The songwriter suspected for 48 years it was only the UK that gave the group’s song Waterloo ‘nul points’, until a juror set him straight
When Abba’s Bjorn Ulvaeus learned that the UK had given Waterloo “nul points” in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, he suspected dirty tricks.
He believed the UK had engaged in a cunning conspiracy to nobble the song with the greatest chance of winning.
However on Friday, one of those jurors put him straight during an encounter on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Basil Herwald revealed to Ulvaeus that four other countries also gave Sweden zero points, despite Waterloo going on to win.
“I don’t want to burst your bubble,” he said. “But do you know that Abba won with the least points of any Eurovision winner ever?
“I’ve waited so long to tell you this, Bjorn. Where have you been?” said Herwald, before listing the other countries involved – Greece, Monaco, Belgium and Italy.
“So, five countries. It’s not just us, Bjorn … You really need to get onto Radio Italy, Radio Belgium and everyone else and suggest there was some sort of plot.”
Ulvaeus, who was guest editing the show, told Herwald: “You’re someone I’ve been wanting to talk to for, I think, 40 years now. All of you jurors were sitting in the same room and then what happened? Apparently, the majority of you didn’t like what you heard?”
Herwald said the UK jury had only listened to Waterloo sung in Swedish during the rehearsal, although they cast their vote after listening to it sung in English on the night.
He recalled: “When you came on at night, you all appeared and sang in English, and I remember at least one of the other jurors saying: ‘They were supposed to sing in Swedish!’”
The 10 jury members could cast only one vote each, and Herwald said they preferred the Italian entry, Si, by Gigliola Cinquetti, which eventually came second to Abba.
“There was a lot of sympathy for the song that came second. The Italian song was called Si, which means Yes, but that was seen in Italy as propaganda in connection with the upcoming divorce referendum.
“So it wasn’t played in Italy, and Italy actually didn’t take part in the final [as jurors] at all but we all liked it.”
A chastened Ulvaeus was forced to concede: “There was no plot. I’m sorry that the UK has been the crook in this for so many years.”
He told Herwald: “I’m so happy I’ve spoken to you to conclude there was no conspiracy, no strategy.”
When told that Abba received the lowest points tally ever for a Eurovision winner, he said: “Oh, wow. That’s another record.”
“He was very keen to tell me… good old Basil!”
Björn Ulvaeus reacts to his encounter with Basil Herwald – one of the British jurors who gave ABBA nul points in the 1974 Eurovision
Hear how they both had scores to settle: https://t.co/o9aOKeme1I#R4Today pic.twitter.com/ogFWOfo1H2
Abba received 24 points. The Netherlands won with 21 points in 1959, but with fewer countries involved in the voting.
Ulvaeus said: “Thank you for enlightening me, both for the account of the ‘nul points’ and the narrowest margin ever. I kind of like that. I thought that our victory was resounding, but now it seems it wasn’t. I’m even more happy now.”
Last year, Ulvaeus aired his conspiracy theory about the UK, saying: “It’s kind of strange they would give us zero points. It sounds like they were trying to do something cunning.”
After the interview, Justin Webb, a Today programme presenter, joked: “It’s not often that guest editors learn something during the course of their guest editing about themselves and their history.”
Ulvaeus laughed: “He was very keen to tell me, wasn’t he? Good old Basil.”
Herwald, who went on to become a solicitor in Manchester, also told the programme: “The most important thing to come out of the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, and I played a minute part in this, is that when the Portuguese entrant sang it was the secret signal to the colonels in Portugal to come out of their barracks with carnations in their rifles and start the revolution against fascism.”
Portuguese generals had agreed that hearing the Portuguese entry, After Goodbye by Paulo de Carvalho, played on the radio on April 25 – two weeks after the contest – would be the signal to begin the Carnation Revolution, which overthrew the country’s dictatorship.
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