The name of Engelbert Humperdinck has crossed my path three times, and all three occasions resulted in fairy-tale endings. The first two were of the kind where the princess marries her frog (who turned out to be a film star, of course) and everyone lives happily-ever-after in a mindless Never-Never-Land where the flowers are always psychedelically in bloom and double-glazing is never necessary: you know, the sort you get to inhabit if you spend your evenings freely imbibing certain substances. The most recent, however, had a Grimmer ending—where ‘Grimm’ relates to the Brothers of that ilk, in whose salutary tales various unfortunates, apparently through no fault of their own, find themselves suddenly chopped up into sub-atomic fragments and consumed by trolls.
The first time, I’d have been about 9 years old. For some unaccountable reason, my grandmother took me one evening to the local Electric Kinema to see a puppet version of EH’s opera Hänsel und Gretel. (I say ‘unaccountable’ because my grandmother detested ‘Classical Music’ in general, and opera in particular. Her sole participation in ‘music’ comprised all-too-frequent renderings of The Old Rugged Cross and Father, Dear Father, Come Home With Me Now—either of which was enough to drive anyone who happened to be quite innocently passing within two hundred yards of our house diametrically away from salvation and in the general direction of drink.) I, however, loved it. So that’s one-up for the Happy-Ever-After Brigade.
Then, in the late 1960’s, I was working for a company called Great Universal Stores in a badly-reconditioned warehouse in an area of Manchester which, since those days (and may the Lord be praised!), has been bulldozed flat and put to better—and certainly more aesthetically pleasing—use. On this occasion, the ‘Engelbert Humperdinck’ in question was aka Arnold George (‘Gerry’) Dorsey, newly-popular balladeer, who had just rocketed to fame with his renderings of Release Me and Last Waltz. I have to confess that I didn’t like them quite so much as I’d liked his namesake’s opera. But, each to his own. Everyone else seemed to like them well enough; and since they sold in their hundreds of thousands, that must count as a happy ending, too.
…Which, unfortunately, brings me to Number 3. This time, as you have probably gathered by now, we are talking about the Eurovision Yawn Contest, as I have always named it. And there was EH again, doing his level best (which, bearing in mind that he’s now 76, was, frankly, considerable) with a song which could be described as anything but ‘memorable’ or ‘catchy’… and wave the Union Flag at the same time with both hands. Oh dear.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I don’t denigrate his performance for a moment. I doubt that the entire angelic host—after six full months of rehearsals, and with the threat of being banished to Tartarus if they got it wrong looming over them—could have done any better on the night. You can, conceivably, make bricks without straw. But if you can’t get the mud, either…
Not that the other ‘musical’ offerings seemed any better, I have to say. Hache was making notes as we suffered-along with the audience of millions (many of whom, to judge by the results, must have been blissfully tone-deaf). Here is a selection of some of her comments (expletives deleted, as the Watergate transcripts used to say) with scores out of 100:
Lithuania: Oh my God! (0)
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Quiet, boring (10)
Cyprus: La… la… oh… oh… No! (0)
Italy: Boom-boom… No, no, no! (0)
Norway: Hip-Hop crap (0)
Romania: Yeah-yeah pop crap (0)
Greece: Oh…ah…ah… (0+)
Turkey: The most boring yet (0)
France: French! (0)
Macedonia: UNBELIEVABLE!!! (sic) (0)
Sweden: Loud ballad (10)
And her comment for the UK entry? ‘Boring’ (20).
Sorry, Englebert. Sic transit gloria mundi, I suppose (but it could have been worse: she might have given you a zero, too).