Eurovision winners Brotherhood of Man: how we made Save Your Kisses for Me | pop and rock

Martin Lee, lead vocalist, songwriter

We all watched the Eurovision Song Contest and it was our manager, Tony Hiller, who suggested we should enter it. Of all our songs, Save Your Kisses for Me stood out. At first it went: “Oceans of love, oceans, oceans of love” but “Kisses for me, save all your kisses for me” was a stronger hook.

We knew the judges would vote after just one or two listens, so we needed something catchy at the end. We tried writing about animals because people all over the world love them, then something tried about children. We came up with: “Won’t you save them for me / even though you’re only three?” and thought: “Bingo!” That last line gave the song a twist. Until then you’d think it was a love song from someone going to work who wants his wife to save her kisses until he gets home, but that line reveals that he’s singing to his daughter.

We wrote and recorded it in Denmark Street with two guys from our live band and some session musicians, putting on glockenspiels and such. We got through A Song for Europe, the televised process where they choose the UK entry. Then for the 1976 Eurovision final, our choreography and dance routine was conceived by Guy Lutman, who was usually the resident singer on the Lift Off With Ayshea kids TV show alongside Ollie Beak the puppet owl. He came in to where we were recording and showed us these odd moves, like the raised knee. We went: “Are you joking? We’re singers, not dancers.” But he convinced us to practice the dance routine so much we could do it in our sleep.

In the final, in Holland, there were 18 countries, not 40 as there are now. We were on first and people were going: “You’re the winners.” We said: “Don’t be silly,” but then suddenly we’d won it. You never realize what’s coming, certainly not that the song would sell six million copies and change our lives forever. A few days later we went shopping in Leeds and people were following us around.

It’s funny. Because we’d had hits in Europe before Eurovision, Abba had sent us Mamma Mia to record. We knew it was a potential smash, but left it for the next recording session because we wanted to do Save Your Kisses for Me. Of course, Abba then did it themselves. Who knows what might have happened … but Save Your Kisses for Me worked out well enough for us. It was No 1 in 33 countries and is still the biggest-selling Eurovision winner of all time.

Knees-up … Brotherhood of Man sings their winning tune at the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest in The Hague. Photograph: Penta Springs/Alamy

Sandra Stevens, vocals

I was standing in for the Joe Loss Orchestra after the regular singer had lost her voice. We performed on one side of a revolving bandstand, and on the other side Martin was singing in a group called the Migil Five. I’d sit on the balcony of the Empire in Leicester Square with a cup of tea and watch him, thinking: “He’s a good singer.” I never dreamed we’d end up in a band or get married, but when Brotherhood of Man needed another girl vocalist [alongside Nicky Stevens] he remembered me. I thought I sang really badly at the studio audition but when I heard my vocals coming back through big speakers with the music it sounded really good.

In the final of A Song for Europe we beat Co-Co, which Cheryl Baker [subsequently in Bucks Fizz] was in, by just two points. I knew the commentator, Ray Moore, so when he announced that we’d won he said: “This gives me the greatest pleasure …” We were on our way.

By the time we got to the Eurovision final, Martin and I were a couple. He was so nervous he sat up all the previous night. But we were already No 1 in the British charts and I remember saying: “Come on, let’s do this for our country.” During the rehearsal Martin couldn’t hear the count-in, so he came in at the wrong time. We’d been told that the judges would attend one of our rehearsals and Martin went: “I hope to God it wasn’t that one.” Luckily the conductor, Alyn Ainsworth, made the count-in volume louder on the night. By then we’d rehearsed so much that I couldn’t sing the song without doing the dance. There were a lot of good entries and we were worried about the French song, but it was wonderful to win. I still remember getting back to our little bungalow in Wakefield. The whole street came out to welcome us.

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