Eurovision: Why the BBC is right to go for Operation Humperdinck

<em>Picture: BGSU Unversity Libraries</em>
Picture: BGSU Unversity Libraries
It sounds initially like the perfect storm of artistic awfulness. Engelbert Humperdinck singing a composition from the blokes who wrote James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful at the Eurovision Song contest.

Short of Jedward on backing vocals, you couldn’t find aural wallpaper more designed to lift the share price of paint-stripper. John and Edward are otherwise engaged, singing (well, sort of) for Ireland for the second consecutive year and undoing the fine legacy laid by Dustin the Turkey.

The economically endangered Emerald Isle clearly cannot risk another downturn which a win might cause.

Britain deploying what no one is calling Operation Humperdinck seems crazy. Except that this writer is all in favour.

Not for the tactical reasons the Beeb might have picked – it is said Engelbert (not his real name, incidentally) is big in the Baltic states.

It’s potentially brilliant because it’s so deliciously wrong. It is an ever-so-slightly preposterous career move for the Chennai-born, Leicester-raised former engineer, lounge singer and starholder on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Arnold Dorsey to take to the stage in Baku at the age of 76.

The history of entertainment, be it a black-and-white movie with next to no words gunning for Oscars in 2012, or Damon Albarn constructing a band around cartoon characters, is based around decisions which looked at first hand wrong.

One BBC website snarked: “Sad. The UK has some of the best music writers, musicians and producers in the world. We should have used this to showcase emerging UK talent.”

Josh Dubovie, Jemini, Daz Sampson were supposed emerging UK talent. It didn’t work.

The BBC is hardly a worthy custodian of trusted music brands after wiping the tapes of early Top of the Pops, scheduling it against Coronation Street and then axing it while allowing Andrew Neil to sing on the last episode of This Week.

The BBC has tried the emerging UK talent route before with a series of X Factor, Pop Idol and Fame Academy also-rans – as well, hilariously, as Jordan lining up to sing for Blighty. It didn’t work.

The corporation parachuted in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Pete Waterman as songwriters who would save the country from relegation form. That didn’t work, either.

They tried bringing the band back together with Blue, last year. You know the rest.

The early murmurings that the recently reformed Steps and Atomic Kitten would do the job this year were not exactly imaginative. They had tried the good, the bad and the Scooch. Time for something else.

Given that we last won 15 years ago, and that was with the not exactly British Katrina and the Waves, the BBC had two options with Eurovision: go weird, or go home.

It could have gone, and could yet go, indie, as Jarvis Cocker, New Order and Morrissey have all at different stages of their career expressed an interest.

But the status quo of talent show rejects doing karaoke was not an option. (Status Quo? That’s an idea for another year.) With another karaoke show, The Voice, imported from the States round the corner BBC1 had to try something other than a ballad from the average Joe.

And a man named Engelbert Humperdinck hardly constitutes that. Albarn’s Gorillaz wanted him for a vocal in 2009 (he sacked his manager when the invitation didn’t reach him) and he owed patronage in Las Vegas to the late Dean Martin.

It’s not as if this time he’s going to beat something as good as Strawberry Fields Forever into second place. For Eurovision, it’s not about the winning, nor even the taking part. Being dull – that’s the real crime worthy of “nul points”.

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  • Dorothy Whalen

    Shows how much you really know about Engelbert! When was the last concert you saw, live? His shows are anything but dull, and if anyone knows how to put across the feelings of a song, it is Engelbert! He doesn’t have sold out shows 45 years after Release Me, because of a hit record or two. His walls are covered with Gold and Platinum albums, and he is not just the finest Singer in the world today, he is also The World’s Best Entertainer. You are about to learn a lesson in Art!