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’.
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.
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.