host for the first time in its own right in 1968. Puppet on a String went on to become a huge success for Sandie Shaw across Europe and the UK gladly took on the challenge of hosting the 13th Eurovision Song Contest the following year.

Notably, this was the first contest to be broadcast in colour by various countries, despite many viewers not owning a colour TV set. Hosting for the first time after their own win the BBC pulled out all the stops choosing the world famous Royal Albert Hall as the venue to showcase the event and securing none other than Cliff Richard to represent the United Kingdom. Cliff Richard was an established and very successful artist at this time and was seen as an odds on favourite to take the win on home ground with his song Congratulations.

Now well established as a Eurovision host, Katie Boyle returned once again to oversee the proceedings in what was sure to be an exciting show. 17 countries performed on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall on 6 April 1968 with the notable absence of Denmark who had withdrawn the previous year. The stage featured a backdrop of the classic Eurovision logo, a smaller podium on one side for backing singers and the orchestra was set to the front of the stage. For the voting, each participating country had a jury comprised of 10 members with each jury member awarding one point to their favourite song.

Voting was very tense throughout with a mistake in the Yugoslavian jury’s points leading to the incorrect number of points being awarded to Switzerland however this was corrected when the spokesperson was asked to read the results again. In the end Spain triumphed taking the win by just one point with the song La La La by Massiel. The UK’s Cliff Richard finished in second place with 28 points – the UK’s sixth second place finish. Congratulations went on to be a huge success for Cliff reaching number 1 in many countries across the world firmly cementing its place in Eurovision history.

1972 – Edinburgh – Hosting outside London for the first time

The principality of Monaco won for the first time ever in 1971 and was therefore given the opportunity to host the contest in 1972 however they faced issues finding a venue that was suitable to host the event. The country had plans to host Eurovision as an open air event but also encountered financial difficulty when organising the contest. After unsuccessfully seeing help from French broadcaster ORTF, Monaco declared they could not host and it was up to the EBU to make a decision on the future of the 1972 contest. Ultimately, second and third place finishers Spain and Germany declined to host so the UK (who had finished fourth) stepped in once again to save the day and host the contest.

For the 1972 contest the BBC chose to host outside of London for the very first time brining the 17th edition of the contest to Edinburgh in Scotland. Usher Hall was selected as the venue to welcome 18 competing countries, the equal highest number of competing countries at the time. Ballet dancer Moira Shearer was chosen to host the event. The BBC used the opportunity to showcase Edinburgh with opening footage showing various historic buildings around the city, its architecture and history. The interval act showed footage of Edinburgh’s famous Military Tattoo from Edinburgh Castle. The BBC Radio Orchestra opened the contest by playing a reprise of the previous year’s winner Un Banc, Un Arbre, Une Rue.

The stage featured a large projection screen at the back which showed title cards and a photo of each act before they took to the stage. It was also used later in the show and played a prominent part in the voting sequence. Whilst the scoreboard was physically located in the Usher Hall, the jury members were situated in Edinburgh Castle’s Great Hall and their points as they voted were transmitted live to the Usher Hall and shown on the screen for the audience to see. As the points were announced, the scoreboard was updated.

The method of voting had changed yet again since the last time the UK voted. In this edition, each country was only represented by two jurors. One had to be between the ages of 16 and 25 while the other had to be aged between 26 and 55. Each jury member awarded points from 1 to 5 for each competing song. Thankfully there were no controversies surrounding the voting which went smoothly. Luxembourg had a commanding lead throughout and won the contest with the song Après toi by Vicky Leandros finishing with 128 points. The United Kingdom finished yet again in second place – the 8th time finishing in this position!

1974 – Brighton – The Year That Introduced ABBA to the World

The UK’s fifth time hosting the contest came when Luxembourg declined to host the contest again after their consecutive wins in 1972 and 1973. Broadcaster RTL gave financial reasons as the explanation for why they could not host. Now well established as backup hosts, the EBU awarded the contest to the Untied Kingdom.

The popular seaside city of Brighton was chosen as the host city for the contest, the second time the UK had decided to host outside of London. The Brighton Dome, an arts venue built in the 17th century was chosen as the venue. Two years prior to Eurovision coming to Brighton, Pink Floyd had used the space to premier their album, The Dark Side of the Moon. The BBC would go on to make use of the venue again in 2018 as the setting for the national final Eurovision: You Decide.

In an unprecedented fourth appearance as host, Katie Boyle took to the stage on 6th April 1974 to open the contest comprising of 17 participating countries. This would be the last time Boyle would host the contest and to this day she holds the record for hosting the Eurovision Song Contest the most times.

