Eurovision in media: ‘A Song for Europe' from Father Ted
It’s one of the most iconic episode of the 90s British-Irish sitcom ‘Father Ted’ – and not just for Eurovision fans.
‘A Song for Europe’ is the fifth episode of the second season of ‘Father Ted’, and was first broadcast on 5 April, 1996 on British station Channel 4, during the height of Ireland’s success at the Eurovision Song Contest.
It took a satirical look at the controversial conspiracy theory of Ireland desperately trying to tank at the contest.
Still months out from the competition, Father Dougal has “Eurosong fever”, putting forward the idea to Father Ted that the two of them should write a song to take part in the Irish national final for ‘Eurosong 96’. Father Ted dismisses the idea, as neither he nor Dougal know how to write a song, but changes his stance when he finds out that his nemesis Father Dick Byrne and his sidekick Father Cyril MacDuff will be entering a song.
After pulling an all-nighter attempting to write a song for the competition, all that Ted and Dougal are able to come up with is a poor one-note performance of a song with inane, ridiculous lyrics called ‘My Love Horse’, which lasts for around a minute. When performing the song for Mrs Doyle and Father Jack, Mrs Doyle looks disappointed and Jack gets so infuriated he shoots Ted’s guitar.
Having given up on attempting to represent Ireland at ‘Eurosong 96’, Ted discovers that the lyrics fit the tune of an obscure B-side song from a fifth-place performance during a Norwegian Eurosong selection from 1975 that Dougal has on a record. Ted believes that they will be able to get away with stealing the tune as the band and everyone involved with the recording of the song died in a plane crash years ago.
At the theatre in Dublin where ‘A Song for Ireland’ is being hosted, Father Ted has some difficulty speaking with the host of the show Fred Rickwood, who seems to be completely incapable of speaking comprehensible English off the stage, or the producer of the show, Charles Hedges, who is in a same-sex relationship with Fred, which the Catholic Church holds a stance against.
As ‘A Song for Ireland’ begins, Ted and Dougal listen in on Dick and Cyril’s performance of ‘The Miracle is Mine’, which features a band and orchestra with amazing lighting. Ted becomes worried about their chances of winning the competition and goes backstage for a cigarette, where he hears the Norwegian tune they’ve stolen being whistled by a maintenance worker and then playing in a lift. Horrified, he realizes the tune is more popular than they knew, and will need to resort to “Plan B” – performing the dreadful original version, which receives no applause from the audience.
Despite their terrible performance, and against the wishes of the enraged audience, the producer of ‘A Song for Ireland’, Charles Hedges, announces that ‘My Lovely Horse’ has won the competition. When Father Dick Byrne questions how Ted and Dougal won, he cites the iconic line:
“Anyone would think you wanted Ireland to lose the Eurosong Contest!”
Charles and Fred hesitate before laughing it off, showing that they want to guarantee Ireland loses the competition due to the expense of hosting the contest for the last five years in a row.
The episode finishes with Ted and Dougal sitting with Father Jack and Mrs Doyle at the Eurosong Contest listening to country after country award Ireland the dreaded “nul points”.
Often cited as one of the best episodes of ‘Father Ted’ throughout the shows three-season history, ‘A Song for Europe’ is a must-watch episode for both fans and casual viewers of the Eurovision Song Contest. The episode is often rebroadcast on RTÉ prior to the Eurovision Song Contest, allowing generations of Eurovision fans to be familiarized with the satirical take on the competition.
The episode is incredibly funny, and viewers don’t even need to be fans of the sitcom to watch the show and understand its references. Personally, ‘A Song for Europe’ is the only episode of ‘Father Ted’ I have ever seen, but the relationships between Father Ted and Father Dougal, as well as his nemesis-type relationship with Father Dick Byrne are immediately obvious.
For Eurovision fans who haven’t seen the episode before, I would highly recommend it. The twenty-five minute episode races past, feeling much faster than its running time, and the slight humour hidden in plain sight works well, including the ridiculous names of the songs and groups competing in the national final, the over-excitement of the host, and the over-the-top staging and performance of ‘The Miracle is Mine’.
‘A Song for Ireland’ 1996 entries
Father Dick Byrne & Father Cyril MacDuff – ‘The Miracle is Mine’
Father Ted Crilly & Father Dougal McGuire – ‘My Lovely Horse’ (winner)
The Grand Girls – ‘If I Could Wear My Hat Like My Heart’
The Hairy Bowsies – ‘You Dirty English Bastards’
Sean O’Brien – ‘The Drums of Africa Are Calling Me Home’
Death Pigs – ‘Sha La La La La La La La La La La La La’
The music video for ‘My Lovely Horse’ was based on the music video for Ireland’s 1975 Eurovision entry, ‘That’s What Friends are For’ by The Swarbriggs, which the writers considered to be the funniest music video of all time. In fact, some of the scenes are remade almost exactly to match The Swarbriggs' music video.
The word “Eurovision” is never mentioned once during the episode, instead referred to only as the “Eurosong Competition”. Coincidentally, the Eurovision Song Contest 1996 was branded as “Eurosong 96” by Norwegian host broadcaster NRK.
The episode is claimed to have been inspired by the events surrounding the Irish selection of its entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 1994. RTÉ were believed to have chosen an lower quality song in Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids’ in order to prevent possibly having to host the expensive Eurovision Song Contest for the third time in a row.
Just a month after the initial broadcast of the episode ‘A Song for Europe’, Ireland won the Eurovision Song Contest 1996 for the fourth time in five years.
Declan Lowney, who directed the episode (and most episodes of ‘Father Ted’), was also the director of the Eurovision Song Contest 1988.