On the 3rd of March 1957, a bit more than 60 years ago, the second Eurovision Song Contest took place. After Switzerland declined to host the contest for a second time in a row, ten countries met in Germany. It was an impressive feat considering that WWII had ended only 12 years before that.
As the first contest had taken place in May 1956, it was just over nine months since the inaugural edition. In the early years it was decided that each year a different broadcaster would take on the task of organising the contest, and in 1957 the Eurovision Song Contest was hosted by the Hessischer Rundfunk, HR, on behalf of Deutsches Fernsehen, ARD.
The chosen venue was a studio rather than a theatre, HR's Great Broadcasting Hall in Frankfurt am Main, and the set included a short staircase where the artists made their entrance from.
Austria, Denmark and the United Kingdom entered the contest for the first time, joining the other seven participating countries from the previous year.
A little goes a long way?
The participating countries were represented by one song each, but the duration of the songs varied. The debuting United Kingdom entry, All, was performed in an operatic style by Patricia Bredin and it was the first ever English language song to be performed at Eurovision. It lasted for only one minute and 53 seconds, a length which, for years, made All the shortest Eurovision Song Contest entry ever. Finland's 2015 entry Aina Mun Pitää now holds that record lasting just 1 minute and 27 seconds.
Performed right after the UK, the Italian song Corde Della Mia Chitarra (Strings of my Guitar), was sung by Nunzio Gallo. The song was the Sanremo winner of that year and is still the longest song in the history of the competition at five minutes and nine seconds! Even though the rules suggested that a song should not exceed three and a half minutes, the Italian entry was not disqualified despite heavy protests. It’s also worth noting that the eventual winning song lasted 4:32. These incidents led to the restriction of each song to last a maximum of three and a half minutes. This was later amended to the current limit of three minutes.
Simpler times, stylish performances
Despite the fact that an increasing number of Europeans had access to television, the contest was still mainly produced as a radio programme at this time. The 1957 contest is the earliest edition that survives in full in the archives, so we assume that it was the first year when each act performed in front of a different background. The big backdrop in the shape of a harp contained a personalised graphic related to the lyrics of each song, in some cases with a lot of imagination.
The presenter was a 21 year old German actress with Armenian origins, Anaïd Iplicjian, who has the distinction of being the first female presenter to take on the role. She made her entrance in front of an audience of around 400 in the hall, without any accompanying music, so her footspteps could be heard as she approached or left the stage. The same was true of the orchestra conductors and the participating artists that Anaïd was introducing. The artists were well aware that, as a TV-show, the visual aspect was important and thus we can see them wearing elegant dresses, stylish hairdos and giving theatrical performances.
In a change to the contest from the year before, duos were now allowed in the competition. Denmark impressed entering a duo for their debut entry, Birthe Wilke and Gustav Winckler, who sang a song about the farewell between a ship captain and his love interest, Skibet Skal Sejle I Nat (The ship will sail tonight). Not only were they dressed accordingly, they also shocked the audience with their passionate on-screen kiss, the longest in the history of the contest, which lasted 11 seconds! The entry was rewarded with third place and, being 1957, one of the first Eurovision Song Contest “scandals”.
Germany's entry, Telefon Telefon performed by Margot Hielscher, featured a telephone during the performance, the first prop to appear at the Eurovision Song Contest, that we know of. The lyrics of the song were written by Ralph Maria Siegel, the father of the prolific German composer Ralph Siegel. At the end of the voting, Germany tied in fourth position with Luxembourg.
The voting was done by telephone for the first time and, unlike the previous year, national juries could not vote in secret. Countries were also not allowed to vote for their own song, a rule that still applies today: "…and remember, you cannot vote for your own country".
There were ten people on each national jury, who could each award one vote for his or her favourite song and no abstentions were allowed. You can see the breakdown of the voting in the History page for 1957 on Eurovision.tv. The countries voted in reverse order to that of performance order, starting with the last country performing, in this case Switzerland.
The other major change was the introduction of the scoreboard, so that viewers could follow the voting process, inspired by the Festival of British Popular Songs. Impressed by the format of contacting regional juries and showing their points on a scoreboard, the EBU adapted the format for Eurovision. Though in these early editions of the contest it was the song title that would appear on the board, rather than the name of the country.
The first Dutch victory
The Netherlands took the lead in the very first round of voting and never looked seriously challenged for the title. They also managed to pick up votes from every country. So for the first time The Netherlands won the contest with the song Net Als Toen (Just like then), which followed the chanson style of the previous winner, Refrain, and shared similarly nostalgic lyrics.
Net Als Toen was performed by Corry Brokken and violin player Sem Nijveen, who performed a solo in the bridge of the song. Corry also represented her country in Lugano the year before and did so again the year after winning. She went on to present the contest in 1976 in The Hague, thus becoming the first former artist and winner to take on the role, and delivered the Dutch votes at the 1997 contest. She passed away in 2016 at the age of 83.
The first winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, Lys Assia, appeared at the end of the presentation of the songs, but not to give the award to the winner but to represent Switzerland again, as the last competing song of the evening. Despite having the same team behind Refrain, L’enfant Que J’etais was not as well regarded as the 1956 winner and it only ended equal eighth, out of the ten songs, tying with Belgium.
Way behind in the voting, France was second with Paule Desjardins and La Belle Amour, already showing that the first seven contests would be dominated by French chansons ...and some Dutch entries! The third debutant, Austria was last with Vienna Opera singer Bob Martin and a chant to his little pony, Wohin, Kleines Pony.
Although the Dutch were the winners of the 1957 contest, they were not the automatic hosts of the 1958 contest. They only became the hosts when another broadcaster declined the opportunity to organise the 1958 event.