Treasures – national and international
Much has been written in recent times about the growth in the number of individuals being labelled ‘national treasures’. Private Eye maintains an informal register of each occasion when yet another well-known person achieves national treasure status, i.e. by being referred to as such by the media. Sir David Attenborough is probably in the number one spot, closely followed by the likes of Clare Balding, Barbara Windsor, Joanna Lumley, Henry Blofeld and Sir Patrick Moore, to name but a few.
It should be noted that not only individuals can be nominated as national treasures. Once the institutions are included, then the NHS has to be up there at the top, or possibly in tied place with the BBC, presumably with The Archers in second place. But looking beyond our borders, we have just celebrated/enjoyed/endured/ignored * the 61st Eurovision Song Contest, and this extraordinary annual event, played out on TV screens all over the world, surely has by now achieved the status of a sort of ‘international treasure’. Well, European perhaps, although I never knew Australia was in Europe, but there you go. Actually, the criterion for participation is that the country has to be a member of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Apparently Australia was invited as a guest in 2015, and hasn’t had the courtesy to leave.
As a child, Eurovision was the one of the few programmes on the telly that we all watched together as a family. The rest of the time, viewing was strictly rationed to educational material that my brother and I were allowed to watch at specified times, and only after all our homework had been completed. My father’s attitude to television always conveyed the impression that surely one could be doing something more worthwhile, but for some reason Eurovision had special status. We would cheer, boo, cast votes, try and copy some of the more unusual languages and generally have fun.
Some facts that you may not be aware of:
- Eurovision is the longest running annual TV song competition.
- It is one of the longest running TV programmes in the world.
- It is one of the most watched non-sporting events in the world.
- The contest launched the careers of Abba (Sweden), Bucks Fizz (UK) and Céline Dion (Switzerland).
- Ireland has won the most times – on seven occasions.
- The number of participating countries increased significantly after the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
There are strict rules governing content and presentation. For example, no lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature are permitted. However, as might be expected with a competition involving over 40 countries, politics does at times rear its head. This year has been an interesting example, with the winning entry by Jamala of Ukraine singing “1944”, which was all about the fate of the Crimean Tatars who were exiled to Central Asia by Stalin. Jamala’s great-grandmother and five children were amongst the deportees. In an interview, she drew parallels with those events and the recent Russian annexation of Crimea. The Russian authorities protested, but the EBU ruled that neither the title nor the lyrics contained any ‘political speech’, and allowed the entry into the competition.
All well and good. However, if this sort of thing carries on, then we’ll just have to review the contest’s international treasure status. I mean, no-one expects their treasures to behave badly or rock the boat, after all. Eurovision, you have been warned.
*Delete where applicable