Category Archives: Hungary

The First Eurovision Song Contest

Four years earlier the Great Smog of 1952 darkened the streets of London and killed approximately four thousand people in the short time of four days and a further eight thousand died from its effects in the following weeks and months.  In 1956 the Clean Air Act introduced smokeless zones in the capital.

Consequently, reduced sulphur dioxide levels made the intense and persistent London smog a thing of the past. It was after this the great clean-up of London began and buildings recovered their original stone façades which, during two centuries, had gradually blackened.

By all accounts the summer of 1956 was truly abysmal: rain, hail, lightning, floods, gales and miserable cold. It was the wettest July in London since records began, and August was one of the coldest and wettest on record across Britain, as barrages of depressions swept the country.  But there was a silver lining to this cloud and September was such an improvement it was warmer than August, a very rare occurrence, and the rest of autumn turned into a glorious Indian summer.

In the 1950s, as Europe recovered after the Second-World-War, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) based in Switzerland set up a committee to examine ways of bringing together the countries of the EBU around a ‘light entertainment programme’.

European Union Flags

What was needed was something to cheer everyone up.  At a committee meeting held in Monaco in January 1955, director general of Swiss television and committee chairman Marcel Bezençon conceived the idea of an international song contest where countries would participate in one television programme to be transmitted simultaneously to all countries of the union. The competition was based upon the existing Sanremo Music Festival held in Italy, and was also seen as a technological experiment in live television as in those days it was a very ambitious project to join many countries together in a wide-area international network.

The concept, then known as “Eurovision Grand Prix”, was approved by the EBU General Assembly in at a meeting held in Rome on 19th October 1955 and it was decided that the first contest would take place in spring 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland.

It was held on 24th May 1956. Seven countries participated, each submitting two songs, for a total of fourteen. This was the only Contest in which more than one song per country was performed as since 1957 all Contests have allowed one entry per country. The 1956 Contest was won by the host nation with a song called ‘Refrain’ sung by Lys Assia.

The United Kingdom first participated at the Eurovision Song Contest in the following year. The BBC had wanted to take part in the first contest but, rather like trying to get into the Common Market, had submitted their entry to the after the deadline had passed. It hasn’t made the same mistake again and the UK has entered every year since apart from 1958, and has won the Contest a total of five times. Its first victory came in 1967 with “Puppet on a String” by Sandie Shaw.

Eurovision Greece and Spain

There have been sixty-two contests, with one winner each year except the tied 1969 contest, which had four.  Twenty-five different countries have won the contest.    The country with the highest number of wins is Ireland, with seven.  Portugal is the country with the longest history in the Contest without a win – it made its forty-fourth appearance at the 2010 Contest.  The only person to have won more than once as performer is Ireland’s Johnny Logan, who performed “What’s Another Year” in 1980 and “Hold Me Now” in 1987.

Norway is the country which holds the unfortunate distinction of having scored the most ‘nul points’ in Eurovision Song Contest history – four times in all, and that is what I call humiliating. They have also been placed last ten times, which is also a record!

For many years the annual Eurovision Song Contest was a big event in out house usually with a party where everyone would pick their favourite and would dress appropriately to support their chosen nation.  In later years no one ever picked the United Kingdom because the only thing that is certain about the competition is that being the unpopular man of Europe we are unlikely to ever win again and every year there is a ritual humiliation with a predictable low scoring result.

Age of Innocence, 1956 – The Balance of Power

I continue my look at the World during my lifetime and now I reach 1956 when there were some really important events around the world that were to have an influence on international relations over the next twenty years or so.

In the Middle East the Suez Canal was of very high military and commercial strategic importance and the United Kingdom had control of the canal under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 but on July 26th Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian President, announced the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company, in which British banks and business had a large financial interest.

The British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, was outraged and up for war to teach the Egyptians a lesson and Britain together with France, who were similarly upset, made threatening noises and began to prepare for an invasion with large forces deployed to Cyprus and Malta and the fleet dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea.

