This is a clip of one of my favourite eccentric characters in a film. (Logan’s Run 1976) Peter Ustinov plays an old man who lives in what appears to be an old derelict court-house, with dozens of cats. In this dystopian future world young people from a nearby closed city society have a very limited lifespan so the couple have never seen an old man with wrinkled skin before. They also have no pets in their society so have never seen cats. In telling them about his cats the old man mixes in quotes from T S Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats.
It is only right that I start this post with a confession – I LOVE the Eurovison Song Contest! There I’ve said it – so if you don’t enjoy crazy fools jigging about on stage singing songs in many languages, bi-lingual presenters, not to mention the UK coming near to last for many years, then you may wish to look away now. 😉 For overseas visitors, particularly from the USA, Canada or elsewhere in the world, where you may not have seen this event on TV, you may find this post totally baffling. Read on about this European eccentricity and you will either be intrigued or be appalled, possibly both!
Over the years, since I can first recall watching this annual event in 1972, there have also been some memorable nights of entertainment, some winners who went on to have incredible success and quite a few who were never heard of again! The UK coverage on TV for many, many years has been complimented by the live commentary of two Irish born presenters, Terry Wogan for several decades and more recently Graham Norton. Both have managed to tread that fine line between between seeing it all as a lot of fun whilst mentioning some of the things that have undermined the contest, blatant voting within ethnic and politic blocks and a fair sprinkling of incredibly terrible songs every year. In fact, part of the reason I watch it is to see which country has the most ridiculous song this year!
Marcel Bezençon of the European Broadcasting Union is credited with proposing an international song contest in 1955. The idea was based on the popular Sanremo Music Festival in Italy, but with a few important differences. In the early Sanremo contest, from 1951, songs were sung twice by different individuals or groups, first by Italian artists and then by foreign guest singers, the song was then judged, rather than the song and performance being judged together. The Sanremo Music Festival is still held every year, and has often been used to pick out the Italian entry for Eurovison and has also launched the international careers of several popular singers, like Andrea Bocelli.
In 1956 it was almost too ambitious a project to link up the fledgling TV stations of Europe in a live TV show. It stretched the limits of the technology of the day and remains a massive technological achievement. Now it is also streamed live on the internet and broadcast in many countries beyond the European boundaries. Whilst the TV technology was an integral part of the whole idea from the first contest in 1956, most people who were interested in the contest tuned in to the radio broadcast – TV ownership was not widespread enough for everyone to watch it live as they do now. In fact I can recall listening to the show on the radio in the 1970s too, so perhaps it was in a year when our TV had broken down in that week.
The Eurovison Song Contest has always just had the one performance of the song by an individual or group and that song and performance are judged by panels of jurors from the competing countries, In much more recent times some countries have introduced phone voting in a similar way to many live TV talent shows, but telephone votes cannot be cast for the country from which the call is made, only for any of the other countries entries. There were only 7 competing countries in the first contest, held in Switzerland in 1956 and there were no questions about the motives behind the way the votes were cast as it was a secret jury decision and the winner, Switzerland, was just announced. From 1957-1987 a physical scoreboard was used to display the points awarded by the various national juries. Since then various electronic display boards and onscreen graphics have been used.
The number of competing countries grew to 18, by 1965 and 17 or 18 countries competed in most contests throughout the 1960s and 70s. During the 1980s and 90s the entrants increased to 25 for many years before a rapid expansion of numbers in 2004. Now there are two stages to the contest, with two semi-final rounds where new entrant nations or ones that scored badly in previous years have to compete to even be in the final, which is now between 26 competitor nations. As the numbers have grown and different scoring methods have been tried there have been various controversies about the results with nations threatening to boycott future contests when unhappy with the outcome. It can all get a bit heated with various rivalries surfacing from below the apparently smooth calm surface of international togetherness! Again for me this is also part of the fun of the event.
Another fun feature is the television link ups to receive the scores from each country, as every year there are always a few attempts to use the very brief moment in the spotlight to be noticed on the international stage. Unfortunately some of the attempts to look great are seriously misjudged and end up looking like a really bad YouTube video by a nerdy teenager, and their moment of fame turns to disaster, bringing embarrassment on individual and their home nation! The scoring section of the contest is the most tedious, but as it reaches the conclusion the tension mounts as to which of the top 2 or 3 songs has won. A lot is at stake, not just for the song writer and performers, but for their country too, as the country of the winning entry get to host the contest the following year. This is often seized as a major opportunity to promote the host country and city with lavish travel videos in little clips throughout the contest, shown before each competing song. It has also been rumoured though that some small nations have tried to ensure that they don’t win, for fear of the costs of hosting the contest bankrupting the host TV company.
Watching the contest for the first time I am sure many people are completely baffled by all of the nuances of national rivalries, but they may also be baffled how some nations think they are going to win with bizarre costumes, strange performers and crazy novelty songs. This is made all the more strange by some extremely good entries each year, that are serious, meaningful songs, sung by individuals or groups with great talent and charisma. An early favourite for me, although I only heard it a few years later was 1964 winner from Italy, Gigliola Cinquetti – Non ho’ l’etá, a song that still sounds great now. The video below is the radio audio, with some video and stills mixed, as the original video was lost.
