Victory may have once again fallen to France in 1962, but financial constrictions led to the winners declining the opportunity to host the show again. So it is that Eurovision’s victory-free eternal reserve team the United Kingdom step once more into the breach. They did a creditable job in 1960 when they filled in for The Netherlands, and once again Katie Boyle is brought in to act as mistress of ceremonies.
However, Ms Boyle’s reappearance proves to be one of the few elements of the contest to which the hosts applied an ‘if it ain’t broke…’ policy. 1963 is the most un-Eurovision Eurovision I’ve yet encountered. The most striking change is that the performers are in an entirely different auditorium from the audience – who must have felt fairly short-changed, as it’s not entirely clear what, if anything, they got to see for their trouble.
One of the most divisive innovations this year is the use of boom microphones – more commonly employed for studio-based TV drama and comedy – which gives the impression that the singers are lip syncing. As a result, the performances look more like early promo videos. On the plus side this makes them more visually interesting – there are actual sets and effects rather than the usual succession of fairly static performances. But it feels more like we’re watching a clip show than a singing competition, and the atmosphere is sadly bone dry. To this day some fans suspect that some if not all of the performances actually were lip synced, or at the very least pre-recorded. Needless to say, this was a formal experiment that was never again repeated.
On the plus side, this is by far the most starry lineup the contest has ever seen. At least five of the singers in this contest were or would subsequently become major stars. Interestingly, none of them took the gold tonight, although the voting would be the subject of some controversy. We’ll get to that later though…
David Jacobs provides British commentary again, revealing during the introduction that 75 million viewers were expected to tune in this year – the show is already a blockbusting success. Katie Boyle enters to an enthusiastic applause, providing a brisk introduction and announcing the artists. As in previous years, the artists walk on in appearance order for a quick bow before the performances begin. There’s a ‘hall of mirrors’ effect as they walk on which looks rather basic by today’s standards, but at least gives this section something of a visual hook.
Despite an underwhelming performance the previous year, Ronnie Carroll becomes the first artist to represent the United Kingdom twice. His last entry ‘Ring A Ding Girl‘ stiffed in the charts, but ‘Say Wonderful Things‘ has already become a substantial hit, so expectation of greater success must have been quite high.
Carroll is joined by three female vocalists who sit on a white staircase in the foreground, while the singer perches on a stool behind them. It really does seem as though the three women are lip syncing their vocals, which feels rather against the spirit of the contest. The song itself is a gentle ballad, less gimmicky than his last entry. It has a nice nostalgic melody, but isn’t terribly exciting. Listening to it makes me want to dig out a cosy knit sweater and take my departed grandmother to a Daniel O’Donnell concert. The song was a success, but I can’t imagine it was especially on-trend even in 1963.
One benefit of the studio format worth highlighting is the wider variety of camera shots, so even though Carroll’s performance doesn’t feature much movement, there’s enough going on for it to be watchable. The positioning of the girls is used to good effect to frame the singer, and there’s a gentle romance narrative added with one of the three women landing him a chaste kiss on the cheek at the end – though nothing to rival the Danish snogathon from 1957.
Ultimately, the song is pleasantly forgettable, though for obvious reasons well received in the hall. He matches his fourth position from the year before, but with a wider spread of points – 28 to the 10 he received last year. A fair effort from the hosts, but there are more serious contenders to come.
The Dutch entry – performed by Annie Palmen – is called Een speedoos (A Music Box), and appropriately enough the performance opens with a traditional music box jingle and an effect of the singer being flanked by two rotating dolls. Palmen has a slight look of Liza Minnelli about her, although sadly little of her zest. She performs her stately ballad with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, but the overall effect is rather chintzy and dull – with the music box gimmick only underlining the impression. For the second year in a row, The Netherlands face the indignity of the dreaded ‘nul points’.
Heidi Brühl was already a popular star when she represented Germany with ‘Marcel‘ – and she brings a much appreciated dose of youthful energy to proceedings. She has a very slight song to work with, but she gives it an enthusiastic performance, dressed in a fairly daring (for 1963) glittering halter-neck. Musically it isn’t dissimilar to the perky Swedish entries of recent years, and it’s equally overlooked by voters, with a paltry 5 points landing Germany in 9th place. Brühl sadly died of Breast Cancer in 1991 aged just 49, having spent time in America and branched out into acting and stage work.
