May 5, 2008 / 6:15 PM / 9 years ago

Franco said to have stolen Cliff Richard's glory

MADRID (Reuters) - British singer Cliff Richard was robbed of victory in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest after Spanish dictator Francisco Franco fixed the vote, according to a documentary.

Richard was the bookmakers' favorite to win with his song 'Congratulations' however Spanish contestant Massiel pipped him to the title by just one point with 'La La La' -- Spain's first of two victories in the competition's 52-year history.

"It was a fix," the documentary's producer Montse Fernandez Vila quoted Spanish television presenter Jose Maria Inigo as saying. "Massiel won Eurovision with bought votes."

Spanish TV executives traveled Europe promising to buy second-rate programs and concerts billing strange acts in return for Eurovision votes, Inigo told the documentary.

Victory was seen as vital to General Franco's fascist regime in boosting Spain's image abroad, Fernandez Vila said.

Eurovision ended voting by national juries to avoid such scams said Bjorn Erichsen, Director of organizers Eurovision TV, though he had only heard of plots to swap votes, not buy them.

"Franco was really so keen for Spain to win it? We're not talking about NATO here or the EU, or political influence, we're talking about a pop song contest," Erichsen said laughing, before adding: "I can't exclude the possibility it might be true.

Spain only drafted Massiel in at the last moment after Joan Manuel Serrat, who was meant to sing at the London event, refused to perform 'La La La' in Spanish rather than his native Catalan -- a regional language repressed during the dictatorship.

"If you look back at the (propaganda newsreel), you realize with all the parties that were organized and the way Massiel was turned into a national hero ... it was excessive for a song festival. It all served to glorify the regime," Fernandez said.

Massiel was not able to be reached for comment.

Although 'Congratulations' went on to become a big hit in several European countries, Richard never won the Eurovision title -- his second entry 'Power to All Our Friends' in 1973 finished third.

Asked if Eurovision would investigate, Erichsen was emphatic: "No! Just to make Cliff Richard a little happier and the Spanish winner a bit more unhappy? I don't think you should dig up old bodies to prove he was or wasn't the father. It's history."

Spanish channel La Sexta had been due to broadcast the documentary, 'I lived the Spanish May 1968' on Sunday night, but it was cancelled to show Real Madrid celebrating winning Spain's Primera Liga football title.

Reporting by Ben Harding; Editing by Jon Boyle

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