Thursday 14 October 1971

FRANS DE KOK (English version)

The following article is an overview of the career of Dutch multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and conductor Frans de Kok. The main source of information is an interview with Mr De Kok, conducted by Bas Tukker in Balen, Belgium, 2006. We also spoke to various others, most importantly Frans’ younger brother Leon. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Frans de Kok’s Eurovision involvement (part 4).

Een iets uitgebreide, Nederlandse versie van dit artikel is beschikbaar via deze link

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2006, 2011 & 2023

  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Frans de Kok
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links

Born: January 18th, 1924, Tilburg (Netherlands)
Died: May 4th, 2011, Mol (Belgium)
Nationality: Dutch


Frans de Kok took part in the Eurovision Song Contest on one occasion, conducting the Dutch entry in 1969, as the regular conductor for the Netherlands, Dolf van der Linden, declined to come along to Madrid that year. The song conducted by De Kok, ‘De troubadour’, won the contest, tying for first place with the entries from Spain, France, and the United Kingdom.


Frans de Kok was born in 1924 as the oldest of seven children in a middle-class family in the industrial town of Tilburg. The upbringing of the children mainly came down to his mother, because Mr De Kok was a traveling salesman, spending most of his time away from home. “I actually have no image of my father at all from the early days of my life,” says Frans’ brother Leon, fourteen years younger than him. “He was a nice enough man who worked hard, but to us, his children, he remained a distant figure. My mother was very different. She was a sweet person who really spent time with us. Father was an able salesman – and he sold just about everything: tea and tobacco, for example. Later he ended up in the shoe industry. He sold designs and lasts to small shoe factories which could be found across the Netherlands at the time.”

In this family, music did not take centre-stage. One of Frans’ sisters sang as a hobby at the local operetta society, another played a little piano – and, as a young adolescent, Frans himself fell under the spell of the accordion. This passion could not count on much enthusiasm from his parents. “I come from an unmusical family,” Frans stated plainly. “I’ve once been told that my grandfather sang in a Tilburg church choir, but he was the exception. (…) No one ever pushed me to do anything in music in my early years. My parents didn’t find it amusing when I kept on whining about how much I wanted to have an accordion. I was eventually presented with one on my fourteenth birthday, a second-hand one. I taught myself everything. It was a kind of inner urge, a good ear, a feeling for music, I would say. (…) Learning is something which comes very easily to me, especially when it has to do with music.”

The so-called Dans- en Showorkest of trumpet player Jan Kelder in 1946, with Frans de Kok (third from left) on guitar; other band members include Pierre de Rooij (trombone), Leo van Vugt (trumpet), Tinus van Helvoirt (tenor sax), Frans Schalken (alto sax), and Joop Eijkhout (drums)

In the meantime, Frans performed reasonably well at secondary school, but after the second-last year, he desperately wanted something different, dreaming of travelling the oceans on a merchant ship. Once again, his parents did not agree, but Frans knew what he wanted. Angrily, he walked out the door, covering the 140 kilometres to the Maritime Academy in the harbour town of Flushing (Vlissingen in Dutch – BT) by bicycle with only a couple of pennies in his pocket; and then back home along the same route, the only tangible result of his journey being a brochure for prospective students. Still, the unruly son achieved his goal, because father De Kok now understood that he meant business. Changing tack, he arranged a boarding house in Flushing. Frans returned home on weekends, in full uniform, but during the week he studied doggedly. “Within two years, I walked out the door of the academy with a diploma. I was now a radio operator! However, then the war came and the sea was closed.”

Due to the German occupation of the Netherlands in May 1940, Frans’ dream of an adventurous life as a sailor had to be shelved. In 1943, a year after obtaining his diploma in Flushing, he had to report for the dreaded Arbeitseinsatz for forced labour in Germany. “I was told to go to Cologne immediately, but I looked at it as an adventure, travelling further into Germany, to Brunswick, where one of my father’s acquaintances ran a business. Of course, this was a bad idea, because it didn’t take the Sicherheitsdienst (the SS’ Security Service – BT) long to track me down. They put me on transport to Cologne. I was put in a prison camp there for about five weeks. Then I got a job at a telephone company, but it only lasted for a few weeks. It was the time when English aeroplanes were carpet-bombing German cities. Life in Cologne came to a virtual standstill. I was given leave to go back to my parents in the Netherlands for a few days. Once home, I went into hiding in a wooden shed in a forested area just outside Tilburg. Father had purchased a piece of woodland just before the war. My father was panicking; he was convinced the Germans would come for me, but I explained to him that Cologne was being bombed to smithereens and that things would all work out well.”

