The Eurovision Song Contest 1956 was the debut edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, held at the Teatro Kursaal in Lugano, Switzerland on Thursday 24 May. Organised by the European Broadcasting Union, the pan-European music competition was an inspiration of the Italian Sanremo Music Festival. Lohengrin Filipello hosted the first contest which lasted approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. Seven countries participated, with each of them performing two songs. Two jury members from all participating countries cast their votes in secret, based on which song was their favourite. Lys Assia won the contest for the host country Switzerland with the song “Refrain”.
This first edition of the Eurovision Song Contest included several procedures that were not repeated in any subsequent edition: Two songs for each country, secret voting, double voting of one country on behalf of another, optional inclusion of the jury members’ own represented country in their voting, only “Grand Prix” title reception for the winner, and a single male presenter to host the show. The other Contests include: One song for each country, scoreboard display, jury panel from each country, disqualification of the juries’ own country from their voting, material award, and a single or additional female presenter.
The chosen venue for the contest was the Teatro Kursaal in Lugano, a city in the south of Switzerland, in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, which borders Italy. The event was also inspired by the Italian music festival, as well as that the contest was hosted in Italian.
The first programme was hosted by Lohengrin Filipello and lasted approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. Although it was mainly a radio programme, there were cameras in the studio for the benefit of the few Europeans who possessed a television.
Only solo artists were allowed to enter the contest, and their songs were not to exceed three and a half minutes in length, and were accompanied by a 24-musician orchestra, which was led by Fernando Paggi. The interval act, whistling by the Joyeux Rossignols, had to be extended due to a delay in the voting procedure. It had been strongly recommended that each participating country have a preliminary national song contest.
Two jury members from all participating countries travelled to Lugano to cast their vote on the songs in secret, although the jury members from Luxembourg were unable to make it to Lugano. The voting system at this Contest allowed juries to vote for any competing song, including those of their own country. Additionally, the Swiss jury was allowed by the EBU to vote also on behalf of the Luxembourg delegation. Some even think that the Swiss entry won because of this rule. This system was never repeated.
While the contest was shown and recorded for television broadcasting in certain European countries (as television sets were somewhat uncommon still at this time), no copies have survived, with the exception of Lys Assia’s repeat performance at the end of the contest. It is one of only two contests to not have survived completely, along with the 1964 contest (of which the tapes were destroyed in a fire).
Seven countries participated in the first ever contest, each were represented with two songs. Three more countries, Austria, Denmark, and United Kingdom were also expected to take part in the contest, but they missed the submission deadline and therefore could not take part. The BBC’s Festival of British Popular Song, which had been intended to choose the United Kingdom entry, was in the end not held until after the Eurovision contest.
Each performance had a maestro who conducted the orchestra. The conductors listed conducted both performances for the indicated countries.
Netherlands – Fernando Paggi
Switzerland – Fernando Paggi
Belgium – Léo Souris
Germany Germany – Fernando Paggi
France – Franck Pourcel
Luxembourg – Jacques Lassry
Italy – Gian Stellari
Except for the winning song, the results have never been published. Simon Barclay’s book The Complete and Independent Guide to the Eurovision Song Contest 2010 includes a table with what appears to be the results, but the author does not give a source and under the chart he writes that “the votes awarded have never been disclosed.” According to writer Jan Feddersen, “Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück” was probably voted No. 2 behind Lys Assia.
|01||Netherlands||Dutch||Jetty Paerl||“De vogels van Holland”||The Birds of Holland||2|
|02||Switzerland||German||Lys Assia||“Das alte Karussell”||The Old Carousel||2|
|03||Belgium||French||Fud Leclerc||“Messieurs les noyés de la Seine”||The Drowned Gentlemen of the Seine||2|
|04||Germany||German||Walter Andreas Schwarz||“Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück”||In The Good Luck Waiting Room||2|
|05||France||French||Mathé Altéry||“Le temps perdu”||Lost Time||2|
|06||Luxembourg||French||Michèle Arnaud||“Ne crois pas”||Do Not Believe||2|
|07||Italy||Italian||Franca Raimondi||“Aprite le finestre”||Open the Windows||2|
|08||Netherlands||Dutch||Corry Brokken||“Voorgoed voorbij”||Over Forever||2|
|10||Belgium||French||Mony Marc||“Le plus beau jour de ma vie”||The Most Beautiful Day of my Life||2|
|11||Germany||German||Freddy Quinn||“So geht das jede Nacht”||That’s How It Is Every Night||2|
|12||France||French||Dany Dauberson||“Il est là”||He Is Here||2|
|13||Luxembourg||French||Michèle Arnaud||“Les amants de minuit”||The Lovers of Midnight||2|
|14||Italy||Italian||Tonina Torrielli||“Amami se vuoi”||Love Me If You Want||2|
The participating national broadcasters sent commentators to the contest, in order to provide coverage of the contest in their own native language. Details of the commentators and the broadcasting station that they represented are shown in the table below.
Netherlands – Piet te Nuyl (NTS)
Switzerland – Georges Hardy (TSR)
Belgium – Janine Lambotte (INR), Nand Baert (NIR)
Germany – Wolf Mittler (ARD)
France – Michèle Rebel(RTF)
Luxembourg – Jacques Navadic (Télé-Luxembourg)
Italy – Franco Marazzi (Programma Nazionale)
Austria (non-participating country) – Wolf Mittler (ORF)
Denmark (non-participating country) – Gunnar Hansen (Statsradiofonien TV)
United Kingdom (non-participating country) – Wilfred Thomas (BBC Television Service)