The first UK winner was Sandy Shaw with Puppet on a String, in 1967. As you can see in the video below, there was a slight technical hitch with her mic not working for the first few seconds of the song and she famously performed barefoot! Sandy continues to sing and entertain and has a great website.
Lulu’s Boom Bang-a-bang was a joint winner in 1969, when unclear voting rules left 4 nations tied for first place and no way to decide who had won. Despite that controversy, that led to threats to boycott future contest by several nations, it is an iconic TV clip, in colour! Again she remains a popular figure in UK music and entertainment, her official website is here.
A group that went on to have the most successful career after winning Eurovision were ABBA’s the winning song Waterloo (1974). They were a slightly strange blend of glam rock styling, folk lyrics and pop harmonies, but it all worked and they remain very popular as an historic group. As individuals each has enjoyed successful careers in many aspects of music. Their songs of the 70s and 80s were turned into a stage musical in 1999 that has had sell out tours around the world and a successful conversion to film too. Now they even have a museum dedicated to them, for more info on that visit here. Many individuals or groups competing in Eurovision each year dream of emulating the success of ABBA, but to do so they need to have some incredible talent and the luck of catching the public mood and imagination of the era.
For me one of the most outstanding and unusual winners was in 1995, a classical style duo known as Secret Garden, along with a beautiful singer, Gunnhild Tvinnereim and Swedish nyckelharpist Åsa Jinder, performed the haunting piece Nocturne. Secret Garden are Fionnuala Sherry originally from Ireland and Rolf Løvland, from Norway. Secret Garden have continued to make haunting beautiful music enjoyed by many people, despite not being a major commercial success story. They have an official website that is very good and their own YouTube channel too.
Finally, after all the modern sounds, bright colours and flashing lights, here is a reminder of how simply it all started out with the 1956 winner Lys Assia – Refrain. She also continues to record and perform and her official website is here.
For details of Eurovision 2013 visit the official website. My prediction for the winner tonight is Denmark, Emmelie de Forest – Only Teardrops. I also really like Anouk – Birds, The Netherlands entry. Sadly while the UK song Believe in Me by Bonnie Tyler is better than some recent years it is no match for most of the other entries and doomed to fail again.
Update: The winner – Only Teardrops (my first correct prediction of the winner for many years!)
This year’s most ridiculous entry (in my opinion) Cezar Ouatu – It’s My Life (Romania)
Whilst watching the video of the song, Sugar, Sugar by the Archies from 1969, I noticed that there was something about some of the movements of the large white dog and the sound effects that reminded me of a even more popular and much loved cartoon series made around the same time. I wondered if there was any connection between the two cartoon series. Investigating a mystery is something that appeals to most of us and so with the help of the internet I delved into the origins of The Mysteries Five.
The background to the creation of the The Archie Show was my starting point. It was commissioned by CBS for a Saturday morning TV slot, to replace one of several shows removed from the schedule after protests from parents. They had complained that the content of many popular shows had become too violent and related to war. The protests became organised with the formation of Action for Children’s Televison which was similar to the National Viewers and Listeners Association in the UK. In 1968 public opinion in America was becoming polarised over involvement in the Vietnam War and protests were mounting about that too. Shows like Jonny Quest, Space Ghost and The Herculoids by animators Hanna & Barbera were all removed from the Saturday morning schedules and more family friendly and acceptable series were commissioned by the big networks like CBS. One of the first of those new shows was The Archie Show.
A still from The Archie Show courtesy of The Cartoon Scrapbook
Created by the animation studio Filmation in 1968, The Archie Show was a popular success within the first few weeks and throughout the series run that year and it continued to be made in various adaptions until 1977. The success in the UK of the single Sugar, Sugar, in 1969 was really all I can recall of the Archies, as I don’t think the TV show was ever shown in full here. But the show that came along a year later remains popular even now!
In 1968, Fred Silverman, director of daytime programming for CBS, began to develop new ideas for a show to build on the success of The Archie Show. He asked the animation studio Hanna & Barbera, to begin story, character and animation development. The working title for the new project was The Mysteries Five.
Story writers Joe Ruby & Ken Spears began work on the project, with animator Iwao Takamoto joining them. They began planning a series based around a group of five teenagers and a dog. At first, like The Archies, the teenagers were all in a band and it was intended that they would perform songs in each show. They also added another element to the show, inspired by the popular radio show of the 1940s I Love a Mystery and the plan was to have the group investigate mysteries involving ghosts, zombies and things that go bump in the night!
The original names for the characters in The Mysteries Five were: Geoff, Mike, Kelly, Linda, and Linda’s brother “W.W.” and their dog was called Too Much. They switched between ideas for the dog, but put forward their first proposals with Too Much as a large sheepdog, like Hot Dog from The Archies. However, when Fred Silverman reviewed the first set of proposals he rejected a lot of the ideas. Whilst he liked the idea of the mystery stories, he didn’t like much else. They discussed their other ideas, including changing the dog to a Great Dane, but this raised a possible problem with the dog being too similar to the popular newspaper comic strip dog Marmaduke, who had been around since 1954. After Joseph Barbera was consulted it was agreed to create the dog as a Great Dane, but they retained the name Too Much.
