2016 Eurovision preview

2016 Eurovision preview

Eurovision 2016 previewThe 61st Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Stockholm this Saturday night and promises to be bigger and better than ever. Superstar Justin Timberlake will perform at the event which this year features 26 countries as far afield as Israel, Azerbaijan and Australia.

With four of Europe’s traditionally strong countries – Greece, Denmark, Ireland and Norway – having already been eliminated, it should be an interesting night. Keep reading for my 2016 Eurovision Song Contest preview.

The favourites

As ever, there are a number of factors which have to be taken into account when trying to pick a winner. A decent song is obviously key, but political considerations and their draw in the running order will also affect a nation’s chances.

The stars have aligned this year for Russia who go into the event as the clear odds-on favourite. For me, Sergey Lazarev’s You Are The Only One is far from the best song in this year’s competition but with eight ex-Soviet republics and countless more Eastern European countries getting a vote, they are guaranteed a good tally – whatever the song.

The favourites have also been drawn in an absolutely prime position. Eight of the last eleven winners have appeared between 17th and 22nd place on the night and their draw at 18th is a prime slot. Lazarev is certainly the one to beat at 8/13.

In the week leading up to the Contest it has been the Ukraine that looked to pose most threat to their neighbours although Jamala’s 1944 has drifted a little in the betting in recent days.

A dramatic and pointed ballad, 1944 concerns the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, in the 1940s, by the Soviet Union at the hands of Joseph Stalin. It opens with the rather un-Eurovision lines ‘when strangers are coming/they come to your house/they kill you all/and say ‘we’re not guilty”.

It’s an interesting song and with plenty of Western sympathy for the Ukraine’s plight it could go well at 7/1.

After making their debut in 2015, Australia return this year and they could outperform last year’s fifth place finish. Dami Im’s Sound of Silence is a classic Eurovision ballad and its 13th place draw shouldn’t scupper its chances considering the last two Contest winners have been drawn 10th and 11th.

The logistics of organising next year’s Contest in Sydney could be interesting but Australia are 4/1 to win.

One more win for Sweden would lift them to equal-top of the Eurovision success table and the reigning champions field 17 year-old Frans this year with his song If I Were Sorry. It’s a nice enough contemporary pop song and Sweden are traditionally one of the competition’s heavyweights. It is a 14/1 chance.

Some outsiders to watch

Eurovision 2016 preview
Douwe Bob of the Netherlands

Over recent years the Netherlands have been one of the competition’s strongest entrants. Anouk’s underrated Birds came 9th in 2013 before The Common Linnets’ Calm After The Storm finished runner-up to Conchita in 2014.

Earlier this week I had high hopes for their entry Slow Down by Douwe Bob; a mid-paced and jaunty song which sounds a little like an American TV theme from the early 1980s. Catchy and different I thought it could go well at long odds but it has been drawn third on the night – far too early – which means it’s highly unlikely to win, even at 33/1.

The same goes for this year’s entry from Belgium. Laura Tesoro came through Thursday’s second semi-final with What’s The Pressure which mixes the bassline from Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust with the brass of Fleur East’s Sax to decent effect.

With groovy 70s staging and an energetic performance from the singer this would ordinarily be a contender, but it is up first and you have to go back to 1984 for the last time the opening tune won the Contest.

Italy came third in Vienna last year and their entry this year is the likeable and classy No Degree of Separation sung by Francesca Michielin. It may struggle because it is mainly in Italian (apart from one chorus) and fifteen of the last sixteen Eurovision winners have sung in English (Serbia in 2007 is the exception).

The staging is lovely and it is a nice song but drawn 6th it does go a little early and is a 33/1 chance.

Israel‘s Made Of Stars would be a dark horse if it was later in the running order while I think Poland‘s Colour Of Your Life will do much better than the 100/1 offered, mainly thanks to an overblown but anthemic chorus.

If you’re looking to back something totally different that’s in a prime place in the draw then Georgia‘s Midnight Gold could be a lively each-way chance. An indie-rock song featuring strobes and a dazzling, energetic light show, it is co-written by Eurovision legend Thomas G:son from Sweden.

It will certainly stand out between two female vocalists and may be a surprise contender for a top ten finish at 8/1.

And what of the United Kingdom? Joe and Jake go second last with their uptempo You’re Not Alone which is certainly not the worst song the UK has sent to the Contest. It’s 40/1 to win and 3/1 to finish in the top ten.

