It was 60 years ago today… 

Lys Assia.jpg

We’ve all celebrated well all of the anniversaries that have cropped up over the years. In London last year we had the gala night to celebrate 60 ESCs, before the 60th ESC had actually taken place. We’ve even just had the 61st Contest. Preparations are now in place for the 62nd Contest that should take place somewhere in Ukraine next May.

However, it was actually on 24 May 1956 that the first contest took place. In contrast to the mammoth 42 countries recently in Stockholm, a mere seven journeyed to the Swiss mountain resort of Lugano one Wednesday night to see which of 14 songs would win the Grand Prix of song. Sounds grand doesn’t it?

Sadly, the Teatro Kursaal in Lugano is not there anymore – it’s been replaced by a car park. But can you imagine the scenes? The great and the good of European music gathering, with two songs from each country, and two jurors from each country (except Luxembourg) casting their votes in secret? It must have been a serious affair but ultimately very interesting.

The only footage that apparently remains on this first ESC is the evergreen Lys Assia reprising her winning song, with a small group of backing singers and a young lad in shorts holding the winner’s flowers. Here’s that performance.

But what of the other songs? And performers? We’ll look at a few notables.

Jetty Paerl from the Netherlands sang the very first Eurovision song. It was called ‘De vogels van Holland’ and was a sedate little number. Jetty was a huge star in her native land, and was a popular voice on Radio Oranje, broadcast to the Netherlands from London during the Second World War.

Jetty’s countrywoman Corry Brokken sang the Netherlands’ other song that year. She’d be back in 1957, this time winning with her diminutive violinist and a song called ‘Net als toen’.

For Belgium, the Walloon broadcaster started the ball rolling and sent Fernand Urbain Dominic ‘Fud’ Leclerc to sing one of its songs. Fud still holds the record for the most appearances as a solo artist, singing in four separate contests (1956, 1958, 1960 and 1962). His 1956 song was the disturbingly titled ‘Messieurs les noyes de la Seine’ (The drowned men of the Seine). He courted laughs with his song about a doomed marriage and wanted to end it all in a certain river. He wasn’t all doom and gloom, as one of his subsequent efforts ‘Ma petite chatte’ was about a pleasant little term of endearment he had about his ladylove.

Freddy Quinn from Germany took us away from the mainly ‘chanson’ vibe of the contest with a rock n roll number. This was heady stuff for 1956 and might even equate to the rather radical ‘Midnight gold’ in 2015. It would possibly have woken the jurors from their slumbers but obviously not enough to give Germany a win. The song, however, became a hit in Japan of all places!

One of the songs sent by Italy was ‘Amami se vuoi’ (Love me if you want) by Tonina Torrieli. It may have only been an obscure entry back in the day, but it was revived by Fiat for one of their advertising campaigns some years ago. The other song ‘Aprite la finestra’ by Franca Raimondi became the first of many Sanremo winners to be used in a Eurovision.

As we all know, the voting was never made public, despite stories to the contrary. We are left to wonder how the 12 jurors from six countries ranked their songs. Luxembourg sent no jurors, so the local Swiss team voted on their behalf. And they could vote for all songs – even the ones from their own country. So perhaps it wasn’t a surprise that Lys Assia won. There was a massive round of cheering and applause when jury chairman and local lad Rolf Liebermann announced the result. For all her faults, Lys is still well-loved and remains the only native-born Swiss to win our favourite show.


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Author: John Stanton

Source: Eurovision Ireland

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