Spanish documentary offers Cliff and Coulter congratulations - 40 years on


SPAIN:Pop singer Cliff Richard was robbed of victory in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest after Gen Francisco Franco fixed the vote, according to a Spanish television documentary.

Richard, representing the UK, was the bookmakers' favourite to win with his song Congratulations, written by Derry songwriter Phil Coulter and with lyrics by Scotsman Bill Martin.

However, Spanish contestant Massiel pipped him to the title by just one point with La La La, the first of two victories Spain has won in the competition's 52-year history. "It was a fix," the documentary's producer, Montse Fernandez Vila, quoted Spanish TV presenter José Maria Inigo as saying. "Massiel won Eurovision with bought votes."

Spanish TV executives travelled around Europe promising to buy second-rate programmes and concerts billing strange acts in return for Eurovision votes, Inigo told the documentary. Victory in the contest was seen as vital to the Franco regime's efforts to boost Spain's image abroad, Fernandez Vila said.

Coulter yesterday told the BBC he thought the claim was "hilarious". "I'm kind of grateful that this theory didn't emerge in the weeks and months after the event because then I would have been very very irate.

"There was certainly a sense that something odd had gone on, but maybe it was just the disappointment of coming so close to winning for the second time, back to back," he said.

His song Puppet on a String, sung by Sandie Shaw, won in 1967.

"We had already been taken out of our seats at the Royal Albert Hall to come backstage because everyone was convinced we were home and then I believe that the last country to vote maybe gave 11 to Spain and none to us, thereby snatching the victory for Spain by one vote," said Coulter.

Bjorn Erichsen, director of organisers Eurovision TV, said Eurovision ended voting by national juries to avoid such scams, though he had previously only heard of plots to swap votes, not buy them.

"Franco was really so keen for Spain to win it? We're not talking about Nato here or the EU or political influence, we're talking about a pop song contest," Erichsen said laughing, before adding: "I can't exclude the possibility it might be true."

Spain only drafted Massiel in at the last moment after Juan Manuel Serrat, who was meant to sing at the London event, refused to perform La La Lain Spanish rather than his native Catalan.

Asked if Eurovision would investigate the claims, Erichsen was emphatic: "No. Just to make Cliff Richard a little happier and the Spanish winner a bit more unhappy?"

La La Labeat Phil Coulter's song by just one point, but Congratulationswas a number one hit and went on to sell more than a million copies.

"History has proven that the song that won the Eurovision in real terms that year was Congratulations," said Coulter. - (Reuters)