Fifty years after Jetty Paerl took to the Lugano stage and burst into 'The Birds of Holland', the Eurovision Song Contest is still luring 450 million of us to the sofa on that special Saturday night in May. But where once we settled down to admire the 'top-quality original songwriting' that the contest was inaugurated to showcase, throughout the long post-ABBA decades Eurovision has come to entertain us for all the wrong reasons: we chortle at its magnificent foolishness, its stubborn reinforcement of the crudest national stereotypes, at a scoreboard shamelessly corrupted by cross-border friendship and hatred. And as post-modern connoisseurs of showbiz meltdown, our focus has shifted from the blandly competent winners to the spangled, hapless, table-propping losers, those left to wander the lonely, windswept summit of Mount Fiasco. The gold standard of farcical failure, the benchmark of badness, to score nul points is to suffer international ignominy and find sympathetic understanding replaced by brutal guffaws.
Remorseful of his own longstanding contributions to the latter chorus, yet darkly fascinated with those lives shadowed by the entertainment world's most grandiose humiliation, Tim Moore sets off to track down the thirteen Eurominstrels who have come and gone without troubling the scorers since Norway's Jahn Teigen twanged his silver braces and leapt splay-legged off the Palais des Congres stage in 1978. From Lisbon to Lithuania, from the Black Sea to the Baltic, Moore travels the continent to hear their extraordinary stories - 'poignant, ludicrous and heartwarming in almost equal measure' - recounting as he does so the no less improbable history of Eurovision itself, a towering cathedral of cheese that can nonetheless claim responsibility for keeping Norway out of the EU and catalysing the overthrow of a Portuguese dictatorship.
Tim Moore's books include French Revolutions, Do Not Pass Go and Spanish Steps. He lives in London.