Tag Archives: Eurovision Song Contest

A Life in a Year – 24th May, The Eurovision Song Contest

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

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.

The first Contest 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 had submitted their entry to the after the deadline had passed. 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.

There have been 54 Contests, with one winner each year except the tied 1969 Con test, 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 low scoring result.

1960 – Beatles, Lego and Lady Chatterley

1960! And so the famous decade began, pop music, mods and rockers, flower power and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, or CND for short.  The 1950s had been a steady decade not so different from those that had gone before but the 1960s were about to change the world forever and there would definitely be no going back.

In 1960 there was an event which I suppose stimulated this part of my story.  In November John F Kennedy was elected the thirty-fifth President of the United States, the youngest ever at forty-three and the first Roman Catholic.  He didn’t become President in 1960 because America has a curious system whereby the winner has to wait two months before officially taking office, but I suppose this at least gives time for the outgoing Chief Executive to clear his personal possessions out of the White House.

Staying with politics it was in 1960 that the British Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan gave his “Wind of Change speech” to the Parliament of South Africa, on 3 February 1960 in Cape Town at the end of a month spent in Africa visiting a number of British colonies, as they were at the time.  The speech signalled clearly that the British Government intended to decolonise and most of the British possessions in Africa subsequently became independent nations in the 1960s.  The South Africans, being extreme racist bigots, didn’t approve of this and the speech led directly from their withdrawal from the Commonwealth and their continuing support for the apartheid system.

Another significant event of 1960 that was to have far reaching consequencies was the formation of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.  This was an event that would leave the west dependent on the Middle East for its oil and has resulted in a succession of international difficulties in the region.

1960 saw the introduction to Britain of two new must have toys.  The first was the Etch-a-Sketch, which was a big bag of aluminium dust behind a plastic screen that you scraped doodles into, like you would on the window of a steamed-up car.  But rather than use your finger you had to demonstrate enormous amounts of patience and dexterity and twiddle two knobs which was an action that required almost impossible eye to hand co-ordination.  Etch-a-Sketch was invented by a man by the name of Arthur Granjean who developed L’Ecran Magique, The Magic Screen, in his garage.  After several years of being ignored as a load of magnetic rubbish L’Ecran Magique was eventually bought up by an American toy firm and renamed Etch-a-Sketch.

Actually Etch-a-Sketch was really hopeless and it was impossible to draw anything really creative.  The box suggested all sorts of drawing possibilities but in reality although it was alright for houses or anything else with straight lines but beyond that it was excruciatingly frustrating to draw anything that anyone would be able to meaningfully identify.

Much more important was the introduction of Lego which was seen at the Brighton Toy Fair for the first time in 1960.  Lego is a Danish company and the name comes from the Danish words ‘LEg GOdt’ meaning ‘play well’.  Now this just has to be one of the best toys ever and when it was first introduced the brightly coloured bricks sold by the bucketful.  Pre-Lego I had a construction set called Bako, which was a set of bakerlite bricks and metal wires that could be used to construct different styles of houses but nothing more inspired than that.  Lego changed everything and the only restrictions on creativity thereafter were the number of bricks in the toy box and our imagination!

Others agree with me about the importance of Lego and the British Association of Toy Retailers has named Lego the toy of the century.

From Lego to leg over because 1960 was a big year for pornography when the book ‘Lady Chatterleys Lover’ was published by Penguin books and whipped up a legal storm.  ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ is a novel by D. H. Lawrence that was written in 1928 and printed at that time privately in Florence.  The publication of the book caused a scandal due to its explicit sex scenes, including the use of previously banned four letter words.  When it was published in Britain in 1960, the trial of the publishers, Penguin Books, under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 was a major public event and a test of the new obscenity law.

The 1959 Act had made it possible for publishers to escape conviction if they could show that a work was of literary merit and Penguin books took up the challenge.  At the trial various academic critics, were called as witnesses, and the verdict, delivered on November 2, 1960, was not guilty.  This resulted in a far greater degree of freedom for publishing explicit material in the United Kingdom.  A nice story about the trial which illustrates just how big a watershed 1960 was in terms of changing social attitudes was when  the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, asked if it were the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read“.

Much later than 1960 I found a copy of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ on the top of my dad’s wardrobe and was able to go immediately to the offending chapter because the book fell naturally open at exactly the right spot.  I suspect most of it had not been read at all but the few pages of dirty words were well thumbed and dog-eared and over the next few weeks I contributed to this by sharing it with all of mates whenever they came around to the house when my parents were out.  This all stopped when one day when the book had gone from the top of the wardrobe and although nothing was ever said I think I’d been rumbled.

One final thing about 1960 is that John, Paul, George and Ringo became the Beatles and the world of popular music would never be the same again and Russ Conway never had another number one hit!

 Facts about 1960:

 Best Film Oscar – The Apartment

FA Cup Winners – Wolverhampton Wanderers

Miss World Winner – Norma Gladys Cappalgi, Argentina

World Motor Racing Champion – Jack Brabham, Australia

World Series Champions – Pittsburg Pirates

Eurovision Song Contest Winner – Jacqueline Boyer, France