Greece made their debut with the song ‘Krasi, thalassa ke t’ agori mou’ by Marinella. Unfortunately due to the death of president Georges Pompidou in the week leading up to the contest, France withdrew from the competition. 1964 winner Gigliola Cinquetti returned to the contest to represent Italy. The United Kingdom was represented by Olivia Newton John who had her song chosen for her by the British public in a televised selection show.

The voting method was yet again changed reverting back to juries for each country consisting of 10 members. This system was last used in 1970 and each jury member awarded one point each to their favourite songs. For the first time, a random draw was used to determine the order in which the points would be announced by the juries.

The show was broadcast live in all participating countries with the exception of Italy who declined due to a political referendum on divorce being held in the country around the time of the contest. Gigliola Cinquetti’s song ‘Si‘ (translated as the Italian word for ‘yes’) was felt by the Italian broadcaster that it could possibly influence the result of the vote. They also declined to broadcast Gigliola’s song on television and radio there until after the referendum was complete.

Sweden, represented by ABBA won the contest for the first time with the song Waterloo, a song which would go on to be one of the most famous entries in Eurovision history. Already an established band in Sweden, the song contest helped to catapult ABBA to international fame and success. The UK’s Olivia Newton John finished fourth with the song Long Live Love.

1977 – London – The Year Affected by Strikes

Eurovision returned to London in 1977 following the UK’s win in 1976 by Brotherhood of Man with Save You Kisses For Me. This was the UK’s third win at Eurovision but only their second time hosting after a win the previous year. In 1969 an unprecedented 4-way tie between the United Kingdom, Spain, France and The Netherlands left the EBU in a very grey area with no rules in place to break a tiebreak between countries. As such, all four countries were delcared as joint winners. As the UK and Spain had hosted in recent years, France and The Netherlands were the only two countries in contention to host in 1970 with the host being decided by a random ballot.

1977 was a tough year for the BBC. Strikes were taking place by camera operators and studio technicians which meant the contest had to be postponed. It was originally due to take place on 2 April but instead took place 5 weeks later once the strikes had ended. This led to the contest being hosted in the month of May for the very first time. The strikes also led to there being no postcards at the contest between the acts due to no staff being available to create them. Instead, live shots of the audience were shown between songs.

The Wembley Conference Centre played host to the 22nd edition which saw the legendary Angela Rippon make her debut as a Eurovision host. 18 countries participated with Sweden returning to the contest after an absence and Yugoslavia withdrawing. Tunisia was set to debut but later withdrew. The venue had space for 2500 people and was situated in the heart of London next to Wembley Arena up until 2006 when it was demolished to make space for another development.

The national language rule, which meant that countries had to enter a song in their native language, was reintroduced to the contest this year. Exceptions were made for Germany and Belgium who were allowed to sing in English as they had already decided their songs prior to the rule being brought back. The 12 – 1 point system that we are so used to was also in use at this contest having been introduced in 1975. This scoring system would be used for the next 40 years before being dramatically changed in 2016 and would give us the iconic ‘douze points’ phrase that we know and love.

Despite the strikes and the delay to the event, the show was a success for the BBC. France took their fifth win at the Eurovision Song Contest with the song L’Oiseau Et L’Enfant performed by Marie Myriam and gaining 136 points. This would be France’s last win at the contest having not won since. The UK took a record breaking 10th second place finish. It would be another five years before the UK would host again.

1982 – Harrogate – They’re hosting Eurovision where?!

With their iconic choreography involving a now infamous costume change, Bucks Fizz brought the win home for the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981 allowing the UK to host for a record breaking 7th time in 1982.

Thinking slightly outside of the box and taking most people by surprise, the BBC elected to host the 27th Eurovision Song Contest in none other than the northern English town of Harrogate in Yorkshire! Not being a major city, this led to many across Europe asking the question “Where exactly is Harrogate?”. In homage to this and to introduce the English Spa Town to the world, the contest featured an opening sequence with the question “Where is Harrogate?” translated into the languages of all 18 participating countries.

Image from the 1982 opening sequence showing ‘Where is Harrogate?’ in French Photo: BBC

The Harrogate International Centre was chosen as the venue for the contest with the Eurovision Song Contest being the first ever event to be held in the 2000 seat auditorium. Postcards in this edition introduced each country’s commentator to the world with the camera zooming in to the respective commentary booth accompanied by the flag and national anthem of the participating country. Artists were then seen exploring the host town, a tradition which has been replicated by broadcasters in future years’ postcards.

