Martin Faulkner’s post on ESCGo efficiently covers my thoughts about Terry Wogan in relation to Eurovision. Martin’s balanced assessment highlights some of the ways Terry caused friction amongst us hardcore fans, of which I now happily consider myself part of the fringes. But like him, I can see what Terry achieved with the programme.
My earliest memories of Terry are of long dusty drives to Park Croft School spent listening to him on Radio 2 in the morning as a kid in the late seventies. I always found Radio 2 lacking back then: something my parents listened to to fill the silence but not necessarily to be entertained by. I assumed, because I never heard them laugh out loud, that they weren’t really engaged by it. It all sounded very grown up. All very dusty. Not really for me. Inevitably, I now realise that their silence in the car was an illustration of his appeal. I was just too young to realise it at the time.
Where Wogan fizzed was at Eurovision. It was his commentary of the ’85 Eurovision that really hooked me in. A few years after I’d figured out that live entertainment TV was the legitimate excuse for staying up past my bedtime, Terry’s commentary for Sweden’s triumphantly stylish production in 1985 was perfectly pitched, suitably respectful with just enough tongue irreverence. I recorded it on video and transferred the audio onto tape. I then listened to that tape until my tape player chewed it up.
For ten years or so, I know I could hear the enthusiasm he had for the contest. He underlined the grandness and unusualness of the show. But after that, he did get progressively gnarly as the years went by. There were some contests when his commentary was entirely at odds with my fascination (no, let’s say obsession) with the event. And that disappointed me a great deal. That’s when I started feeling like a bit of a freak for even watching it.
Just as with many popular events, what I appreciate about them isn’t necessarily what others do. So, I have to accept that in many ways, I’m probably not the target audience.
But, the Contest’s resurgence in popularity in the UK is, to my mind, a direct consequence of his commentaries which did embed a methodolgy of getting through each event in the minds of an entire generation. People who love it will have been introduced to it via Wogan. Eurovision’s ongoing popularity is, first and foremost, down to the audience’s appetite for it rather than any grand musical aspirations. Had Terry not pitched it right twenty years ago, I don’t think we’d still be watching now.