Austria have previously delivered little of particular interest in the contest, but this year they make a small bit of Eurovision history. Not by winning – Vielleicht geschieht ein Wunder (Maybe a Miracle Will Happen) only finishes 7th – but by pioneering the now common practice of performing a song in dual languages to appeal to a broader audience. In line with the rules, the song – performed by Israeli vocalist Carmela Corren – is predominantly in German, but a verse and chorus of English is also included.
Corren sings well and sports an impressive beehive, and the song has some nice little musical surprises, with jazzy flourishes where you wouldn’t necessarily expect them. It has a seductive, slightly Italian quality to it. Not exactly catchy, but it’s a very likeable little piece that I came to enjoy more and more each time I heard it. Slightly underrated, I feel. A definite highlight of the evening – which you can’t often say of Austria.
Norway next, with Solhverv a fairly standard chanson performed by Anita Thallug. It ticks every box – attractive, talented singer, wistful parted lovers vibe, big orchestral finish to create an entirely unearned sense of occasion – but nothing really sticks. The song was originally due to be performed by Nora Brockstedt, who would have been making her third Eurovision appearence, but prior engagements meant she had to pass the mantle to Thallug. She dodged a bullet, as the song became Norway’s first nul-pointer, of which they’d pick up another three to date to hold the unwelcome title of most non-scoring entries of any nation.
Italy had a habit of sending big stars to the contest in the early years, and this remains the case in 1963. Emilio Pericoli had already enjoyed a top 5 hit in America and around the world with his reading of ‘Al Di La‘, which was actually a fifth-placed Eurovision entry for Betty Curtis in 1961. He also made the first recording of the standard ‘Quando Quando Quando‘ in 1962 – later to be covered by everyone from Engelbert Humperdinck to Michael Buble.
‘Uno per tutte’ (One For All) is a classic bit of red-blooded Italian lounge crooning, with the singer promising undying affection to a string of women – cleverly represented in the studio by rotating photographs. It’s a laid back, likeable performance (though not, perhaps, if you’re one of his exes) delivered with considerable charm by the handsome singer. Deservedly high in the mix, Pericoli ultimately finished in third place with 37 points in a particularly close-run tussle for victory.
Finland is still struggling with the problem of a national language that has travelled particularly badly. Muistojeni laulu (The Song of my Memories) attempts to overcome this with a great deal of la, la la-ing from singer Laila Halme. It has a nice enough melody, and as the title suggests the song has a pleasantly wistful vibe, but it really is instantly forgettable, and so it proved – becoming the third nul pointer of the night.
This year’s winners come next, and it’s a first victory for Denmark. Indeed, it’s the first ever Scandinavian victory – a small piece of history considering how the Nordics would come to occasionally dominate the contest. ‘Dansevise’ (Dance Ballad) is an alluring little jazz-tinged number, in its way the most modern of the winners to date. It’s very laid back, with the orchestra acting largely as support to Jørgen Ingmann’s guitar playing. His wife Grethe handles the vocals, and the act makes the best use of the night of the opportunity for graphic effects with some vaguely psychedelic imagery. Indeed for a large portion of the song it appears as if Grethe is performing in front of the title sequence from ‘Doctor Who’, an effect which may have helped the atypically brooding song to stick in the minds of the jurors.
The song, while very far from modern ideas of catchiness, really is very good indeed. It’s a moody, haunting and well deserved winner, although the race to the top wasn’t smooth – they beat Switzerland by just two points after a controversial voting mix-up from Norway. Nethertheless, this song has aged very, very well and it stands up as one of the best and most interesting winners of the period. Denmark would have to wait 37 years until they next took home the trophy.
Yugoslavia next, fielding Croatian singer Vice Vukov – a photogenic crooner with a powerful voice who was one of the most popular singers in the country at the time of his selection. Brodovi (Ships) begins with a spoken word section, but quickly descends into fairly generic balladry. Previous Yugoslav entries had a charmingly distinctive feel to them. This could have been by anyone. Disappointing, and with only 3 points the singer finishes in a fairly unremarkable 11th place.
Another of the more famous faces of the 1963 contest represents Switzerland. Esther Ofarim is actually another Israeli singer, drafted in to perform ‘T’en va pas’ (Don’t Go Away). Ms Ofarim would later become a major light entertainment star, scoring a UK #1 with the novelty song ‘Cinderella Rockafella‘ alongside her husband Abi Ofarim. Her entry this year is a very strong, dramatic ballad and she performs it beautifully.
