How does the UK get a winning entry again?
The decision to have septuagenarian Engelbert Humperdinck represent the UK at Eurovision 2012 has to be one of the bolder picks of recent years and certainly represents a break from the â€˜young and prettyâ€™ of recent years.
It may yet prove to be an inspired choice but is far more likely to end in tears. Humperdinck does apparently have a fan base in Eastern Europe – though how many of these will be watching is questionable – and thereâ€™s always the possibility of a novelty vote from somewhere and an ex-pat / holiday vote from Spain or Ireland.
The temptation is to say that theyâ€™ve completely lost the plot but thatâ€™s not quite right: the problem is that the plot is almost as old as Humperdinck and the so-called novelty that he represents fits precisely into the same way of thinking.
That thinking seems to be stuck in about 1985, hoping to find the next Bucks Fizz in the belief that the next Bucks Fizz would do the same as the last one, namely win it. What that fails to recognise is the huge change in the voting thatâ€™s taken place since the public rather than panels made the decision.
There is of course the issue of super-national voting: members of the Scandinavian, Balkan and ex-Soviet blocks voting for their own (which is more accurately ex-pat, migrant and ancestral voting), but thatâ€™s not the whole story: good performances still get votes across the board.
The problem is that the BBC is still looking for The Song, and itâ€™s no longer about The Song but The Show. Thatâ€™s why a reasonable enough effort from Blue last year only landed them in eleventh place: four blokes on a stage standing and singing is no longer enough for the UK, even if they are tuneful and were famous.
So what is necessary? Put simply, something musically and visually big, memorable and spectacular. Considering the talent that exists in the UK music and theatre to develop and put on that kind of thing, it really shouldnâ€™t be too difficult. The BBC could do worse than attend a Muse concert for a few ideas.
The voting system is interesting and worth analysing. As with FPTP, one key feature is that it doesnâ€™t really matter if most people hate a song as long as enough love it (and in the first instance, remember it above 24 other songs): itâ€™s difficult to cast an effective vote against something in Eurovision, and a song that 85% of viewers consider an abomination is still likely to win if the other 15% vote for it even in only half the countries. By contrast, being seen as â€˜all rightâ€™ by everyone results in few first choices from viewers and consequently few points from nations.
Humperdinck is certainly different, may be memorable and is unlikely to fall into the vanilla pool of â€™all rightâ€™. Whether he can complete the other side of the equation and produce something that is loved by enough across Europe is a different matter.