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New Wise Owl ‘When ABBA Came to…’ doc to headline BBC’s 50th anniversary celebrations of Swedish popsters

To celebrate ABBA’s special relationship with British music fans, BBC Two and BBC Pop Music TV present When Abba Came to Britain, a 1 x 60 minute documentary from Leeds’ Wise Owl Films which will be broadcast in early April as part of a dedicated Saturday night of ABBA specials on BBC Two.

When Abba Came To Britain looks at the magical time Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Benny and Björn spent in the UK from 1974 to 1982 and examines their legacy, from Eurovision to ABBA Voyage.

Featuring previously untransmitted interviews with ABBA, the documentary takes an affectionate look at the ongoing love affair between the UK and the Swedish supergroup and is produced by the Leeds-based team behind BBC Two’s award-winning When X Came To Britain strand (Bob Marley, Nirvana, Motown, Tina Turner and Blondie) and The Hacienda: The Club That Shook Britain.

It’s the tale of a relationship that started with the band’s fascination with British music, including The Beatles in the 1960s. After winning the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo in 1974, the band would eventually find global stardom, but their relationship with the UK remains unique.

The BBC was there at the beginning in Brighton – where the world first heard their name 50 years ago – and at the end of their initial chart-busting career in 1982, with what was thought to be the band’s last appearance on BBC One’s The Late, Late Breakfast Show.

The documentary will include a wealth of BBC and non-BBC performances, as well as long-forgotten news footage, which all show how ABBAmania took hold in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. The story is brought up to date with the quartet’s return to Britain in 2022, choosing to launch their ground-breaking comeback concert – ABBA Voyage – in London.

Contributors include musicians who performed with the band; tour manager Thomas Johansson, who recalls the performance in Glasgow (1979) which inspired the hit Super Trouper; an ABBA superfan who travelled from Liverpool to London aged 14 to meet the band; staff who worked at their British-based record label; the British Eurovision judge who scored them ‘nul points’ in 1974; the producers behind ABBA Voyage; and a now-famous member of the children’s choir which accompanied ABBA at their Wembley Arena concerts in 1979.

It will also feature interviews with musicians who were heavily influenced by the band, including Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie and Blossoms.

Through interviews with those who witnessed the ABBA story unfold, the film will cross the nations and regions, visiting locations which had a part to play in the story, including the Brighton Dome and the Birmingham Odeon, where the band played their first ever British concert in 1977, hearing from those who were there.

Rachel Davies, commissioning editor, BBC Pop Music TV said: “When Abba came to Britain is a love letter from this country to the beloved Swedish super-group, celebrating the special relationship we have as a nation with Benny, Björn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid. We focus on the stories of individuals who were lucky to be caught up in their world. A must watch for pop fans of all ages.”

Mark Robinson of Wise Owl Films added: “There can be fewer bands, if any, who have straddled generations of British music fans in a more impressive way than ABBA. Their original fans might now be in their fifties and sixties, but their children, and even their grandchildren, will be just as familiar with their biggest hits thanks to the likes of Mamma Mia! and Voyage. This film shows the enduring and often emotional impact that ABBA have left on British fans and musicians across the decades, but we will also chart the key role that Britain played in the band’s history – from the music of groups like The Beatles to playing host to defining moments in their career”.

When Abba Came to Britain is a Wise Owl Films production for BBC Two and BBC Pop Music TV. It was commissioned by Rachel Davies, Commissioning Editor, BBC Pop Music TV and Jonathan Rothery, BBC Head of Pop Music TV. It is produced and directed by Dhivya Kate Chetty and the Executive Producer for Wise Owl Films is Mark Robinson. Leeds-based Wise Owl Films is a non-scripted label of Lime Pictures, part of All3 Media.

The new doc is just part of a series of celebrations of 50 years of ABBA o the BBC this spring. Further programmes to be broadcast as part of the ABBA night on BBC Two include:

More ABBA at the BBC: BBC Two says ‘Thank You For The Music’ with another voyage into the archives for some of the Swedish supergroup’s best appearances from shows including Top of the Pops, Wogan, The Late, Late Breakfast show and The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show. Bringing viewers right up to date, the programme also captures the excitement and sounds of their recent, technologically pioneering stage shows. The compilation also features a rare performance of ABBA’s song So Long, which has not been seen on TV since it was first broadcast in 1974. The performance had been missing from the BBC Archives and thought to be lost forever, until a Top of the Pops fan unearthed a home recording, which was then restored and will be shown for the first time, 50 years on, in this programme.

ABBA at the BBC: First broadcast in 2013, there is another chance to see the first compilation of ABBA’s greatest performances at the BBC, including of Waterloo, Dancing Queen, Does Your Mother Know, Thank You for the Music, SOS, Fernando, Chiquitita and more.

ABBA in Switzerland: 1979 Special: In a show originally broadcast in 1979 on BBC One, ABBA star in their first European TV special, recorded on location in the Swiss Alps and also featuring special guests, Kate Bush and Roxy Music.

The Joy of ABBA: Between 1974 and 1982, ABBA launched into the UK charts but divided critical opinion. This documentary explores how they raised the bar for pop music as a form and made us fall in love with the sound of Swedish melancholy. This programme was first broadcast in 2013.

As announced recently, BBC One will broadcast the feature documentary, ABBA: Against The Odds later in spring. The programme will be produced by multi-award winning documentary makers Rogan Productions (Freddie Mercury: The Final Act), directed by BAFTA and Emmy Award-winner James Rogan and distributed worldwide by BBC Studios.

Telling the epic story of ABBA’s greatest period of musical achievement framed between the albums Arrival (1976) and Super Trouper (1980), this is the story of ABBA’s deeply personal and perilous journey through the band’s most transformative years and rise to global fame. In the UK the film will be shown on BBC One and BBC iPlayer this May.

Radio 2, meanwhile, will launch a vote to discover listeners’ Ultimate Abba Song, alongside

Eras: ABBA, a brand new series of Eras dedicated to the band on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Sounds, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor will host ABBA, My Supergroup.

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