After 27 participations, Germany took their first ever win with the song Ein Biβchen Frieden performed by Nicole, who became at the time the youngest ever winner of Eurovision at only 17 years old. When it was time for the winner’s reprise of her song, Nicole surprise everyone by singing the entry in four different languages, German, English, French and Dutch. This was an incredible moment in Eurovision history really leaning into the ethos of the contest which is about uniting nations through peace, unity and music. The audience rose to their feet to applaud this wonderful moment.

1998 – Birmingham – A Historic Win for Equality

16 years after last hosting, the Eurovision Song Contest had evolved embracing new styles of music and technological advances in Television. In this period, the UK had 4 more second place finishes and then managed a 5th win in 1997 at the Pointe Theatre in Dublin when Katrina and The Waves stunned Europe with the song Love Shine a Light. ‘Love Shine a Light’ set the record at the time for the most points ever awarded to a song in the final with 227 points.

For the 43rd Eurovision Song Contest, the BBC chose Birmingham as the host city. The contest had come a long way from the small theatres and auditoriums of the past with broadcasters opening up to using larger sets, bigger stages and bigger venues so more spectators could attend. The BBC really took the opportunity to go big choosing a large venue, the National Indoor Arena, as the setting for the show. A large stage was constructed in the arena with video screens for the audience and the green room was located behind the stage. A large press centre was also built to accommodate journalists from all over the world. Eurovision had evolved into a truly worldwide event.

Technological advances allowed the scoreboard to be shown on screen as had been introduced a few yeas prior. Video links also allowed each jury spokesperson to be seen on TV during the voting sequence.

TV & radio giant and also UK Eurovision commentator Terry Wogan was chosen alongside established TV personality Ulrikke Johnson to host the contest.

By this point the Eurovision was so popular, more and more countries wanted to enter the contest. The EBU had concerns that the shows would be too long and so introduced rules to limit the number of participating countries. In 1998 the relegation rules were still in place meaning each country’s five year average of points were calculated. The countries with the lowest averaged scores over the last five years were relegated for one year. As such, in 1998, Belgium, Finland, Israel, Romania and Slovakia returned after being relegated. Macedonia also made their debut while Italy withdrew from the contest indefinitely.

Terry Wogan had a dual role providing commentary and also hosting the evening as a presenter. Imaani represented the UK and was the first black artist to represent the country. In technological advances, the 1998 contest introduced watermarks to the live broadcast showing the country’s name and position in the running order during their performance. This has been an integral part of the broadcast every year since.

The 43rd contest provided one of the most thrilling voting sequences ever seen in a Eurovision final. Televoting was rising in popularity and was in use in some countries allowing viewers to have a say. Other countries continued to use national juries comprised of 16 members. Voting was intense with three clear favourites, the United Kingdom’s Imaani with the song Where Are You?, Dana International from Israel with the song, Diva and Chiara from Malta with the song The One That I Love.

The last set of points to be announced were from the Macedonian jury and a winner had still not been decided. It was not possible for the UK to win but it was all to play for between Malta and Israel. In a nail biting finale, Macedonia gave no points at all to Malta but 8 points to Israel and 10 to the UK giving Israel enough to secure victory by a narrow margin of 6 points! The UK also moved into second place beating Malta by just one point to take the UK’s 15th second place finish.

Dana International was the first LGBTQ+ and openly trans singer to win the Eurovision Song Contest in what was seen as a huge show of support. Her selection was seen as largely controversial by many figures and groups in Israel so to win the contest was a huge victory. Changing into a specially designed outfit by Jean-Paul Gaultier which caused a large delay to the production in which Terry Wogan and Ulrikke Johnson had to fill time, Dana took to the stage for her winner’s reprise in what was a triumph for Israel. Dana International would go on to represent Israel again in 2011.

2023 – Liverpool – United by Music

The 67th Eurovision Song Contest takes place on Saturday 13th May 2023 with the UK hosting the contest in Liverpool in behalf of war torn Ukraine who won the contest in 2022. This is the first contest to be held in the United Kingdom in 25 years and will be the ninth time Eurovision has come to the UK. The BBC has chosen Liverpool as the host city due to its strong links with Ukraine being twinned with the Ukrainian city of Odessa. The M&S Bank Arena will play host the the three live shows hosted by Alesha Dixon, Graham Norton, Hannah Waddingham, and Julia Sanina.

The BBC have thrown themselves full force into hosting the 67th Edition and we are all looking forward to seeing everything they have in store for a fantastic Eurovision week!

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