A Beginner’s Guide to Eurovision

Our Euroblogger Mark Cook knows almost everything there is to know about the Eurovision Song Contest – he has been watching since 1967, after all.

But for those who are newer converts to the cause -perhaps you’re a Brit who started paying attention after hearing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rallying cry of Your Country Needs You, maybe you’re a fan of _Your Country Needs You_ winner and this year’s UK entry Jade Ewen, or you might live outside Europe and are wondering what on earth were Boom Bang-a-Bang*ing on about – it might be time for a bit more background on this most European of Song Contests.

So in preparation for the big event, which this year takes place in Moscow on 16th May, were going back to basics with our Beginners Guide. This is what you need to know to sound like a Eurovision expert:

* This first ever Eurovision Song Contest took place on 24th May 1956. This year’s contest will be the 54th to be broadcast throughout Europe, making it one of the longest running television shows in the world.

* The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) was formed in February 1950, comprising 23 broadcasters from Europe and the Mediterranean. 5 years later the EBUs Marcel Bezenon conceived the idea of countries participating in an international song contest to be broadcast throughout all represented nations – the Eurovision Song Contest was born…

* As of last year, Eurovision now has three live shows – two semi-finals, where viewers and judges across Europe determine which countries (there can be up to 25) will be represented in the final.

* Four countries – the UK, France, Germany and Spain, also known as The Big 4 – are guaranteed a place in the final because they contribute the most funding. Each of The Big 4 countries finished in the bottom 10 last year.

* In 2003, the first Junior Eurovision Song Contest took place in Denmark. Last year’s was held in Cyprus and Georgia won.

* 2007 saw the first ever Eurovision Dance Contest. Last year’s, which was held in Glasgow, was hosted by Graham Norton and Claudia Winkelman.

* Speaking of Graham Norton, having hosted _Your Country Needs You_ earlier this year, the Irish comedian and TV presenter is set to take over the reins as the UK’s commentator for the 2009 contest, after veteran Irish broadcaster Terry Wogan, who has provided the voice for the BBC coverage of Eurovision since 1971, stepped down last year.

* This year’s contest is reintroducing juries as well as the phone voting of recent years. This year, national juries from each country will get the chance to listen to the songs several times and have a 50% stake in the voting for each song, alongside the usual phone voting which will make up the other 50%.

* You can’t vote for your own country to win…

* The country with the most wins under its belt is Ireland, with 7, although last year its entry – Dustin the Turkey, a glove puppet singing the track ‘Irelande Douze Pointe’ – caused headlines when it failed to make it past the first semi-final.

* Here’s a final fact you may know – the UK entry this year, ‘It’s My Time,’ has been composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren. Jade Ewen will sing the song for the UK, and Andrew has already secured one vote: none less than Russian Prime Minster Vladimir Putin. And every vote counts for the UK: last year’s entry came joint last…

*thats a reference to a song that won the contest for the UK in 1969 – Boom Bang-a-Bang was sung by Scottish singer Lulu and was one of four songs that scored joint-first in that years Eurovision Song Contest.

(Facts and figures from the official Eurovision site, www.eurovision.tv)