(Odds from Paddy Power were correct at the time of writing)

Why the new TSB advert may be the most shameless and cynical ever

As you may have noticed, the TSB brand is back on the High Street. For those of us that remember the old Trustee Savings Bank – I opened my very first bank account with the TSB back in the 1990s – having the Bank That Likes To Say Yes back in action seems a bit like a return to the halcyon days of old fashioned banking.

The TSB’s return has been accompanied by a charming animated

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If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s here:

Now, I have no axe to grind with the TSB. I’m sure the people who work there are lovely and I never had any trouble with my current account there 20 odd years ago. What I do have a problem with, though, is this advert: one of the most disingenuous I have ever seen.

For reasons of clarity, let’s outline the facts surrounding TSB’s recent past:

1. The bank existed as its own entity until 1986

2. In 1986 shares in TSB Bank were floated on the stock market

3. In 1995 it merged with the Lloyds Banking Group. The two brands were amalgamated and shareholders then owned shares in Lloyds TSB

4. In 2008, the falling HBOS share price led Lloyds taking over its rival. Lloyds TSB shareholders approved the takeover in November 2008 (thanks to JP for the clarification, here)

5. The British Government bailed out the bank by buying a 43.4% stake in the group in 2009

6. As this purchase was considered ‘state aid’, under European Commission competition laws, the group was required to sell a portion of its business

7. The group decided that a number of Lloyds TSB branches in England and Wales, together with all branches of Lloyds TSB Scotland plc and Cheltenham & Gloucester will form a new business which will operate under the TSB brand

8. The new TSB bank is expected to float in 2014

In short, the TSB bank ceased to exist in 1995 when shareholders approved a merger with Lloyds. Then, the ‘new’ bank was taken over by HBOS and, thanks to its failure and the requirement for government intervention, was forced to divest itself of 632 branches

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which are now branded as TSB.

Let’s check this version of events against the TSB advert, shall we?

“He [Henry Duncan] built a bank whose sole purpose was to help hard working, local people. He believed industry could be encouraged and a sense of pride and independence fostered only when a bank served its community with the people’s interests at its heart.”

Hmm. Nice ideas but starting to look a bit shaky at the point where the bank is considering a stock market flotation…

“The groundwork had been laid for ordinary people to thrive, along with their neighbours. To build communities together. Secure in the knowledge that their money was safe and working for the benefit of all.”

I’m pretty sure that the nature of a stockmarket flotation – as TSB did in 1986 – means that the bank is now working for the benefit of its shareholders rather than its customers. And, a merger with a major rival that is approved by shareholders doesn’t suggest to me that the money ‘was working for the benefit of all’.

Anyway, it goes on.

“And then a storm came. In the turbulent times that followed it was easy to think the ideals that Henry Duncan held so dear had been lost forever. But they hadn’t. They had always been here just waiting to be found. TSB – Welcome back to local banking.”


So, we’re supposed to buy the notion that the relaunch of the TSB brand is an attempt to reconnect with 200 year old visions of what a bank should be like? That Lloyds and subsequently HBOS were simply keeping TSB warm and cosy until such a time when the British public demanded that behaviour from a bank again? That the TSB is going to be a local bank run for the benefit of its customers?

The TSB is back for one reason and one reason only: because HBOS – its owner- failed, the government bailed it out and the laws meant that they had to flog some of their assets. Indeed, had the Co-Operative Bank not pulled out of a deal for the 632 branches at the eleventh hour, the TSB would still be a distant memory and those locations would now be branded as the Co-Op.

And next year the TSB will be floated, once again owned by shareholders and ripe for being gobbled up by a rival when the economy recovers.

I can’t help thinking that Henry Duncan – the man behind the TSB – wouldn’t be celebrating at the return of the ideals on which his bank was based. He’d be disappointed and let down by the appalling spin that HBOS are putting on this whole campaign. Inaccurate, shameless and cynical, this is one of the most unpleasant adverts I’ve seen in recent years.

The Improvisers’ Guide to Better Writing – Part 2

Improvising is all about creating something magical from scratch. Writing involves much the same process. But, how can you get yourself in a state of mind where you perform your best work? What helps you to give yourself the best chance of doing something magical? And how on earth are the skills needed for getting on stage and making stuff up going to help your writing?

Well, they can. And this series is all about becoming a better improviser and a better write. Last time, I looked at the importance of a warm-up (in writing terms). Today, it’s all about focus.

