Oh fellow feathers on the breeze, sing with us a song of peace as ESC United, in a series of articles, looks back at Eurovision 1982. Held on April 24, 1982, in a surprising venue in a rural part of Northern England, Eurovision 1982 is a contest with interesting parallels to today, and many stories that fans should find compelling.

In a year when the reigning Eurovision champions are unable to fulfill their duties as hosts due to safety concerns because of a violent foreign occupier, we thought we’d look back 40 years to a contest where the runaway winner was an entreaty to peace at a time of uncertainty for the continent.

And as the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) continues its search for a new host location – based on current reports, the United Kingdom – we have a look at one of the contest’s quirkiest host towns.

A host location so quirky, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) used “Where is Harrogate?” as a running theme throughout the show and as the introduction to the show itself. As the show opened, each country was listed and “Where is Harrogate?” displayed in the official language of the competing nation over a map of Europe. The interval would feature scenes from Yorkshire and Harrogate’s surrounding attractions, such as Castle Howard.

Why was Harrogate selected?

Much has been made about why Harrogate, North Yorkshire was selected by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) instead of one of the United Kingdom’s urban centers, but the answer is really staggeringly simple – the BBC liked Harrogate because its convention center’s auditorium was brand new, the size of which fit the then parameters of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), and was state of the art and would require less effort by BBC technicians to make the auditorium fit for broadcast (bear in mind, the UK had a reputation for technical and labor problems at Eurovision during the ’70s).

Further, the BBC had wanted to significantly change up how foreign broadcasters and audiences experienced the host city. Perhaps more than any contest before, the host town was elevated and celebrated in both the pre-contest events and the contest itself. In showing off a scenic postcard town like Harrogate, rather than the usual urban center, if the contest was a wine, then the BBC got to give it a very distinctive terroir from the first press junket to the close.

Yorkshire Post journalist David Behrens recounted that “for a week leading up to the big night, Harrogate was awash with music people, journalists and broadcasting executives, who sloshed their way from one drinks reception to another – the biggest at Castle Howard, location for the recently-screened (on ITV) Brideshead Revisited and the ancestral home of the BBC’s then-chairman, Lord Howard. Each national broadcaster and record company took it in turn to host a junket, at the rate of two or three a day, and there was scarcely a bar in town that didn’t benefit.”

Behrens added that “though it was one of the BBC’s biggest outside broadcasts, the video tape of the event makes it look like a house party compared to the vast and expensive Eurovision finals of recent years.”

Facts about Harrogate

Harrogate, North Yorkshire (but formerly of the West Riding of Yorkshire prior to 1974), is a town of roughly 75,000 people. To the East of the scenic Yorkshire Dales National Park, the nearest city is Leeds, roughly 20 miles away to the South. York, the famous Roman settlement turned Viking capital of Danelaw turned medieval fort city, is roughly 20 miles to the East. Some say the Vikings never left the area and formed the fanbase for local soccer side Leeds United.

Often referred to as “the Mayfair of the North,” Harrogate is one of the wealthiest towns in the North of England, its wealth built on centuries of tourism as a spa town. It is thanks to the properties of the local water that Harrogate attracted legions of wealthy tourists from the 1600s to the Victorian era, when the Winter Garden Baths and the Royal Pump Room were built.

The famous Spa Rooms of 1835 stood where the Harrogate Convention Centre, the host venue for Eurovision 1982, stood. Opened as the Royal Hall in 1903, the Centre became a major holder of events in the Yorkshire area. Multiple halls are added over the decades, particularly in 1966 and 1971 to enlarge the facilities, but it was the addition of the 3,000 seater auditorium in 1982 that put the Centre on the BBC’s radar for Eurovision.

British duo Bardo outside the ''Harrogate Conference Centre in 1982.
Bardo outside the Harrogate Convention Center; c. Yorkshire Post

Harrogate is also the place to grab high tea if you are ever in the North of England – Betty’s Tea Room was opened in 1919 and Harrogate is home to British tea titans Taylors of Harrogate and Yorkshire Tea.

A Plea for Peace Among Conflicts

There was one notable news story dominating the news as a plea for peace won Eurovision 1982 – right as harp strings were being plucked and Nicole asked for a little loving and a little giving, the host nation’s Navy was en route to the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean to repel the Argentinian military occupying the small, remote British territory.

On April 2, 1982, Argentina invaded and occupied the islands. The United Kingdom’s response was swift. On April 5, 1982, British Parliament authorized the use of military force to repel Argentina. Quite literally as Nicole sang for peace, a British naval armada was en route. The result was a quick and decisive victory for the United Kingdom, though 255 British and 649 Argentinian servicemen lost their lives in the fighting. General Leopoldo Galtieri was soon deposed as President of Argentina by the military, and it wasn’t until 1989 when relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina were normalized. Most of the United Kingdom’s fellow entrants at Eurovision were either supportive of or neutral in their stance on the conflict.

But the United Kingdom would not be the only Eurovision 1982 entrant embroiled in conflict in the summer of 1982 – six weeks after the conclusion of the contest, Israel invaded Lebanon on June 6, 1982 after a serious of bombardments between Israel’s Defense Force (IDF) and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) operating in the south of Lebanon. With Syria assisting the PLO, the conflict would last for three years and claim thousands of lives on both sides.

Yuri Andropov also replaced the Soviet Union’s 18 year leader Leonid Brezhnev in November 1982, bringing insecurity to the continent as the West sought to figure out if he was a reformer or if he was going to respond to domestic difficulties with increased repression.

But Nicole, at the end of the decade, would have the last laugh. The Berlin Wall, long a blight on her home country’s former capital, would fall by decade’s end.

Upcoming Articles in our Eurovision 1982 Series

William Carter will review the German national selection, Ein Lied für Harrogate, and the 11 entrants who eventually lost to Eurovision 1982 winner Nicole.

ESC United’s resident trivia king Connor Terry has interesting facts galore about Eurovision 1982, from cancellations to repeat performers, in PART ONE and PART TWO.

James Maude argues that the most famous song from the Eurovision 1982 cycle didn’t even make the Harrogate stage. He will review the legacy of a song that was reborn as a new wave classic in the United States, and a songwriter who penned some of the ’80s and ’90s most memorable pop hits.

Thierry Mugler’s illegitimate son Boris Meersman casts his opinion on the fashion of Eurovision 1982. Who delights and who offends his Belgian sensibilities?

Yorkshire nationalist James Maude reviews the career and legacy of Eurovision 1982 and United Kingdom conductor Ronnie Hazlehurst, especially in a composition for a sitcom that would resurrect the fortunes of another small Yorkshire hamlet.

The ESC United team will run their 2022 sensibilities over the 1982 entries and rank them. Will we agree on the results of 1982, or will time be kind and we end up celebrating an overlooked gem?

And lastly, William Carter will review the life and times of Eurovision 1982’s eventual winner, Nicole.

What memories do #YOU have of Eurovision 1982? Who do #YOU think should have won the contest or done better? Let us know in the comments below, on our social media, or in our forum and Discord.

Header image background vector provided by Andy Vinnikov of Shutterstock

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