Euro­vi­sion 1971: Hot­pants, boy­cotts and ‘women’s lib’

When Ire­land hosted its first Euro­vi­sion it was be­set by Trou­bles with a cap­i­tal T

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Brian Boyd

In April 1971, when Ire­land hosted its first Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test it was all about North­ern Ire­land. The song com­pe­ti­tion was be­ing held in the Gai­ety Theatre be­cause the pre­vi­ous year Dana, from Derry, had won with All Kinds Of Ev­ery­thing.

In per­haps an at­tempt to stick with a win­ning for­mula, an­other 19- year- old North­ern Ir­ish singer, An­gela Far­rell, from Ar­magh, was se­lected to sing the Ir­ish en­try on home turf.

Far­rell had se­cured her slot ahead of com­pe­ti­tion from Red Hur­ley and Sonny Knowles in that year’s Na­tional Song Con­test, but sadly the singer and her un­der­whelm­ing One Day Love song could only limp in 11th out of the 18 en­tries in Dublin.

But it was yet an­other North­ern Ir­ish singer who dom­i­nated the head­lines when Euro­vi­sion first came to Ire­land. As Ir­ish writer John Kennedy O’Con­nor notes in his book The Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test – The Of­fi­cial His­tory, the BBC had se­vere con­cerns about how the UK’s singer would be re­ceived by an Ir­ish au­di­ence that par­tic­u­lar year.

The Trou­bles had gripped North­ern Ire­land and in April 1971, the in­tro­duc­tion of in­tern­ment and Bloody Sun­day were just months away. In what some term a cyn­i­cal po­lit­i­cal move, the BBC se­lected a North­ern Ir­ish Catholic singer, the al­ready fa­mous Clodagh Rodgers, to sing the UK en­try in an ef­fort to defuse the ten­sion.

As Rodgers told the Dublin me­dia at the time: “Here I am, a good lit­tle Catholic girl rep­re­sent­ing the United King­dom in Dublin.” Years later, she claimed that she had re­ceived death threats from the IRA for singing for the UK.

Fa­mous legs

On the night though, it was Rodgers’s at­tire that was the main sub­ject of con­ver­sa­tion. She was dressed in tight- fit­ting span­gled hot pants which showed off her fa­mous legs – fa­mous be­cause she had had them in­sured for £1 mil­lion.

As Maeve Binchy noted in this pa­per while re­port­ing on Dublin’s Euro­vi­sion week: “Every for­eign woman seen around Dublin this week seems to have an en­tire wardrobe of just hot pants”.

The UK came fourth on the night ( de­spite Ire­land giv­ing them a very gen­er­ous seven points) but the mu­si­cal high­light was the win­ning song. The French singer, Séver­ine, rep­re­sent­ing Monaco, won with what many Euro­vi­sion purists ar­gue is the best Euro­vi­sion song of all time: Un Banc, Un Ar­bre, Une Rue (A Bench, A Tree, A Street). Abba’s car­toon­ish Water­loo can’t hold a span­dex jump suit to it.

Séver­ine’s song still holds the record for re­ceiv­ing the max­i­mum score (douze points!) from the most vot­ing na­tions. It made such an im­pres­sion on Ir­ish ears that it flew straight into the Ir­ish Sin­gles Chart at num­ber three post-Euro­vi­sion.

It was Monaco’s first and still only Euro­vi­sion win – al­though re­la­tions be­tween the coun­try and Séver­ine be­came some­what strained when the French singer said af­ter the com­pe­ti­tion that she had yet to even set foot in the prin­ci­pal­ity and had no plans to do so.

For RTÉ, broad­cast­ing the Euro­vi­sion from Dublin was a huge tech­ni­cal and cre­ative un­der­tak­ing. As the sta­tion noted at the time, the song con­test “was be­ing broad­cast to a thou­sand mil­lion view­ers in 29 dif­fer­ent coun­tries”.

It was only the sec­ond time that RTÉ had done an out­side broad­cast in colour – the first had been ear­lier in 1971 for the GAA Rail­way Cup fi­nals.

The re­as­sur­ing fig­ure of Ber­nadette Ní Ghallchóir ( fa­mil­iar to TV view­ers as the face of the Bun­tús Cainte pro­grammes) pre­sented the show and mak­ing his de­but as a Euro­vi­sion com­men­ta­tor in the Gai­ety that night for BBC Ra­dio 1 was Terry Wogan.

Con­tra­cep­tion laws

As the Brand New Retro Ir­ish blog site notes, Ire­land’s host­ing of the Euro­vi­sion wasn’t without con­tro­versy.

The Celtic League group crit­i­cised RTÉ for not hav­ing the Ir­ish en­try sung in Ir­ish.

The Ir­ish Women’s Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment protested out­side the Gai­ety on the night hand­ing out leaflets which read “The women of Ire­land have lit­tle to sing about” and point­ing out to for­eign del­e­gates that if they had brought con­tra­cep­tives with them into the coun­try, they would be li­able to prose­cu­tion un­der the coun­try’s con­tra­cep­tion laws.

A group of RTÉ trade union­ists also protested say­ing “the Euro­vi­sion in­volved RTÉ in need­less ex­penses which it could ill-af­ford”.

A pro­mo­tional video high­light­ing the won­ders of tourism in Ire­land, shown dur­ing the ad break, was crit­i­cised as a wasted op­por­tu­nity, opt­ing as it did to fo­cus on Bun­ratty Cas­tle and “a man talk­ing about snuff”. The Ir­ish Coun­cil Against Blood Sports were par­tic­u­larly in­censed about this video as it also con­tained footage from an Ir­ish fox hunt. They too would be out­side the Gai­ety hold­ing plac­ards on the night.

It’s tempt­ing to imag­ine that there were more peo­ple out­side the Gai­ety protest­ing against the Euro­vi­sion than there were sit­ting in­side it lis­ten­ing to the songs.

But Euro­vi­sion 1971 is still re­garded as an un­qual­i­fied suc­cess. And his­tor­i­cally, one of RTÉ’s most im­pres­sive achieve­ments.

Tonight’s Euro­vi­sion fi­nal comes from Lis­bon.

But if you hap­pen to be pass­ing by the Gai­ety Theatre with its 1971 mem­o­ries of Séver­ine’s beau­ti­ful win­ning song and Clodagh Rodgers’s span­gled hot pants, you’ll no­tice that the play cur­rently run­ning in the ven­er­a­ble theatre is writ­ten by the woman who kept read­ers of The Ir­ish Times hap­pily chuck­ling all Euro­vi­sion 1971 week long with her hu­mor­ous re­ports: the great Maeve Binchy.

‘‘ She was dressed in tight-fit­ting span­gled hot pants which showed off her fa­mous legs – fa­mous be­cause she had had them in­sured for £1 mil­lion ster­ling

Ryan O’Shaugh­nessy com­petes in tonight’s Euro­vi­sion fi­nal in Lis­bon, singing ‘To­gether’. He is the first Ir­ish en­trant since Ryan Dolan in 2013 to reach this stage. Could he win? Could he fin­ish with no points?


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