Many fans consider ‘T’en va pas’ to be Switzerland’s ‘lost winner’, due to complications in the voting that may have robbed the song of some much-needed points during one of the closest-run contests of the period. This would have certainly been a worthy winner, although I just slightly prefer the Danish song. She has a lovely voice though, which would later be put to excellent use on her solo recordings, notably a gorgeous version of the Bee Gees composition ‘Morning of My Life‘, which would be a huge hit in Germany in the late sixties.
Excellent staging for the French song, a rare self-penned composition by Alain Barriere. Elle était si jolie (She Was So Pretty) opens on a hauntingly beautiful French model, who remains in shot as a sort of dream-like figure for the singer. The exotic rustling of her hair may be the first ever recorded use of the hallowed Eurovision wind machine. Even without the effects, however, this is an excellent song from the French – low key but beguiling, and excellently performed. It became a significant hit for the singer, and finishes fifth here tonight, with a a distant but respectable 25 points.
The Spanish entry is a very understated ballad – so understated in fact that I struggle to think of anything especially interesting to say about it. Algo prodigioso (Something Marvellous) is nicely sung, but proceeds at a deathly pace, and singer José Guardiola does little to distinguish himself from the competent but forgettable crew from this year. Two points lands him in 12th place, just ahead of the brace of nul-point bombs.
The last of those nul pointers follows immediately from Sweden, and another of the major stars of the evening. Monica Zetterlund was one of the most highly respected jazz vocalists of her generation, producing classic recordings with some of the greatest musicians of the era and enjoying huge demand as a live vocalist until ill-health forced her to retire in 1999, prior to her tragic death in 2005.
Her talents are put to good use on ‘En gång i Stockholm‘; but the stately jazz ballad is a poor fit for Eurovision. It’s a very lyrical song, with no discernable chorus, and while her vocal is one of the best and most distinctive of the evening, it’s easy to see why the jurors entirely forgot about it. It’s a grower, and even early Eurovision favours songs with a strong and obvious hook. She’s movie-star stunning though, and the performance is aired in a consistent close-up, making the most of her incredible cheekbones. I don’t like the phrase ‘too good for Eurovision’, but this song certainly didn’t fail because it or the singer were in any way bad.
The Belgian song is a very simple composition, with an insistent piano note that becomes incredibly irritating once you notice it tinkling incessantly in the background. The lyrics are also highly repetitious, with the songs hook being in the repetition of the title ‘Waarom?’ (Why?). Why indeed? Actually that’s harsh – it’s nice enough, just very unremarkable. 4 points place it in 10th.
The final two singers are both arguably among the most famous performers ever to grace the Eurovision stage. The first, Francois Hardy – French but singing for Monaco – was already well into the ascendent at this time, with several huge international hits to her name, most notably ‘Tous les garçons et les filles‘, a ye-ye classic which sold over 700,000 copies in France alone in 1962.
Hardy was also notable for composing much of her own material, including her Eurovision entry tonight. ‘L’amour s’en va’ (Love goes away) is a smoky ballad that instantly stands out from the more typical chansons of the evening. It’s hookier than Monica Zetterlund’s entry, but feels equally effortless. The beautiful Hardy couldn’t be more chic if she tried, standing stock-still in a simple black jumper and never raising the tempo above ‘dreamy’. Given how soft and unexpressive her performance is, Hardy’s is another that many fans accuse of having lip-synced, but regardless of what really happened it’s an excellent entry and another welcome sign that the contest was slowly starting to open up to more modern styles. She finished in fifth with 25 points, but the song had a strong afterlife – helping her to win the prestigious French Grand Prix du Disque that year, and becoming one of her signature songs.
By contrast to the on-trend mademoiselle Hardy, Luxembourg’s Nana Mouskouri – a singer of Greek origin – performs the definition of the classic early Eurovision ballad. Mouskouri’s widepread popularity and remarkable productivity have seen her claimed as one of the best-selling female recording artists of all time, though her exact sales have always been difficult to verify. In 1961 she scored a million-seller in Germany with ‘The White Rose of Athens‘, so her expectations of success must have been high tonight.
