LONDON — Who best to guide Britain to glory after years of disappointment in Europe's leading pop music competition?
Apparently Engelbert Humperdinck, the sideburned, square-jawed, 75-year-old crooner who famously beat the Beatles to the No. 1 spot in the U.K. charts in 1967.
The BBC surprised pop fans Friday by choosing Humperdinck, whose last hit was almost 40 years ago, as Britain's entry in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, the international competition renowned for kitsch balladry and plastic pop.
The singer, best known for his 1967 song "Release Me," said he was honored to be representing his country and was "raring to go."
Enlisting the septuagenarian singer to compete in a pan-European talent show usually dominated by packaged pop acts was seen either as an audacious gamble or an embarrassing wrong note.
Daily Telegraph newspaper rock critic Neil McCormick called it "an act of desperation or a stroke of genius."
"Clearly, the notion that our thriving national pop culture should be embodied by a 75-year-old cabaret crooner is someone's idea of an ironic joke," McCormick wrote.
On the other hand, Humperdinck might be able to draw on his large international fan club to boost the U.K.'s voting total in the lighthearted contest that many believe is determined by regional sympathies and animosities.
Humperdinck was a 1960s sex symbol whose "Release Me" topped the British charts in 1967, keeping The Beatles' "Penny Lane"/''Strawberry Fields Forever" at No. 2. He also had a top 10 U.S. hit in 1976 with "After the Lovin."
Britain has failed for years at Eurovision, which Britons watch and mock in equal measure. Since the U.K. last won in 1997, a selection of British boy bands, reality television contestants and bubblegum pop singers has failed to impress viewers and juries who vote for the winner.
Even the 2009 decision to call in music impresario Andrew Lloyd Weber wasn't enough to boost Britain's standing past fifth place. Last year, British boy band Blue scored a modest 11th place.
Previous winners of the contest include '60s chanteuse Lulu, Sweden's ABBA — victors in 1974 with "Waterloo" — and Canada's Celine Dion, who triumphed for Switzerland in 1988.
The 57th Eurovision Song Contest will be held in May in Baku, Azerbaijan.
The BBC's announcement: http://bbc.in/xy3Xyu
McCormick's take on Humperdinck: http://tgr.ph/yfszu1
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