How General Franco robbed Coulter and Cliff of Eurovision glory

Did you hear the one about General Franco rigging the Eurovision? It’s the subject of a new radio documentary by Richard Fitzpatrick.

How General Franco robbed Coulter and Cliff of Eurovision glory

DID you know General Franco, the longest-ruling fascist dictator of the 20th century, was a fan of the Eurovision? He was so obsessed with the song contest he fixed it one year so Spain would win. Or so the story goes.

I live in Barcelona. I heard the rumour in passing a few years ago, but thought nothing of it until I saw Phil Coulter elaborate on it during an interview on The Late Late Show in February 2013. The elements of the story (which include walk-on parts for Gay Byrne and Barry McGuigan’s father) are fantastic.

Coulter, who is arguably Ireland’s most famous songwriter, co-wrote ‘Congratulations’, the Eurovision’s most famous song. Cliff Richard, who was dressed like Austin Powers in a blue velvet suit with a white ruffled shirt, sung ‘Congratulations’ in the 1968 final at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In a dramatic finish, they were pipped from winning the title by a point from Spain.

The allegation that Franco’s government rigged it so Spain would win came to light publicly in May 2008 during a documentary on Spanish television, which covered stories about momentous Spanish events in the spring of 1968.

In a four-minute piece about that year’s Eurovision, a famous Spanish broadcaster called José María Iñigo, who is the country’s answer to Terry Wogan, made an off-the-cuff remark that executives from the state-run Televisión Española bribed other juries (juries at the time were picked by countries’ TV stations).

Iñigo later clarified that his words had been taken out of context, but by then it was too late. The story had flown around the world. Jon Snow covered it as a main story on Channel 4’s news, even taking time during his report for a sing-a-long to the tune of ‘Congratulations’: “Comm-is-er-a-tions, and all-e-ga-tions”.

After doing a weekend course on how to make radio documentaries at the RTÉ Radio Centre last year, I thought an investigation of the rumour would make a good documentary.

The annual training course was conducted by RTÉ’s Documentary on One team. It’s a two-day affair, which gives attendees a thorough grounding in how to construct a documentary.

The Doc on One team has won more awards than any radio documentary-making unit in the world. They have 50 documentaries a year to make so, with only a core staff of five documentary-makers, it is in their interest to reach out to the public.

Take a look at the section on RTÉ’s website where their documentaries are stored and you’ll get a feel for the range of stories they’ve done over the years, from the Irish First World War veteran who allegedly saved Adolf Hitler’s life to the hilarious travails of Mark Leen, Ireland’s greatest Elvis impersonator.

If your pitch is accepted, one of the Doc on One team’s producers is assigned to work with you as a production supervisor. I worked with Sarah Blake. She was brilliant. She’s calm by nature and full of good ideas.

I’d done a good bit of research into the project, which was written up in a detailed proposal, before we met up in Dublin. She gave me a few hours training on some recording equipment that RTÉ lent to me for the six weeks it took to record the documentary, and we reconvened at the end of that first week for some more training on Pro Tools, the software used to mix the documentary.

Recording is great fun, although, as a committed technophobe, I was very anxious about making technical errors during interviews. There are several things you have to keep in mind to ensure the sound is right, like making sure your cable leads don’t rustle, and you have to learn to laugh silently.

Getting a completely quiet place to do interviews is also a drag if you can’t arrange to interview the person in their home or office. I travelled to Madrid for a lot of my interviews. With one of them, I had to source somewhere on the fly so I chanced arranging the interview inside the Teatro Real Opera House in Madrid, which hosted the final of the 1969 Eurovision, and so was related to the story.

The last week was spent in the studio editing the story, recording the narration links, and working with a sound engineer who mixed in all the sounds and music. Given the documentary was about the Eurovision there was no shortage of music to draw from. After three months of repetitively listening to those ‘17 songs, especially Spain’s entry, La, La, La’, I’ll be glad to move onto some different sounds for my second radio documentary.

* The Year General Franco Stole the Eurovision is on RTÉ Radio 1 at 6pm, Saturday.

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