1st Eurovision Song Contest
Refrain (Lys Assia) - Switzerland
The first Eurovision Song Contest ever was held at the Kursaal Theatre, in Lugano, Switzerland, on Thursday 24th May 1956. Lys Assia, representing the host country, Switzerland, was the first Eurovision winner with the song Refrain which she sang in French. The story, however, began a year earlier, in Monaco, when the European Broadcasting Union decided, inspired by the great success of the Italyn San Remo Music Festival, to organise a European music competition that would help improve the political integration as well as telecommunications.
This first contest, however, was mainly a radio program although a couple of cameras broadcasted it for those few Europeans who had a television in that year. Only seven countries participated in the first edition: Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands and Switzerland. Three more: Austria, Denmark and the United Kingdom intended to participate but were disqualified, however, as they registered after the official deadline.
The total absence of English speaking countries made of 1956's together with 1958's the only two editions in which there was not a single song sung in English. French was in fact, and for many years, the most preeminent language in the contest. All of the countries which participated in the first contest have won at least once but only Germany can boast having participated ever since. Here it is necessary to clarify that Germany’s very controversial and only absence in 1996 does not mean the country did not participate, just that their song did not qualify (see the entry for that year for more information). France and the United Kingdom come second after Germany, with two absences each.
There were few rules for the first Eurovision Contest and all of them were changed the following year. In fact, it could be said that there have been as many rules for the contest as number of contests themselves, for if there is something that characterizes the most famous song contest in the world it is its chameleonic ability to change and adapt itself.
For the First Eurovision Song Contest each country sent two songs, so fourteen songs were actually performed in a show that lasted 100 minutes. No duos were allowed. It was advised that the songs should not be longer than three minutes and a half but this was not yet a rule. The EBU also encouraged the participant countries to hold a national selection to choose their song. This never became a rule but most countries do still follow it. Each country sent two juries who could vote for any of the participating songs, amazingly including that from their own country. Funny enough, and as the juries from Luxembourg could not make it in time for the show in Lugano, the EBU authorized the Swiss juries to vote on their behalf, arising the question of as whether they helped themselves to win. In any case these are and will be all rumours because the voting was secret and no scores for this contest have ever been made public. Therefore nobody knows who vote for whom nor what were the other countries placing. Never mind, the Swiss were kind enough to host the first contest and perhaps they deserved this little prize as a way of saying than you! We are all very thankful to them too.
The 1956 contest was broadcast in the classic 4:3 format and continued to be broadcast in that format until 2004. In 2005, for the first time, the EBU broadcast in 16:9 widescreen format. Therefore, there are no 16:9 widescreen videos before 2005, so those shown on the Internet in that format have been obtained either by cutting the original, deleting part of the image, or by stretching it, deforming the proportions of faces and bodies. All the videos on this website are in their original format.
No video recording of the entire event is known to have survived, although there is a full audio recording. Apparently, newsreel footage of Assia's encore performance of the winning entry "Refrain" appears to be the only known video from the contest. Switzerland would not win the Eurovision Contest again until 1988, with Celine Dion, that being their last victory to date.