“What will come 2nd to Congratulations?” pondered the press in the run-up to the final of the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest, which was staged at the Royal Albert Hall in London. “Congratulations,” which has sold over 250 million records, was the runaway favourite to win. Phil Coulter and Bill Martin – the pair who composed Sandie Shaw’s winning entry, Puppet On A String, a year earlier – wrote it.
Cliff Richard performed “Congratulations” on the night. Shrieking teenage girls greeted him on stage; their screams continued after he’d finished singing. “Congratulations” came up short though. It lost by a point to Spain’s entry, “La, La, La”, which was sung by the 20-year-old Massiel, in a dramatic finish, following a recall of votes in the final round of voting.
There is a rumour that the voting was rigged on the night. During the 1960s, Spain was a pariah in the international community. General Franco, the longest-ruling fascist dictator of the twentieth century, ruled the country at the time. Why would General Franco be interested in rigging a song contest? The Eurovision had huge cache at the time. It was one of the biggest TV shows of the year, and the world’s most famous singers participated, including Cliff Richard, and artists like Dean Martin covered its winning songs. The staging of the contest’s final was an ideal vehicle for General Franco to improve Spain’s oppressive image abroad, especially as it was slowly opening up, and cashing in on its potential as a tourist destination. Or so the theory goes.
“It’s certainly believable,” says Phil Coulter. “From a practical point of view because it was juries you didn’t have to try and influence millions of people texting, which would be a very hard call. The bribing, I’m not saying it happened. What do I know? I don’t know that brown envelopes changed hands but it would have been doable. It would have been doable.”
Was Phil Coulter, Ireland’s most famous songwriter, fiddled? Was he the victim of a fascist dictator’s dirty tricks? This documentary delves into a murky chapter in Spain’s history. It includes interviews with the key personalities from the night of the final at the Royal Albert Hall, and explores a decades-old mystery.
Produced and Narrated by Richard Fitzpatrick
Production Supervision by Sarah Blake
Sound Supervision by Mark McGrath
First Broadcast May 3rd 2014
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.