on 13 November 2006
Tim Moore was inspired to write this book through his friendship with Jane Alexander and her experience of coming 3rd in the UK national final to choose a song for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1989. He began to wonder what had become of the singers who came last in the Eurovision Song Contest, and this led him to look at the names of those who have suffered what he dubs »light entertainment's ultimate indignity«- a zero score in the Eurovision Song Contest.
The contest has given the English language the term »Nul Points«, despite the fact that, as Mr Moore rightly points out, the phrase has never been uttered on the Eurovision stage. He decided to limit his definition of »Nul-Pointers« to those who have failed to score under the current 12 points voting system (previous voting systems made it much easier to come away empty handed). This left him with a list of 14 acts to visit in their own counties, in chronological order, beginning with Norway 's Jahn Teigen and ending with the UK 's Jemini.
What had begun as a project based on the UK 's Woganesque derision of the ESC, fuelled by schadenfreude, quickly took on a life of its own as Tim Moore delved deeper into the lives and times of Eurovision and its »pointless« contestants. The book is meticulously researched and the author generously credits the Eurovision fan base as his best and most reliable source of material. From the 14 candidates, he finally visited 9. A meeting with Remediou Amaya [Spain 1983] could not be arranged and Çetin Alp had sadly passed away, drawing the final curtain on his 1983 debacle for Turkey (the book is dedicated to his memory). Wilfred ( Austria 1988), Thomas Förster ( Austria 1991) and Gunvor ( Switzerland 1998) all declined to talk about their Eurovision experiences. Nevertheless, all these artists get a sympathetic hearing in the book.
Of the close encounters of the Eurovision kind which do take place, the reports range from the amusing (Teigen and Sigyal Taner) to the distressing (Finn Kalvik and Celia Lawson). The book is packed full of trivia and pointed observations, making it a joy to read. Tim Moore's style owes something to that of fellow travel writer Bill Bryson, another author who combines facts with fun. The final chapter is dedicated to his visit to see the ESC live in Kyiv in 2005. Only here does he drop a factual clanger, wrongly crediting Gracia's ill-fated German entry to the pen of Ralf Siegel (a forgivable error). He was much relieved when the contest produced no additional »Nul Pointers«, even if 2005 was a year of near-misses.
One of the most amusing and original books even written on subject, this book is highly recommended to Eurovision fans and Eurovision foes alike.
on 4 October 2006
I can't say I'd usually have been attracted to a book about the Eurovision Song Contest, let alone the worst of it, but as a bit of a Tim Moore diehard I thought I'd give this a go. I'm certainly glad I did - along with the usual belly laughs (Terry Wogan eat your heart out) I found myself almost welling up with tears at some of the 13 amazing stories he travels the world to hear first hand. All human life is here: tragedy, farce, compassion, resentment, the lot. I finished it in three days and when I lent it to my sister she did it in two (breaking her previous record by about a month!).
on 1 January 2007
Following on from his exploits around the Tour de France route, the "real" Monopoly board of London and a trek with a stubborn donkey along the route of the Santiago de Compostela, it wasn't only a matter of time before Tim Moore's attention, and writing, was drawn to the wonderful spectacle that is the Eurovision Song Contest.
Rather than cover the contest as a whole Tim decided to delve deeper into the betes-noire of the contest, those much-maligned artists whose joy at national victory was brought suddenly and very publicly back down to earth with a bump when they scored nul points.
As any Eurovision statto will tell you there have been 34 entrants who have failed to trouble the scorers, although some can reasonably claim that the scoring system didn't help. Between 1971 and 1973 it wasn't possible to score nothing as every song, however bad, received some points and in the early to mid sixties there were so few points on offer than the non-scorers were always in good (or bad) company.
The eminently-readable "Nul Points" follows Tim Moore's attempts to interview the last 14 non-scorers from Jahn Teigen in 1974 to our very own Jemini in 2003. Out of patriotic loyalty, I actually decided to read the Jemini chapter first and then the rest of the book. Notwithstanding the rights and wrongs of what may or may not have happened on that fateful night in the Riga's Skonto Olympic Arena, one thing that strikes me from reading the book is that Jemini seemed totally unprepared for the international arena they were about to enter. Akin to giving a Christian a plastic knife to take on the lions, there seems to have been very little in the way of a support mechanism for them in their Euro-adventure. Who should take the blame for that is now ancient history but it left me feeling more a little sorry for them as they returned to the real life of day jobs and bills to pay.
Tim Moore fails to fall into the trap of so many Fleet Street (are there actually any left there?) hacks around competition time by avoiding all the stereotypes and lazy journalism fans of the contest have come to expect. Sure, you can't not mention the political voting, the outfits, the repetitive lyrics but Tim doesn't dwell on those as he seeks to find out what has become of the unfortunate fourteen nul pointers.
Some of the infamous fourteen have survived better than others. Some like Jahn Tiegen have become Eurovision legends (his failure didn't stop two further attempts at the contest) and others, well, you'll need to read the book to find out. It's obvious that the author is a fan of the contest but he fails to let that get in the way as another book in his excellent series of travelogues only underlines what a fine, comic writer he is. For Nul Points, I award Douze Points.
on 29 April 2014
Probably the book that has given travel-writer Tim Moore his greatest challenge as he seeks to track down all those who have finished the Eurovision Song Contest with the dreaded Nul Points. Moore manages to avoid the usual British mocking tone to bring the reader through an unusual journey through European music.
on 19 July 2010
In which Tim Moore tries to track down every one of the 14 acts who have failed to score a single point in the Eurovision Song Contest since the mid-1970s. He doesn't quite succeed - four aren't interested or are otherwise untraceable and one is dead - but what he finds along the way is often scary, often touching and often just plain weird.
