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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 May 2007, 01:54 GMT 02:54 UK
In the commentary box with Sir Terry
By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Helsinki

Right at the back of Helsinki's Hartwall Arena, Sir Michael Terence Wogan KBE is ensconced in a small, temporary wooden shed.

It barely has room for the two chairs that seat the veteran broadcaster and his producer during the three-hour competition, and it has the dubious smell of a public toilet late on Friday night.

Sir Terry Wogan

"But this is luxurious," protests Sir Terry. "I've even got a fan."

The presenter has a picture of Scooch neatly cut out and stuck to the window, and someone has provided him with two neatly stacked piles of paper - running orders for the show, meticulously highlighted and colour-coded.

He doesn't seem to be paying them much attention.

"I don't prepare anything other than the opening spiel," he says. "It's all spontaneous reaction."

"But I have a slight advantage over the viewer, if you can call it that, because I've been to the rehearsals.

I've said it so many times it has become a cliché. We won the Cold War but we lost the Eurovision
Sir Terry Wogan

"For me, all I'm doing is anticipating what people at home are thinking half a second before they think it."

Sir Terry has been the UK's bemused guide to the Eurovision since the 1970s, and the permanent TV commentator since 1980.

His gentle jibes and professional bewilderment are now as much a part of the competition as the ridiculous costumes and nonsensical lyrics.

Quotes such as "That's the same song the French have been singing since they hung the washing up on the Maginot Line," are quoted and repeated on countless Eurovision fan sites.

Other favourites include, "You're wearing that shirt for a bet" - his astonished proclamation as a Latvian entrant took to the stage; and the observation that "Dutch voters are traditionally as mad as a bucket of frogs."

But the cheeky commentary landed Sir Terry in trouble in 2001, when he referred to the two Danish hosts as "Doctor Death and the Tooth Fairy." He now jokes to have been banned from the country.

Political voting

I ask if he has any opinions on this year's presenters, who the Finnish press have dubbed Ken and Barbie.

"I haven't seen them yet," he says, consulting his notes. "But this guy is called Mikko Leppilampi, isn't he?

"You'd never make a living as a presenter in the UK with a name like 'Leppy Lampen.'

"A comedian, maybe, but not a presenter."

Although Sir Terry's put-downs are tempered with affection for the Eurovision, he is genuinely aggrieved at the political machinations of the competition's voting.

"It's a pity it's not about the songs any more," he sighs.

Scooch are representing the United Kingdom

"There's a definite Baltic bloc and a Balkan bloc and they've been joined in recent years by a Russian bloc.

"I've said it so many times it has become a cliché. We won the Cold War but we lost the Eurovision."

Sir Terry holds out hope that political voting is just a fad, and that democracy will return to the Eurovision in the coming years.

"But at the same time, everyone in Western Europe may well get fed up and pull out," he says.

For a moment, the twinkle in Sir Terry's eye disappears. Then, suddenly, the broadcasting legend brightens up and points to the stage.

"Do you know, it's English technicians who built that thing?" he inquires.

"They communicate with me by email in the weeks running up to the show and they told me that thing rising out of the stage is supposed to be the backbone of a fish, and that fish is a pike.

"That's a fish we would throw back into the water. It says it all, really."


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