Eurovision Back In Time – 6 April, 1968

The one with Cliff Richard, stuck in the Lavatory Written By Andrew Brook

In Great Britain in the 1960s there was only one person who could speak several languages, so when Sandie Shaw won Eurovision it fell to Catherine Boyle to reprise her role as mistress of ceremony in the Eurovision Song Contest for the third time. History does not record whether she was wearing knickers (she admitted to not having done so for her final appearance in 1974), but she did wear a diamond broach so big it that could be seen from space.


The Spanish song was originally due to be sung by Joan Manuel Serrat but he was replaced as the singer when he insisted on singing ‘La La La’ in Catalan. Rather than being a political statement, as is often assumed, it was probably an excuse to save him from the humiliation of singing ‘La, La, La’ 138 times in front of an audience of 200 million viewers across Europe.  María de los Ángeles Felisa Santamaría Espinosa had no such qualms, as was demonstrated by the mile-wide grin on her face when she reprised the song after beating Cliff Richard by one single, solitary point. The 13th contest may have been unlucky for some, but not for Massiel.


1968 was the first contest to be broadcast in colour, in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden, though, ironically, not in the UK itself. BBC1 was still broadcasting in black and white only. The contest was, however, repeated on BBC2 the following day, in colour.


The venue was the 5,000-seater Royal Albert Hall, by far the largest Eurovision venue at the time.


Among the 17 entries there was only one returning artist, the 1962 winner, Isabele Aubret. She sung a beautiful, moody ballad called ‘La Source’ about a girl who was making her way through woods to the town, dressed in white, looking like a bride… when she was set upon by three men, who raped her, causing her to lose her virginity. Meanwhile, the winning song went ‘La, La, La’.


The biggest hit from the contest was ‘Congratulations’. Cliff Richard was by far the biggest star taking part, and gave a faultless performance. At the end of the song teenage girls in the audience screamed. The song had an impeccable pedigree: the composers, Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, had written the previous year’s winner. And it isn’t as if the juries could have judged ‘Congratulations’ too trite. The winning song went ‘La, La, La’. Maybe it was robbed of victory? Cliff Richard was too nervous to watch the voting, and locked himself in the toilet until the contest was over. Presumably he put his fingers in his ears and went ‘La La, La’.


The voting was especially exciting. France took an early lead, before the United Kingdom took over, holding the lead right up to the penultimate jury, when Spain leap-frogged into first place, though only by one point. When Yugoslavia didn’t give either the UK or Spain any points, the result was confirmed, and Spain had won.


Sandie Shaw, dressed in a lurid green nightdress, handed over the award to Massiel, who then reprised her song in Spanish and – for the first time – in English. The ‘La, La, La’ bit might have been in Catalan. Most of the audience had gone to the bar by this point, but nothing could detract from the joy of Massiel’s win, and she returned home to Spain a star. Meanwhile Joan Manuel Serrat probably turned to drink, realising what he had passed over.


But that isn’t the end of the story. Fast-forward 40 years to 2008 and a Spanish TV production company un-earthed a rumour that the 1968 result had been rigged. In an attempt to boost Spain’s image to the world, General Franco had, it was said, offered to buy up the television output of various European television stations in exchange for Eurovision votes. After being front-page news in both Spain and Britain, the rumour turned out to have been a publicity stunt for the promoter of the 2008 Spanish entry.


Spain went on to win Eurovision in 1969 – the first back-to-back win, and the only shared victory. Cliff Richard let himself out of the toilet just in time for ‘Congratulations’ to hit number one in the UK and across Europe. Together with ‘Volare’ and ‘Waterloo’ it is one of the great sing-along hits from the early days of Eurovision, even if the congratulations belonged to Spain.

  • Eurovision Back In Time – 6 April, 1968

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