Eurovision: 50 years ago today the Eurovision Song Contest came to Edinburgh

It's the biggest celebration of music in the world, last year pulling in a global audience of more than 180 million viewers but when, in 1972, the Eurovision Song Contest came to Edinburgh​, ​it was a very different event.

By Liam Rudden
Friday, 25th March 2022, 5:55 am

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​T​hat Eurovision came to the Capital​ 50 years ago today at all was a quirk of fate​. T​he city inherited the final when the 1971​ winner, Monaco, ​found they were unable to provide a venue to host the following year's event ​as ​was, and still is, the tradition.

Shouldering the responsibility of producing and finding a home for the 1972 final​ eventually fell to​ the BBC​ who​ chose Edinburgh, the first time a location outside of London​ had been selected for a UK final​. The Usher Hall, with a capacity of just under 3,000​, was the venue of choice​ and internationally renowned Scottish ballet dancer, Moira Shearer​, was chosen to present the annual songfest​. The distinctive tones of actor Tom Fleming provided the commentary.

The New Seekers, representing the United Kingdom, make their way to the Usher Hall for the Eurovision Contest 1972

Representing the UK that year were The New Seekers with the song Beg, Steal Or Borrow. Up against 17 other countries they were respectable runners-up to Luxembourg's Vicky Leandross, whose song ​Apres Toi garnered 128 points to ​the UK's 114.

​Even back then, ​staging the Contest​ ​was a ​seen as a prestigious honour and a ​huge ​project​ for any broadcaster. The man charged with transforming the stage and choir loft of the Usher Hall into a ​glittering ​TV set that would be seen around the globe was acclaimed light entertainment director, Terry Hughes. His vision saw a large onstage screen introducing each country with a picture of their act​, their name and the song title​, while ​swirling animations play​ed​ on the screen ​behind them ​as they performed.

The screen also showed the interval act from Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, however, it wasn't live. Instead, stock footage of the 1968 Edinburgh Military Tattoo was played.

The voting and juries, ​professional​​ and public, also came from the Castle. During the contest, the best song was voted for by a jury, no telephone voting in those days. Each participating country had two jury members, one aged from 16 to 25 and one aged from 26 to 55, awarding between one and five points for each song. Of course, they weren't allowed to vote for their own entry.

Terry Hughes, producer of the Eurovision Contest poses at the venue, the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, March 1972

The public vote came after the interval act, the public jury members appearing on the screen, each holding a card with a number from one to five, much as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing might do.

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Broadcast in 28 countries, the Edinburgh production cost the BBC​ the grand sum of £81,000 to stage.

As Hughes recalled in Eurovision historian Gordon Roxburgh's book, Songs For Europe: The United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest, Volume Two - The 1970s, “I’m sure the venue had already been decided on before I became involved, though I think it was my idea to have the jury in Edinburgh Castle, which I thought would be suitably different. They were always going to be in a different venue as we simply didn’t have the room in the Usher Hall.

Fans wait for The New Seekers outside the Caledonian Hotel, Edinburgh

“I was instrumental in choosing Moira Shearer as the presenter; we had a short list and I pushed for her. I remember going to see her, and she was kind of reluctant at first, as she had never done anything like it before, but she was a lovely lady and brought an elegance and class to it, and she could speak enough French.

“I really enjoyed the whole experience. It was so wonderful being up in Scotland. It was the only time that I had spent a great deal of time there, and I really liked it. I was surrounded by musicians, a great team, people from other countries who have stayed good friends and contacts, and it was great to be part of such an event.”

Rehearsals for the Contest began on Wednesday, March 22, with each country allowed an initial 50 minute rehearsal with the 44-piece orchestra ahead of the big night.

Manchester born musical theatre star Lyn Paul​​ was a member of The New Seekers at the time and she recalls the fan frenzy that met the band when it came time for them to head to the Usher Hall from the Caledonian Hotel, where they had been billeted.

The Usher Hall mid-transformation for the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest

The actress, who has appeared in Edinburgh many times since in hit shows like Blood Brothers and Footloose, remembered, “The Eurovision Song Contest was huge in the 70s. One artist sang all the 12 songs from which the year's entry was chosen, so we were on the Cliff Richard Show for 13 weeks running. The first week in the studio we were relative unknowns, but we built a huge fan base from being on that show.

“Staying at the Caledonian Hotel before the Contest was amazing. Thousands of fans arrived to wish us well and we made the big mistake of walking over to shake hands with some of them. The next thing I knew we were on the floor and people were trying to get us up. It was horrendous but quite exciting. They got us back inside but the fans broke the swings doors of the Caledonian trying to get to us. In the end they had to take us out through the hotel's kitchens.”

With all the points on the scoreboard, the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest finishing order was Luxembourg​, ​United Kingdom​, ​Germany​, Netherlands​, ​Austria​, Italy, ​Portugal, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Spain, France, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Monaco, Malta, Belgium.

If only the UK could score as well these days.

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Vicky Leandros, the winner of the Eurovision song contest, held in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh in 1972

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The 1972 Eurovision Song Contest
Winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, Vicky Leandros, representing Luxembourg, revels in attention from the press in Edinburgh, March 1972