In the second of a brand new and exclusive series, British Ambassador to Luxembourg, John Marshall reveals his unique viewpoint on, and links to, The Grand Duchy: "#LuxUKLinks is a mix of well-known links between our two countries and some rather less familiar, even obscure ones. I hope you enjoy this weekly column."
One of my favourite bundles of #LuxUKLinks is around Radio Luxembourg, a forerunner of RTL, so it is great that RTL are hosting this column. Growing up in 60s Britain I reckon that the first time I heard the word “Luxembourg” would have been as part of “Radio Luxembourg”. And I am sure I am not the only one.
Radio Luxembourg began broadcasting in 1929 and launched its English Language Service in December 1933. Using a powerful longwave transmitter, with Englishman Stephen Williams both presenting and managing the programme, it quickly became a firm favourite with British listeners. This was particularly true on Sundays when the BBC offered a rather austere and religious programme. In fact, it is said that on Sundays roughly half of British listeners tuned in to Radio Luxembourg’s rather more entertaining programme of jazz and light music.
In 1934 Christopher Stone, generally considered to have been the UK’s first DJ shocked the BBC by joining Radio Luxembourg for £5000 a year. Over the years, many of the UK’s most famous DJs including Alan Dell, Keith Fordyce, David Jacob, Pete Murray, Jimmy Young, Paul Burnett and Peter Powell worked on Radio Luxembourg. It was great fun to welcome two of them, Paul Burnett and Mark Wesley, to my Residence last autumn for the relaunch of the British Luxembourg Society. They both married Luxembourgers too.
Radio Luxembourg is the reason for one of my other favourite links. Who knew that the very first scheduled international flights from Luxembourg were to the UK? The twice-weekly service was between Esch-sur-Alzette and London (Croydon), two airports that no longer exist. The plane, a British built twin engine de Havilland “Dragonfly” operated by Olley Air Service, was christened “The Luxembourg Listener” and, in addition to passengers, carried taped programmes and records from London to Radio Luxembourg. The service was short-lived, operating from May 1938 until the outbreak of the Second World War.
Radio Luxembourg closed down in 1939 when war broke out but resumed in 1945 with Stephen Williams again presenting until he left the station in 1948. In 1951, Radio Luxembourg moved from long wave to 208 MW. Radio Luxembourg, on MW 208, is legendary among British pop fans for being the place to listen to rock and roll in the 1950s and 1960s. Much of the station’s output was pre-recorded at the company's UK studios at 38 Hertford Street, London W1. Radio Luxembourg's English service eventually closed down on 1 January 1992. The last words heard, "Good luck, good listening ... and goodbye" were spoken by Stephen Williams, then aged 83, who had been the first person ever to say on the air "This is Radio Luxembourg" when the Service started over 58 years earlier.
And the links don’t end there! The first radio station anywhere in the world to play a Beatles record – their debut single Love Me Do – was Radio Luxembourg. And it was a Luxembourger, Camillo Felgen, writing under the pseudonym Jean Nicolas (his middle names), who wrote the German lyrics for the only songs the Beatles ever recorded in German for release: “Sie liebt dich" ("She Loves You") and "Komm gib mir deine Hand" (I Want to Hold Your Hand").
The same Camillo Felgen, then a programme director at RTL, twice represented Luxembourg at the Eurovision Song Contest, in 1960 and 1962. So, as the Eurovision Song contest is taking place this weekend, I’ll end with some minor but nonetheless entertaining Eurovision links between the UK and Luxembourg. Sadly, of course, Luxembourg no longer competes in the competition. It is particularly sad for the UK because during its time on Eurovision (1956-93) Luxembourg gave more points to the UK than to any other country. And who knows if the UK’s love affair with ABBA would be as great as it is but for Luxembourg. ABBA won Eurovision with Waterloo in 1974 when the competition was held in Brighton. But the UK only hosted the event because Luxembourg, winners in 1972 and 1973, declined to host for a second consecutive year.
John Marshall has been the British Ambassador to Luxembourg since April 2016. Previously he was British Ambassador to Senegal and non-resident Ambassador to Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau. He has also been posted as a diplomat to Japan, Malaysia and Ethiopia. He is a keen marathon-runner, speaks some Luxembourgish, and enjoys discovering the UK and Luxembourg’s shared history. #LuxUKLinks began as a series of tweets looking at the links between Luxembourg and the UK. These evolved into an exhibition, which toured communes, schools and museums around Luxembourg, and a book.
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