‘A Force De Prier’ (By the power of prayer) brings nothing new to the table, but is a particularly strong example of its genre, and Mouskouri delivers a passionate reading in her distinctively quavering voice. All things considered, it’s a little surprising that this was largely ignored by the juries – finishing eighth with 13 points. It’s possible that there was some resentment over Luxembourg importing a big star from as far afield as Greece – but Esther Ofarim’s equally exotic roots didn’t prevent her from coming close to victory. Still, it didn’t do her career any harm and given that she never returned to Eurovision as a performer, it ends the performance section of the evening on an interesting little curio.
Interval and Voting
With the songs over, the stage is handed back to Katie Boyle, who reminds the audience that the winning song must have the broadest appeal throughout Europe – a concept which has always appeared to seem alien to the inward-looking British viewership. The interval act this year is, bizarrely enough, a Swedish unicycle duo. It’s very impressive, if not a little surreal. In fact, elements of the performance genuinely look highly dangerous, and the potential for disaster goes some way towards explaining why elements of this show might have been surreptitiously pre-recorded. Nobody wants to see a pretty Swedish woman in a ballerina outfit have her hair ripped out by a bicycle wheel on live television.
The performance over, a visibly discomfited Katie Boyle announces that the votes are in. This year we’re getting a little closer to the style of voting that we’ve become used to, with each jury awarding 5 points to their favourite song of the night, then four points to their second favourite, three points, two points and one point. This makes things much more exciting, particularly in the final stretch of voting.
A two-horse race quickly emerges between Denmark and Switzerland, who run neck and neck throughout the voting sequence. Very near the end, the juror from Monaco audibly loses his place reading down a list of his country’s scores, eliciting good-natured chuckles from the otherwise passive audience. Possibly as a result of this, he ends up giving one vote too many and has to be called back at the end.
The great controversy of the evening, though, comes from the Norwegian jury. They vote early and read out their scores in an incorrect format. When Katie Boyle asks them to repeat their vote, they ask if they can come back later. When they do at the end of the voting they’ve sorted out their issues, but appear to have changed their votes, pushing Denmark narrowly past the finish line with 42 points to Switzerland’s 40. To this day T’en va pas is regarded as Switzerland’s ‘stolen’ winner in some circles, though to my mind the (slightly) better song won.
The visible thrilled Danish performers are presented with their prize, and while they set up we’re treated to a rather solemn monologue by the BBC controller of operations. After that, a reprise of the winning song concludes the occasionally bizarre evening on a fittingly psychedelic note.
After the contest
Dansevise was not a major success after the contest, failing to chart at all in the UK. The Ingmann’s continued to record both as a duo and independently. They divorced in 1975 after 19 years of marriage, and Grethe died of liver cancer in 1990.
The British entry was a big chart success for Ronnie Carroll, although it was his last hit on the singles charts, the rise of rock ‘n’ roll pushing his style of music to the sidelines. He became an in-demand cruise ship performer, including engagements on the QE2.
Esther Ofarim, Monica Zetterlund, Francois Hardy and Nana Mouskouri all used the contest as a launchpad to achieve even greater European success, and enjoyed long and varied careers. None returned to the Eurovision stage as performers, though Mouskouri appeared as a guest of honour when her native Greece hosted the event in 2006.
This year is a bit of a mixed bag for me. There are several songs that I really like, and the unusually high celebrity factor adds a degree of sparkle to the event – especially as many of the famous faces in question had very interesting subsequent careers. Katie Boyle is once again a fantastic host, just the right side of Schoolmarmish.
On the other hand, the studio setting really does kill the atmosphere stone dead, even if it opens out the performances to more interesting visual angles. I’m also still struggling with the general one-pacedness of it all. It’s another very ballad-heavy year and I find myself increasingly desperate for the contest’s equally celebrated and derided kitsch factor to kick in. We’re not quite there yet, but the fact that younger, trendier performers like Francois Hardy and Alain Barrière are creeping in is an encouraging sign. The next contest is a bit of a bellwether year in that regard, with the second-youngest winner in the contest’s history scoring a major global hit…
Votes from the Lucas jury (given in the traditional 12-0)
12 Denmark – ‘Dansevise’
10 Switzerland – ‘T’en va pas’
08 Sweden – ‘En gång i Stockholm‘
07 Monaco – ‘L’amour s’en va’
06 France – ‘Elle était si jolie‘
05 Luxembourg – ‘A Force De Prier’
04 Austria – ‘Vielleicht geschieht ein Wunder‘
03 Germany – ‘Marcel‘
02 Italy – ‘Uno per tutte’
01 Finland – Muistojeni laulu