It’s Eurovision week and while it mightn’t bring the nation to a standstill like it once did, we’ll all still tune into the voting at the end of the night. One of those will be Ennisman Richie Fitzpatrick, who has uncovered a Eurovision tale of scandal and bribery with a performing cast that includes General Franco, Cliff Richard and Phil Coulter. He spoke to Joe Ó Muircheartaigh about his Radio 1 documentary entitled ‘The Year General Franco Stole the Eurovision’.
THE Late Late Show mightn’t be the barometer measuring the pulse of the people like it used to be, but still, when you’re part of the far flung diaspora and it’s available on the RTÉ Player, you tune in from time to time.
So it was that Richie Fitzpatrick looked in on the show in February, 2013. Phil Coulter was one of Ryan Tubridy’s guests and in the course of reminiscing about his songs like ‘Town I Love So Well’ and ‘Scorn not his Simplicity’ made famous by Luke Kelly, he talked Eurovision.
‘Puppet on a String’ that won for Sandie Shaw in ’67 and ‘Congratulations’ that came second the following year for Cliff Richard – both songs which were co-written by Coulter.
“That night,” recalls Fitzpatrick, “he mentioned the rumour that the 1968 Eurovision was fixed and that Franco had rigged it for the Spanish to win. Living in Barcelona, it piqued my interest. I wanted to investigate it further, look into the claim and so I pitched a documentary idea to RTÉ”.
The result is ‘The Year General Franco Stole the Eurovision’, where Fitzpatrick goes beyond the rumour, delving deeper into the controversy by interviewing most of the main protagonists in the story who are still alive and have stories to tell about one of the most controversial Eurovisions in the 58-year history of the competition.
All this from an avowed Eurovision-sceptic. “I’m late to the game of Eurovision,” admits Fitzpatrick. ‘Yeah, I would have seen the Eurovision as a kid. Johnny Logan and his ‘What’s Another Year’ in 1980. I would remember that, I’ve no specific memories of it because I was very young, but I watched it.
“It was the drama of the voting, that’s that people were interested in more than the songs. There wasn’t much else going on then – it was a night in front of the television to see the voting, but nothing more than that. This was different though, living in Spain I wanted to get stuck into it,” he adds.
THE rumour about the 1968 competition being rigged first surfaced in 2008 during a Spanish television documentary on the history of the Eurovision. During a four-minute clip about the 1968, renowned Spanish broadcaster José Maria Inigo fanned the flames of controversy after 40 years.
“José Maria Inigo is a legend,” says Fitzpatrick, “and is Spain’s answer to Terry Wogan and he’ll do the commentary on this weekend’s Eurovision in Copenhagen. In 1968 he was working for Spanish radio at the Eurovision in the Royal Albert Hall and in the documentary he made an off-the-cuff remark in it saying Franco’s government had fixed it to help Spain win.
“Back then it was a jury system and each country’s television station selected a jury of ten members and they voted on it. Inigo said Spain’s television station promised to buy television series’ from other stations around Europe and contract singers for records in exchange for votes – that was is claim.
“He was regurgitating a rumour, but it went around the world. Afterwards Inigo pulled back from his claims, saying it happened in the earlier years of Spain’s involvement in Eurovision,” he adds.
But there was something there, as Fitzpatrick discovered.
Joan Manual Serrat was the singer selected to represent Spain in Eurovision ’68, but in keeping with the intrigue and subterfuge around the event, his participation just wasn’t to be.
“Serrat was a Leonard Cohen of Spain,” says Fitzpatrick, “and was selected after his manager Lasso de la Vega, a friend of Franco and whose brother was governor of Grenada, arranged it with the Government.
“Before the contest de la Vega did promotional work with the song, travelling around Europe and recording it in different languages where the backroom dealing was allegedly done, but Serrat pulled out 12 days before the event because he wanted to sing in Catalan. The language was repressed by Franco so he was replaced by Massiel, a 20-year-old. I spoke to her, but she discounted the notion it was fixed,” he adds.
However, Claude Marti and Josep Maria Massip, owners of the record company that Serrat was signed to, told Fitzpatrick a different story.
“We know, that while promoting a song in each country, votes were bought,” says Marti. “At the time of the promotion campaign, they already knew the song, La, La, La was going to be the winning song.
“The votes were bought by Television Espanola. We don’t know if there was money involved or not, because this never came out,” he adds.
“We only know the statement of Lasso de la Vega who said to us, before the Festival, ‘the winner will be La, La, La because we have the votes’,” says Massip.
This testimony is enough for Fitzpatrick, who also backs up the conspiracy claims with the testimony of journalist Alfonso Ussia, a star columnist with Madrid-based newspaper La Razón.
“Ussia is a Kevin Myers type with the right-wing newspaper and in 1980 he says he had a dinner with head of Television Espanola in 1969 – at this dinner said that Spain fixed it, that Franco had ordered Minister for Information and Tourism to win the Song contest, because it would be good for the country’s prestige. He kept the story secret for 28 years, but published it after the 2008 documentary. That gives you three guys telling the same story, that it was a fix.”
“Well it’s believable, it’s certainly believable,” says Phil Coulter. “I can’t see that Franco sent off a battalion of TV executives with cases of rioja in the boot of a car to bribe television executives in Germany or promises of holidays in Mallorca. I don’t know that brown envelopes changed hands but it would have been do-able. It would have been do-able,” he adds.
‘The Year General Franco Stole the Eurovision’ by Richie Fitzpatrick was broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on Saturday as part of the ‘Documentary on One’ series. It’s available on-line at http://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/documentary-podcast-general-franco-eurovision-cliff-richard.html
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