Campanile SeraCampanile Sera, a short-lived game show transmitted by RAI in Italy, should be recognised as the true progenitor of Jeux Sans Frontières.

Despite claims from the late It's A Knockout producer, Barney Colehan, which seem to mark out his earlier project, Top Town, as the primary influence on Guy Lux's Intervilles (from which Jeux Sans Frontières was born), there is considerably more in the format of Campanile Sera that is instantly recognisable to those familiar with Intervilles and it's subsequent off-shoots than there is in Top Town. Whereas Top Town was a talent contest, fought each week by teams from two towns, Campanile Sera pitted two teams against each other once a week, much in the style that would become familiar to JSF audiences. The series name, which translates as 'Bell Tower Evening', was inspired by the town square settings, where events would be staged in the evening beneath the bell tower. Competitions were both intellectual (in the form of a quiz) and athletic (in the form of physical tests). There can be no doubt that RAI's series had the greatest influence on what became Jeux Sans Frontières.

The series debuted on RAI on Thursday 5th November 1959 and was presented in its first year by Mike Bongiorno, Enzo Tortora and Renato Tagliani, who is pictured (right), presenting a 1960 edition of the series. Enza Sampò joined the series some time later, replacing Tagliani. Sampò himself was not retained for the final series in 1962, his role being taken by Walter Marcheselli. Enzo Tortora would, of course, go on to become one of main Italian presenters in the early days of Jeux Sans Frontières (1965-1968). The format of the show was like this: a town in the north of Italy would challenge another in the south (or vice-versa) and the winners of that event would stay on to contest the following week's competition. The winning team would only leave the series when defeated, and would then be replaced by another team from its own half of the country. The programme was hosted from three locations - the first would be a television studio, where representatives of both towns would be subjected to a quiz and the programme links between locations would take place, and then the second and third would be the town squares of each town, where the physical contests were staged.   

Campanile Sera became quite a hit in Italy, garnering audiences of 15 million viewers at the height of its success. It is also credited with being the world's first television programme of its type, something for which it should be celebrated and remembered. The series legacy extends beyond the obvious, particularly in Laveno Mombello in Italy's Varese Province. Laveno (pictured, top and left) were a small town who performed remarkably in Campanile Sera in 1961, winning five weeks' competitions in a row before being overturned by a team from Salò. As part of their transmissions, Laveno had to organise an illuminated parade of boats on their Piedmontese shoreline. This has become a tradition there, and continues to this day.

The longest winning sequences was in fact eight weeks, recorded by the team of Monreale in 1960 - although one of these victories was disputed.

The series drew to a close on the evening of Tuesday 2nd October 1962, after several hundred editions. It had made a significant impact in Italy, but ultimately an even more significant one with a group of producers from French television...

by Alan Hayes
with thanks to Mauro Tozzi
and Christos Moustakas