Part 2 – Focusing on what you’re doing

Imagine you’re in a play. You turn up at the theatre five minutes before the curtain goes up, you greet your fellow actors and then you wander onto stage. Are you likely to put in your best performance? Probably not.

Had you arrived in plenty of time, been able to do a warm-up, re-read your lines and chatted to your co-stars, you’d have

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been much more likely to put in a showstopping performance.

Preparation and

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focusing on the job in hand are as important in writing as they are in improvised comedy, or, indeed, in any other form of performance art. Daniel Day-Lewis recently became the first man to win three acting Oscars and is famous for his meticulous preparation. Is that a coincidence?

When I take an improv class, doing a series of exercises that focus the mind are key to getting the best out of the participants. Some of the exercises can seem like children’s party games, but what they are doing is making sure everyone is concentrating, focused and in the right mindset for what comes next.

Focusing exercises also ensure that everyone is on the same wavelength, gets the creative juices flowing and psyches everyone up for a good performance.

While writing tends to be more of a solitary endeavour, it’s still vital that you’re in the right frame of mind to do your best work. Preparation is key.

Before you start, make sure you know what it is you want to achieve. Read through your brief so you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Re-read some previous work to make sure you understand the tone of voice and style that you’re looking for. And make sure you fully understand what you want to write before you begin.

Passing a clap around a circle or

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trying to keep different imaginary coloured balls in the air might work for an improv class but not for you as a writer. But, the principles are the same. Before you start make sure you’re focused, in the right mindset and, most importantly, ready to perform.

Next time I’ll look at how a simple improv game can be the perfect way to write. In the meantime, please share your thoughts below.

The Improvisers’ Guide to Better Writing – Part 1


Author: Nick Parkhouse, Published 28 February 2013

The Improvisers’ Guide to Better Writing – Part 1

Can learning the skills that make good improvised comedy help you as a writer? Yes, and over the next few weeks you will find out why and how. Today, we’ll start with the very basics: the warm-up.

Since 2009, I’ve been involved with an improvised comedy group here in Nottingham. Despite being pretty ropey to begin with, I’ve attended countless workshops, shows and events over the last three and a bit years, to the point where I’ve reached of a standard where I can not only perform on stage but also teach the subject.

Of course, the instant reaction I get from telling someone that I teach improvised comedy is “How is that possible? Surely you make it up on the spot?” Of course, this is true. But, as with any other pastime, it is possible to learn skills and techniques that make you better.

Since September 2012, I’ve been teaching kids drama and comedy in Nottingham to a lovely bunch of 8-12 year olds. The Little Imps have come on leaps and bounds since the sessions began, culminating in a ‘mini show’ to their families just before Christmas. And, as well as teaching the basics of stagecraft and how to perform improvised comedy, it struck me that teaching improv has dozens of other positive benefits in other walks of life.

Many corporations use improve as a teambuilding exercise. Team GB’s women’s hockey team did a day of improvisation as part of their build up to London 2012. As one of the parents pointed out to me after a recent session, it’s obvious that improvisation offers other benefits than learning to be funny on stage. It develops skills from social interaction and confidence building to listening

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skills and teamwork.

And, the basic skills needed for improvisation also help us to write better. How? Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of the skills that will make you both a

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better improviser and a better writer. Today, we’ll start with the warm-up.

Part 1 –

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The importance of a warm-up

Most of the people who attend our sessions don’t like the warm-up. To start with, I was the same. What is the point of spending the first 15 minutes of a session jogging on the spot or making weird noises?

Now, I don’t suggest that you do a hundred squat thrusts before you start to write a press release. Neither do I think it’s

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imperative that you make motorboat sounds with your lips or repeat a tongue twister before you start on that website rewrite.

However, warm-up games and exercises can really help improve the quality of your work. They are designed to get you in a cheery mood, focus your mind on what’s about to happen and sharpen concentration.

I’ll talk about some basic group exercises to focus the mind next time. However, the point is that a warm-up takes you from whatever mindset you were in before – stress from your work, the traffic you’ve just sat in, the row you’ve had with your partner – and moves you into a place where you are ready to perform.

I think that is a brilliant lesson for anyone who’s about to write. Emptying your mind of everything else that is going on in order to concentrate on the matter in hand makes for more focused, interesting improv. It also makes for better writing. Try it sometime. You don’t have to spend hours running around the block. Just do some simple breathing exercises, stretch your back and your arms out and try and shake off all the other things competing for your brain’s attention.

