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Secrets of Eurovision

Security was so heavy that the audience was politely advised to remain seated while applauding, to avoid being mistakenly shot as a terrorist

Technically these aren't secrets, more like dirty, embarrassing laundry. The hugely popular Eurovision Song Contest, while eagerly presenting a squeaky clean, bubbly façade, has had bucketloads of controversies, scandals, boycotts, broken rules, dummy spits, wardrobe malfunctions, and moments of downright bizarreness scattered throughout its 59 year history.

The contest was originally created as a way of unifying post-WWII Europe, which was still fragmented, bruised, and in desperate need of a big group hug. The European Broadcasting Union decided a cross-continental televised song contest was the answer - quite an ambitious idea, since television was still in its infancy in 1956 and satellite TV was still more than 20 years away.

But a contest involving multiple countries, often with prickly relationships with each other, performing (and voting) together was always going to be only a tremulous vibrato away from problems.

In the first few years, the Soviet Union built hundreds of jamming stations to block the signals from western TV networks getting past the Iron Curtain. Consequently, the act of just watching the broadcast was a dangerous, underground activity in many countries.

Political bickering has often interfered with the festivities, especially the awkward matter of invasions and revolutions. In 1975 Greece, still annoyed from Turkey's invasion of Cyprus three years earlier, withdrew its entry because of Turkey's inclusion. The following year Turkish television refused to broadcast Greece's entry.

Then in 1978 Jordan refused to broadcast Israel's entry, showing viewers some lovely pictures of flowers instead. Annoyingly for Jordan, Israel ended up winning the competition, so Jordan television dealt with this inconvenient reality by simply cutting the broadcast and telling viewers that runner-up Belgium was the winner.

In 2009 Georgia was accused of evoking the previous year's Georgia-Russia crisis and mocking Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with their song ‘We Don't Wanna Put In'. They were ordered to change the lyrics, something they flatly refused to do, spat the dummy and pulled out of the contest.

Everyone was nervous at the 1973 contest, mainly because of the inclusion of Israel. The Black September murders at the Munich Olympics were still fresh in everyone's minds and Israel's entrant, Ilanit, sang her number wearing a bulletproof vest. Security was so heavy that the audience was politely advised to remain seated while applauding, to avoid being mistakenly shot as a terrorist.

The 1974 contest, as well as being the one that famously gave the world ABBA, also included the only Eurovision song ever to start a revolution. Rebel military in Portugal were secretly planning a coup to depose the country's long-standing Estado Novo dictatorship. Portugal's recent Eurovision song, ‘E depois do adeus' was played on the radio as secret code to the rebels that it was time to rumble. The coup was successful. Viva la Eurovision!

The same year, Italy refused to broadcast its own entry, a song called ‘Si' (‘Yes' in English). The country was smack dab in the middle of a referendum on divorce, and it was feared the song title might be seen as a subliminal message to voters. The song was censored throughout Italy for months afterwards, even though its singer, local TV personality Gigliola Cinquetti, almost won the Eurovision crown, being defeated by ABBA's ‘Waterloo'.

In 2000, Israel's performers, a group with the bouncy name of Ping Pong sang an even bouncier song called ‘Be Happy'. They finished by waving Syrian flags and calling for peace, causing all of Israel to clutch their pearls in horror. It was revealed later that two members of the group were journalists and they'd entered the comp as a joke.

But Eurovision rules were made to be broken. When Belgium won the contest in 1986 it was revealed that the performer, Sandra Kim, was only 13 years old, three years below the minimum of 16. Second-place Switzerland threw a hissy fit, demanding Kim's disqualification.

And of course, Eurovision bizarreness is almost too numerous to catalogue. Britain's bubble gum quartet Bucks Fizz won the contest in 1981 but also caused a sensation with their Velcro rip-away skirts. This gimmick caused Velcro to be completely sold out across the country in just 48 hours. "A strip of Velcro changed my life," singer Cheryl Baker later told the media. Four years later in Sweden, presenter Lill Lindfors had an "accidental" on-stage wardrobe malfunction when her skirt was yanked away by a nail (yes, Velcro again). Everyone giggled but she had her wrist slapped afterwards by organisers.

And in 2004 when Ukranian singer Rusiana won the contest she was rewarded with a seat in Parliament!

The question remains – are these controversies just a European thing, or would they feature in a song contest anywhere in the world? What about an Aussievision? It would certainly provide employment opportunities for events management, sound production and costume design TAFE graduates. But what might be the controversies peculiar to Australia that would characterise it? A bogan category? Mandatory upward lilt at the end of every lyric? The inclusion of Queensland? One can only wonder.