The second set of proposals the writers prepared was based around the TV sit-com The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, that had run on CBS from 1959-63. With this set of ideas they moved away from The Archie show as the basis and dropped the number of teenagers from 5 to 4, loosing the Mike character, but keeping the dog, Too Much. Whilst these ideas took shape the animator Iwao Takamoto began to create the dog character in drawings. He asked an old friend with expertise regarding Great Danes for the pedigree standards of the breed and then broke the rules designing Too Much with bowed legs, a sloped back and a double chin.
By the time the team put their second set of proposals for The Mysteries Five to Fred Silverman, they had also renamed all the characters to Ronnie, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy. Fred Silverman liked the new proposals, but still felt that more changes were needed. He changed the proposed title to Who’s S-S-Scared? The show was progressed to the centre-piece of the 1969-70 season and plans were made for making the series. It has been suggested by some that the president of CBS, Frank Stanton, still felt that the material was too scary for children and that the idea almost never made it to the TV screens. According to Ruby and Spears, some misunderstanding may have been due to the emphasis of the mystery elements over the humour in the storyboards that Joe Barbera used to sell the show. Storyboards of the first three episodes also record the late change of the character name Ronnie to Fred – those storyboards were once available on the Cartoon Network website, but are now archived at Internet Archive (web.archive.org)
Hurried further development led to the comedy element being increased, which resulted in the focus of the stories being Shaggy and the dog, Too Much. The rock band element was also dropped at this late stage and a final name change for the series was made. Ruby and Spears, the writers, have claimed that Fred Silverman told them he was inspired by the closing words of Frank Sinatra’s recording of Strangers in the Night, when Frank sings “doo-be-doo-be-doo” and that it led him to rename the dog Scooby Doo. As a result the show title became Scooby Doo, Where Are You? Whilst that does sound possible, I can’t help wonder if The Archies had one last, but important influence on the successor to their Saturday morning slot on CBS – their hit song Feeling So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y. D.O.O.) from 1968 (click here to go to a copy of the video on this blog). Perhaps the mystery of what really inspired the name Scooby Doo may never be solved. (See update at end of this post for another suggestion too!)
So that is the brief outline of how the Mystery Inc team were assembled – those loveable characters that have scared and entertained so many children and adults over the last 44 years. Who could have known when those first few episodes were shown that they would go on to be such a huge global success, inspiring many sequels and similar style shows by both Hanna & Barbera as well as many by their competitors like Filmation too. More recently there were live action Hollywood movies and the original shows, as well as the later rearrangements, are still shown on TV networks all over the world.
The very first intro sequence for Scooby Doo Where Are You? appears in the previous post, along with the more familiar version with a title song added. The song version is the one that I know from watching the series for the first time, around 1972, when I believe it was first shown in the UK. If I am browsing TV channels and happen to come across an old episode I find it very hard not to sit back and enjoy the simple scares, jokes and fun of Scooby Doo and the gang!
This article was written with a lot of background detail coming from Wikipedia and their sources. Throughout the article I have given links to the source articles for the various facts I discovered. If you want to check the details or learn more then follow those blue links to the original. Most of that material has been compiled by those dedicated collectors of information who are responsible for the wealth of information that is available to us all.
On 19th June I received a comment from the author of most (not all) of the Development section of the Wikipedia article about Scooby Doo. He wishes to be acknowledged just as FF. Before approving the comment I emailed him to clarify how best to correct a few unintentional errors that had crept into my post, by me misinterpreting some of the details of his original work on Wikipedia. I have now amended my post so that is in line with his comment below. It was also interesting in our email exchange that he mentioned that animation writer Mark Evanier also felt that song lyrics may have suggested the name Scooby Doo. Mark proposed Denise, by Randy and the Rainbows (1963) as the possible inspiration (see News from ME June 10th, 2002). They really do sing scooby doo repeatedly throughout the song, in the way that doo-wop singers often used made up phrases between the rest of the lyrics. I have been informed that although Mark didn’t work on Scooby Doo in the development stage he did later, so perhaps he has a good point. It seems very likely that Denise influenced the later song by The Archies that started my research for this post. If you check out the Denise link you may find the song familiar as it was covered by Blondie in 1977, but changed to be about a man called Denis (pronounced Denee).
This is the original intro for the first episode of the first series of Scooby Doo shown on the CBS network in the USA in 1969. They introduced the song theme on the end of the debut episode and at the beginning of the rest of the series. (I had read that this theme without a song was deemed too scary, but it seems that was another of the ‘too scary’ rumours that surround the development of Scooby Doo. (See comment below from a contributor to the Wikipedia article on Scooby Doo.)
This is the early intro for Scooby Doo, Where Are You? with full song. It wasn’t the only version as later series altered the clips used and there were many later reinventions of the show as each generation of children have discovered Scooby Doo, in this and other forms. Just don’t mention Scrappy to fans of the original series!