As I’ve learned along the way, warm-ups are absolutely essential to a decent

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performance, particularly on stage. Without it, you’re not in the mindset where you’re ready to perform. And, that can apply to practically anything.

Next time I’ll look at how basic improv games and exercises focus your mind and help you to get ‘in the zone’. In the meantime, please share your thoughts below.


Author: Nick Parkhouse, Published 29 January 2013

English students identify the 3 factors that make great copy

Since October, I’ve been teaching a professional writing course to a group of second year degree students at the University of Nottingham. Their Creative and Professional Writing degree is one of only a handful of courses in the UK that incorporates copywriting, business writing and copy-editing as well as more traditional English modules. And, as it’s a compulsory module, they all have to come to the lectures. (You’ll have to ask them about that.)

Before Christmas, I set them an assignment which contributed towards their final degree grade. I asked them to identify the three factors that, in their opinion, were essential to great quality copy. They then had to critique a piece of copy against these criteria.

Having marked the 17 assignments, I thought it would be interesting to share the results with you, and for you to see what the students consider the three factors that make great copy. In order, the results were:

  1. The copy should be clear, concise and easy to read
  2. It should contain good ‘calls to action’
  3. It should be focused on the reader

Other choices included ‘a good headline’, ‘the correct tone of voice’, ‘it should be reader focused’ and ‘it should be benefit driven’.

Now, clearly these are all important factors and a good piece of copy will no doubt satisfy all of these criteria and more. However, it got me thinking as to what my choice of three factors would have been. After some deliberation, I think I’d have chosen:

  1. Good copy should be benefit driven
  2. It should focus on the reader
  3. It should have a good call to action

Some of the students had an excellent grasp of copywriting ‘theory’ (such as it is) and produced some excellent work, justifying their choices with research and examples. But, if you had been asked to complete a similar assignment, what would you have chosen? Do you agree with the students’ choices? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Author: Nick Parkhouse, Published 18 January 2013

Do you mind your manners when you write?

For a few weeks before Christmas, I spent much of my time helping my wife with her fast-growing online business. For a couple of months, she spent 18 hours a day making lovely ceramic gifts while I looked after the logistics of sending hundreds of orders far and wide.

For a long period, our lead time for orders was around 3 weeks. This was clearly marked on the product pages and in the confirmation e-mail when customers placed

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an order. For most people that was fine but, as you would expect, a handful of people got in touch to ask if they could receive their order a bit sooner.

This is typical of the emails I was receiving from clients:

Hi there

I recently ordered a personalised necklace for my mum’s Christmas present. I note from the email that the estimated date of dispatch for this is 17 December which will be after I last see her before Christmas. Is there any possible way of a quicker dispatch?

Kind regards

On the face of it, this seems like a perfectly polite request. But look closer. Nowhere does the customer use a small but important word: ‘please’.

For a few weeks I was receiving several of these emails every day. Clearly we couldn’t prioritise everyone’s order, so I developed a simple rule. If the customer said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, I’d prioritise it. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t.

Now. I appreciate that this may seem a bit picky and a bit arrogant. However, it actually got me thinking about how easy it is for manners to go out of the window when you write. Had any of these people spoken to me about their order, I expect all of them would automatically

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have said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

I then began to notice that I wasn’t saying ‘please’ in my own emails and correspondence either, even when I was asking quite a favour. This is something that I’ve immediately tried to remedy.

As copywriters, we spend days asking people to ‘call us now’ or ‘get in touch today’ without ever saying ‘please’. I appreciate that it’s not relevant (or indeed appropriate) in all cases, but wouldn’t your copy be

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a little bit warmer and more polite if you just said the magic word once in a while?

Have you had any success with using the word ‘please’? Do you automatically include it? And does your copywriting mind its manners? Please share your thoughts below.


Author: Nick Parkhouse, Published 11 January 2013

Your Help Needed

Thanks for taking the time to read

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I’m in the process of researching a new book about how you spot a bonkers partner and I could really use your help. I’m looking for any stories about bonkers ‘partner behaviour’. It can be you, your current hubbie, wife, girlfriend or boyfriend or something related to an ex. Or, it could be stories your friends and family have told you, stories you’ve read about in the paper or online or links to odd or disturbing articles.

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People can tweet me @nickparkhouse, write them on my Facebook page or e-mail me at info@nickparkhouse.com now.

