Part 1 (of 6): Formidable opposition

Published December 30, 2012

 

LEONARD EEK AND ABBA

Producer Leonard Eek started working at Sveriges Radio ("Swedish Radio", the Swedish equivalent of Great Britain’s BBC, operating both radio and television broadcasting) in 1960. After a few months he was promoted to become a property manager. His strong interest in entertainment and advertising eventually led to a year in Australia, where he worked at Channel 10. Then, around 1966/1967, Eek returned to Sveriges Radio to start working as a producer. Eventually, he produced everything from the major news show Rapport to entertainment programmes, including early "videos" and clips to illustrate musical performances.

One of Leonard Eek's earliest encounters with an ABBA member coincided with one of the most famous moments in pre-ABBA history, on September 3, 1967. Eek was involved with the programming associated with Sweden's change from driving on the left side of the road to the right. The main show, hosted by the legendary Lennart Hyland, was broadcast on the night of September 3. It had been arranged as a surprise for the winner of a major talent contest that same day to appear on this live broadcast. Leonard Eek was assigned to drive the winner to the television studios. The winner happened to be 21-year-old Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad, who achieved her national breakthrough as a result of this television appearance.

Although Eek worked with the various group members in their pre-ABBA days, his first collaboration with them as a collective was when he produced the 1975 programme Made In Sweden - For Export, featuring ABBA and other popular Swedish artists. Both Eek and the group enjoyed the experience. The programme was also very well-received at the Montreux Television Festival.


THE IDEA TO DO A TELEVISION SPECIAL


The next logical step, in Eek's view, was to make an entire programme devoted to ABBA. However, the cultural climate of the times meant that he was up against formidable opposition. Highbrow critics and influential left-wing cultural commentators were united in their disdain for what was perceived as the group’s crassly commercial, shallow pop. ABBA were labelled as “aloof” and “unreal”, as their attention to detail in their recorded work and their showbizzy predilection for dressing up in glittery, colourful costumes was in such stark opposition to the “everybody can play” philosophy that guided the jeans-and-work-shirts players within the so-called Music Movement. It didn’t help that ABBA's highly temperamental manager, Stig Anderson, was constantly engaged in a war of words with the group’s detractors. This suspicious or outright hostile view of the group was prevalent most everywhere that such matters were considered – not least at Sveriges Radio.

LE: Things being how they were in those days, you couldn’t just submit a suggestion for a programme to your boss - it had to be reviewed by an editorial committee. And the attitude was, 'Why should we spend money on a group that already earns so much money?' 'But they are the best musical group Sweden has to offer at the moment.' 'Oh no, the best, that’s something else entirely!' But in the end I think that the head of the Entertainment department, Lars Boberg, felt that we had a duty to do different types of programmes, and there was a good opportunity here: a producer that had a personal relationship to the group and, consequently, the prerequisites for a good programme. "I'm going to give this the go-ahead!"

Naturally, ABBA themselves had noted that there was a certain lack of interest in featuring the group on Swedish television, a marked contrast against countries such as West Germany, where they appeared regularly. "As yet, Sveriges Radio has not come up with even one sensible suggestion for a TV programme featuring the group's songs," it was stated in a March 1976 article in the evening paper Expressen. Said Benny at the press conference for the ABBA-dabba-dooo!! special, "We are a little surprised ourselves that it's taken until now for Sveriges Radio to come up with an idea for a programme about and featuring ABBA." Added Björn: "For two years we used to wonder why Sveriges Radio never contacted us. But then several offers arrived all at the same time." (The other "offer" Björn referred to was probably an ambitious five-part radio series about the group, broadcast in December 1976.)


PER FALKMAN SAYS YES


Leonard Eek assembled a core production team consisting of himself, production assistant Kerstin Grünberger, and reporter Per Falkman. "Leonard called me up one day and said, 'Listen, would you like to be a part of a really fun project?'" recalls Per Falkman, also a huge ABBA fan. "'You bet!' – I couldn’t believe that he’d chosen me, I thought it was just fabulous." Falkman began his career as a reporter on local Stockholm radio in 1968. Eventually, he progressed to television, dividing his time between current affairs programmes and entertainment. At this point in time he was mainly known as one of the hosts of the popular early evening magazine Sveriges Magasin.

PF: In those days, ABBA weren't really accepted, the highbrows said it was commercial crap. But I was very interested in classical music and opera, and I remember asking Johannes Norrby, the head of Konserthuset [a prestigious concert venue, usually featuring classical music performances], "What is the thing about music?" And without even thinking, he replied, "It's the melody. In the souls and brains of certain people, God has placed the ability to create a melody, and then it doesn't matter if it's Franz Schubert, Alice Tegnér [a Swedish children's music composer] or Benny Andersson. They know how to create melodies, and there you have the secret". And when someone with that kind of authority told me that Benny was right up there with Franz Schubert, I thought: "Let all those other people complain all they want!"

 

Leonard Eek and Frida in 1976.
Reporter Per Falkman in the ABBA-dabba-doo!! television special.