The 1980s was a decade of two halves for the United Kingdom. The first five years kicked off with Prima Donna’s Love Enough For Two, 3rd in 1980’s contest, followed by a win for Bucks Fizz in 1981. The next three entries – One Step Further by Bardo, I’m Never Giving Up by Sweet Dreams and Love Games by Belle & The Devotions – didn’t quite match those lofty positions, but all were sizeable UK hits. Indeed, when Making Your Mind Up topped the chart in 1981 and One Step Further climbed as high as No. 2 the following year, it was the first time UK Eurovision entries had scored back-to-back Top 2 hits since Lulu and Mary Hopkin in 1969/1970, and although Gina G and Katrina & The Waves came close in 1996/1997, that feat has yet to be repeated.
After Love Games, though, the UK entered a downturn. Not so much in the contest itself – Scott Fitzgerald came within a whisker of winning in 1988 with Go, and Live Report also placed 2nd the following year with Why Do I Always Get it Wrong – but none of the UK’s late 1980s entries reached the Top 40 and two (Ryder’s Runner In The Night from 1986, and Rikki’s Only The Light from 1987) didn’t even make the Top 75. It was the first time back-to-back UK entries had failed to chart – something that only happened again this year when Joe & Jake’s You’re Not Alone bombed as badly as Still In Love With You by Electro Velvet.
Quite simply the UK fell out of love with Eurovision in the latter half of the 1980s. The contest ceased to have any relevance to the British public and – worse – it became a joke, something to be mocked rather than appreciated. The blame for this has often fallen on the late Terry Wogan and his light-hearted commentary for the BBC, yet he was just the messenger; Eurovision, with a few exceptions, really did lose its way in the late 1980s. This was particularly true of the UK: four of the five early 1980s entries are in our Top 500, none of the late 1980s entries are. Yes, the results (mostly) held up, yet this was more to do with the advantages of singing in English than the quality of the songs.
The path back from this low point began in 1991. A Message To Your Heart by Samantha Janus (see No. 461) was the first UK entry since Love Games to reach the Top 30. Both songs were written by Paul Curtis, who had also been responsible for the UK’s songs in 1975 (Let Me Be The One by the Shadows) and 1990 (Give A Little Love Back To The World by Emma) as well as an unprecedented 18 further tracks that competed in the UK national selection, A Song For Europe, between 1975 and 1992. However, the main credit for getting Britain engaged with Eurovision again goes to Jonathan King. Love or loathe him, he knows a hit when he hears it and his selections of Ooh Aah…Just A Little Bit and Love Shine A Light were a high-water mark. Results since then have not been impressive – there is no longer the language advantage for one thing – but the songs have generally been better, and the British public are largely fonder of Eurovision than in those dark days of 1985-1990.