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Has or Have?

Is Manchester United a singular or a plural?

The reason I ask is that one of my

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current clients is a major local motor retailer. And, you’ve probably worked for companies and had this same issue yourself.? Let’s call them Sandicliffe (as that’s their name).

When writing a press release for them the other week, I found myself totally confused as to which of these phrases was correct:

Sandicliffe have launched a new initiative
Sandicliffe has launched

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new initiative

I’ve also encountered this problem when writing things like “Chelsea have a great away record this season” (clearly not true, but bear with me) and “England have a tricky away trip in France.”

Technically, I suppose that as a sports team or a company is one entity then the correct grammar would be to say that “Scotland has a great record” in the same way that “Madonna has a great voice”. But, it just doesn’t sound right.

So, which is it? Sandicliffe have a great range of used card? Or Sandicliffe has a great range of used cars? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Know Your Plurals

One of my longstanding clients owns a lovely catering and sandwich delivery business in London.? Just looking at the pictures of his luscious food platters makes my tummy rumble – and this happens at least once a month when I sit down and write his latest newsletter.

This month I was focusing on his range of patisserie platters.? Portuguese custard tarts, croissants, fruit tartlettes and chocolate éclairs are amongst the delicious snacks that are offered as are those French pastries with the chocolate in the middle.

Now, I know that it’s called a pain au chocolat.? And I did French ‘A’ level (admittedly *many* years ago) and so I should probably have known that more than one of them would be ‘pains au chocolat’.? But it got me thinking: sometimes plurals aren’t quite what we expect, are they?

So, here are some

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plural oddities, just in case you’re ever writing about more than one formula or Attorney General.

Plural oddities

One of the most common mistakes that writers make is to simply add an ‘s’ to the end of a noun to pluralise it.? While that may work with a cat, a key or a football, it won’t necessarily work in all cases.

Jobs are a common source of confusion as, quite often, they don’t follow a pattern.? For example, you might have several brigadier generals, judge advocates or lieutenant colonels.? However, there may be a different group of attorneys general, sergeants major, paymasters general and notaries public.

You see the problem?

And it’s not just jobs that can cause confusion.? If you’re dealing with more than one pelvis, it’ll be pelves.? More than one bandit?? Banditti.? And more than one cannon?? Cannon.

Here’s a list of a few unusual pluralised words, just in case you’re ever writing for a company that sells piccolos or oxen.

Daughter-in-law? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Daughters-in-law

Potato? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

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? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Potatoes (that’s for Dan Quayle, that one)

Opus? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Opera

Teaspoonful? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Teaspoonfuls

Mister? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Messrs.

Table d’hote? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Tables d’hote

Manservant? ? ?

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? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Menservants

Ox? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Oxen

Cul-de-sac? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Culs-de-sac

Crisis? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Crises

Court martial? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Courts martial

Formula? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Formulae

Piccolo? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Piccolos

Please share any other unusual plurals in the comments below…

Get with the program(me)

One of my current projects is to rewrite the website of one of the region’s biggest motor companies.? This morning, I was looking at their ‘About Us’ pages when I happened upon some information about their Customer Care Program.

It got me thinking.? Is it a Customer Care Program in the UK?? Or a Customer Care Programme?

Program or Programme?

Apparently, the word ‘program’ was predominantly used in the UK until the 19th century, when the spelling ‘programme’ became more common — mainly as a result of influence from French, which has the same word ‘programme’.

So, if you’re using the word in British English, they you should almost always use ‘programme’.

The one exception is when you are referring

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to the word in the context of computing.? A computer program should always be the shorter version of the word.

So, in British English:

  • You can take advantage of our Customer Care Programme
  • I can’t get this program to run on my PC
  • My favourite television programme is Doctor Who

However, if you’re writing in American English you should always use the word ‘program’, whatever the context.? The same is generally true of Australian English, where ‘program’ is also mainly used (although ‘programme’ is still in common usage).

So, if you want someone to ‘get with the program’, you probably want to be using the American version.? Or don’t use that horrible phrase at all, of course.

As a verb

Using the word as a verb follows much the same rules.

If you want to tell your computer to do something, you will program it.? For example, ‘it is easy to program this PC’.

However, if you’re using British English and want to programme anything else, use the longer version.? For example ‘the next stage of the plan is programmed for next year’.

So, my

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clients now have a Customer Care Programme.? Lovely.