As a nation, the UK - a large, mainly gay, following excepted - loved to scoff at the Eurovision for as long as I can remember but still tunes in nonetheless. Moore sometimes lapses into this, which is all too easily done, and he is a bit too pleased with himself at times, but he is also genuinely witty (this man write for the Torygraph??) and some of what he unearths is really insightful. In its way, this book tells you more about modern Europe than most academic tomes.
As we learn along the way, the scoring system by which national juries give 12 points to their favourite song down to 1 for the 10th favourite came in in the mid-70s. Prior to that, an arcane system meant that loads of songs scored zero, while for a few years it was impossible to do so. The scoring goes on almost as long as the songs these days, which means a long drawn-out torture at the bottom of the table while the winner usually emerges long before the end.
It is worth noting that 'nul points' is a misnomer. Nobody is scored zero, they just never get mentioned. And in correct French it would be a singular 'nul point' in any case. Moreover, getting nul points doesn't mean that your song was the worst one, merely that nobody thought it among the ten best. Most of the nul-pointers were no worse than many others around them.
Plenty of other songs have scored very low and been utterly forgotten, but the act of scoring zero guarantees you a place in history. How you deal with it varies. Some have embraced failure (the original nul-pointer, Norway's Jahn Teigen), some have just got on with their career (Iceland's Daniel), some have spent years running away from the humiliation (the deeply troubled Finn Kalvik, also from Norway) and some are clearly too batty to be affected by it in the first place (Portugal's Celia Lawson).
Sometimes, though, it is a serious business. Switzerland's Gunvar Guggisberg basically had her life ruined by the tabloid magazine Blick for no more than being an indiscreet twit with a bit of a past who then fouled up in the contest. The chapter on her all shows a very dark underbelly to Switzerland, which comes across as a throughly nasty and hypocritical society.
Likewise, even when Turkey finally won the contest and invited all the previous national representatives to the show, they could not stop harping on at poor Cetin Alp, who had nul-pointed nearly 15 years ago, live on national TV. The poor man died four days later, still only in his 50s. Probably a coincidence, but he deserves the dedication of this book to him all the same.
The last nul-pointers to date were our very own Jemini, an engagingly bouncy pair of Scousers who were far from talentless but who did mess up horribly in Riga in 2003. As Moore sagely points out, this was the culmination of our long-term half-in, half-out attitude to the whole thing - and maybe to Europe in general - for the scoring system based on phone votes makes it unlikely that anyone will score nul points again. Predictably, we both scoffed at the silly contest and jeered at them for letting us down.
A funny, moving book which takes a daft talent show and holds a mirror very neatly to Britain and Europe. Highly recommended.
on 18 October 2006
I've been a fan of Tim Moore's books for a long time, and have all of them. This one was a departure from the norm, more of a mosaic of the Nul Pointers then of his experience, which made his previous books such a joy to read. He tends to waffle on a little too much, which is unusual, taking a while to get to the point. This makes Nul Points harder to read, with more breaks in the story. Most of the interviewee's responses are naturally predictable, 'I don't regret anything, look how well I'm doing now, and even if I'm not, I still don't care.' The glib triteness of the ESC shows through in the book, making it a difficult subject to warm to, although it is the event everyone loves to hate. Overall it's not the best of Tim Moore's stable, ranking below Do Not Pass Go. That said, it's normal for fans to rate new books worse then the old ones, purely out of unfamiliarity.
on 21 September 2007
As a long-standing fan of Tim Moore with a all-time loathing for the European Song Contest (ESC), I approached this book with trepidation. I needn't have done.
After a slow but necessary start (for those of us ESC neophytes) describing its history, Moore gets into his stride when he starts to visit and interview those luckless, and sometimes hapless performers who have have had the misfortune to score 'nul points' since 1978.
The range and depth of both the research and interviews are extraordinary, given the subject matter and the sympathetic ear he brings to all seems to be rewarded, with the single exception of a Nordic narcissist.
The final chapter about his first visit to the contest itself is a return to the knock-about humour of some of his earlier books.
Compassionate and insightful. A joy.
on 16 April 2007
Moore has a way with words. I suppose that's what you hope for from a writer, but what I mean is he's careful with the words he chooses and then, BANG, there's the punch line, so much later. You and I both get sucked in to a good narrative and suddenly we are blasted with a one-liner, so subtle, so funny, you almost feel smug because you know the only way this joke is funny is because you understand the link as you read page thirteen...that might have been three weeks ago!
`Nul Points' is a bizarre topic to choose until you realise that whether actively or with satirical irony we all, actually, watch the Eurovision Song Contest religiously, whether we admit to it, or not.
Well done Tim, isn't it time for an expose of world chess champions? I bet they have far dirtier secrets!
Another funny and entertaining book by Tim Moore. Even if the subject matter isn't necessarily appealing to you, Tim finds stories behind most of those humiliated at Eurovision that are well worth telling. As with all his books that focus on people, there is always a great deal of affection in his accounts and you never feel that he is laughing or poking fun at anyone. The book is also helped by the fact that all the performances are available on youtube.
on 1 July 2015
I suspect this book is quite different from the original concept. Moore intended to visit the Eurovision losers, get some funny stories, and sing their song as a larky duet. In fact no one will sing with him - so he quickly gives up on that idea - and most of the interviewees found their 'nul points' experience to be one of ridicule, abuse or humiliation that cast a long shadow. By the end I was longing for someone to be able to say, genuinely, that it hadn't mattered and that they had gone on to have a good life, but no one really does. It does end up making the book a little glum.