The crisis began on 29th October and the next day the allies sent a final ultimatum to Egypt and when it was ignored invaded on the following day.  Someone should have told them that this was no longer the nineteenth century and they couldn’t go throwing their weight around in Africa like this anymore.

Almost simultaneously with this event there was a crisis in Eastern Europe when a revolution in Hungary, behind the iron curtain, deposed the pro-Soviet government there.  The new government formally declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections.  By the end of October this had seemed to be successful but on 4th November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and during a few days of resistance an estimated two thousand five hundred Hungarians died, and two hundred thousand more fled the country as refugees.  Mass arrests and imprisonments followed, the Prime Minister Imre Nagy was arrested and executed, a new Soviet inclined government was installed and this action further strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe.

Krakow Russian Tank

From a military perspective the operation to take the Suez Canal was highly successful but was a political disaster due to its unfortunate timing.  The President of the United Stated Dweight Eisenhower was dealing with both crises, and faced the public relations embarrassment of opposing the Soviet Union’s military intervention in Hungary while at the same time ignoring the actions of its two principal European allies in Egypt.

It was also rather a concern that the Soviet Union threatened to intervene and launch nuclear attacks on London and Paris and fearful of a new global conflict Eisenhower forced a ceasefire and demanded that the invasion be called to a halt.  Due to a combination of diplomatic and financial pressure Britain and France were obliged to withdraw their troops early in 1957.  Anthony Eden promptly resigned.

Anthony Eden

The Hungarian revolution and the Suez crisis marked the final transfer of power to the new World superpowers, the USA and the USSR, and it was clear to everyone now that only ten years after the Second-World-War Britain was no longer a major world power.  Since that time Britain has only once acted in a military matter without checking with the President of the United States first, when Margaret Thatcher sent troops to retake the Falkland Islands from the Argentine invaders and things are so bad now of course that British Prime Ministers like Tony Blair simply do as they are told by the American Head of State as though they are the President’s pet poodle.

This change in the world balance of power was highly significant and provided the tense atmosphere of the Cold War years that lasted until the Berlin Wall finally came down in 1989.  In 1955 the two British spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who had fled in 1951, turned up in Moscow and I spent my childhood with a dread fear of the USSR and in an environment preparing for imminent nuclear conflict and the end of the world.

During this time the very thought of visiting eastern European countries was completely absurd which makes it all the more extraordinary that in the last few years as well as going to Russia itself I have been able to visit the previous Eastern-bloc countries of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

Manchester United,The Busby Babes and the Munich Air Disaster

The most distressing piece of news in our house in 1958 was undoubtedly the Munich air disaster of 6th February when an air crash at Munich Airport in Germany caused the deaths of eight Manchester United players and several club officials and sports journalists.

As a football fan this was devastating news for my dad who for many years afterwards always remembered the tragedy and spoke fondly of the lost Manchester United team.   In the scrap book that he kept at the time he kept the front page of the Daily Mail which covered the story on the next day.  The only other two newspaper front pages that he kept were those that reported the assassination of Kennedy and the death of Winston Churchill.  That’s how much it meant to him.

  

  

  

We remember Manchester United but we should also remember:

  • The Zambian national football team was flying on a military plane on its way to Senegal for a 1994 World Cup qualification match, when the plane crashed in the late evening of April 27, 1993. All 30 passengers and crew, including 18 players, as well as the national team coach and support staff, were lost in the accident.
  • The Superga air disaster took place on Wednesday, 4 May, 1949, when a plane carrying almost the entire Torino A.C. football squad, popularly known as Il Grande Torino, crashed into the hill of Superga, near Turin, killing all 31 aboard, including 18 players, club officials, journalists accompanying the team and the plane’s crew.
  • The 1987 Alianza Lima air disaster took place on December 8, 1987, when a Peruvian Navy Fokker F27-400M, chartered by Peruvian football club Alianza Lima, plunged into the Pacific Ocean six miles short of its destination. On board the flight were a total of 44 players, managers, staff, cheerleaders and crewmembers, of which only the pilot survived the accident.

Read the full story…