Younger brother Leon was only five or six years old at that time, but he still remembers the episode of the wooden hut in which his eldest brother survived for about a year until the liberation of Tilburg in the autumn of 1944. “Yes, I thought that was very exciting! Until Frans went into hiding there, we often went to that piece of forest on weekend days. When I asked where Frans had gone, my parents didn’t really want to tell me, but in the end they told me that he was in that garden shed... but it had to be kept a secret at any price. In that entire period, I only remember visiting once, accompanied by my father. Frans had a goat there, which he milked – but not just for the milk! You should know that Frans was quite handy. He had turned an old bicycle into a churning machine. He partly survived on the butter he made himself that way.”

The Wooltown Rhythm Gang, a dance band from Tilburg, from left - Piet Pijnenburg (piano), Frans Heffels (facing the audience, tenor sax), Arie van Kleef (clarinet), Frans de Kok (guitar), Joop van Looy (double-bass, band leader), and a British officer performing as a replacement drummer

Frans himself recounted how he had fought boredom with music during that year in hiding. “I did nothing else there but study the accordion. What else was there to do in those war days? Before the war, I had already been interested in music, even in the days before I had persuaded my father to buy me an accordion. I laid out checkers, white and black ones, mimicking a piano; I was practising on those. When I was presented with that accordion, it didn’t take long before I could play it rather well, but it wasn’t until the war years when I taught myself to read music. Liberation finally came in October 1944. I could have gone sailing then, but I preferred performing with my accordion for the English and Canadians, who were here in large numbers. When you played for them, you could get as many biscuits and cigarettes as you wanted.”

In order to market himself better as a musician, Frans de Kok also taught himself to play the guitar, double-bass and piano in those days. Musically, he was an autodidact if ever there was one. He never attended any conservatoire class. “Anyone having the opportunity to go to the conservatoire should definitely do so,” he later said, because he realised better than anyone that it was a long way to the top without a solid background. On the other hand, he put his poor theoretical training into perspective, “I know people with a music academy diploma who achieved nothing in spite of it.”

In 1945, Frans, 21 years old, joined the dance orchestra of trumpet player Jan Kelder. Initially, they played at a department store in Tilburg, but later mainly in places where Allied soldiers were stationed, like the Flemish coastal town of Blankenberghe. In the second half of the 1940s, he also played in countless other orchestras and ad-hoc ensembles in Tilburg and beyond. “Piano, double-bass, accordion, in café orchestras, sometimes in tents at funfairs, I’m not ashamed of that,” he once said about this somewhat irregular period in his life.

Frans (far right, double-bass) with the orchestra of Flemish pianist Joe Andy; others in this photo, from left - Tom Bartels (trumpet, vocals), Leen Uitdenboogaard (drums), Toon van Vliet (sax), Jopie Bakker (sax), and Ellen Andy (vocals) (c. 1949)

For a while, he was a member of an ensemble called De Nieuwe Zes (The New Six – BT), which was led by multi-instrumentalist Theo ‘Dick’ Doorenbosch, also from Tilburg. The dance band performed in Brabant, Limburg, and Zealand, but mainly in and around Tilburg. “We used to play a lot at places like Scala, ‘t Witte Paardje, ‘t Molentje, at Sjaak Adams’ café, which later became a Chinese restaurant,” De Kok commented later on in his life. But, he immediately added, he wasn’t able to make a living just by playing gigs. “Because music offered little stability at the time, I had to learn a trade. I chose to study radio engineering. The episode lasted for just six months, no longer. That was no life for me.”

Like so many musicians on the live circuit in the Netherlands, Frans had a hard time coping with the departure of the liberating forces, as making a living became more complicated. No doubt at the insistence of his parents, Frans then resorted to taking a radio engineering course at the so-called Nederlands Radiogenootschap or NRG (the Netherlands’ Radio Society – BT), after which he worked for about six months as a technician – more specifically as chief testing technician at Tungsram, a factory in Tilburg which produced radio equipment. In the evenings and at weekends, however, he plunged back into music. Frans carefully began to write his first arrangements for the orchestras in which he played. Naturally, he also learned the arranging profession from the bottom upwards, step by step. “[This is] a profession that you cannot learn and I can assure you my first attempts were rather atrocious.”

In 1949, Frans took a serious step in his career. After playing with smaller bands for several years, he was given the opportunity to join Joe Andy’s sextet. Andy, who was looking for an accordionist and bass player, was a Flemish pianist, who had been working in the Netherlands, mainly in The Hague, with his dance orchestra from 1938 onwards. The Joe Andy Orchestra worked on short-term contracts in all kinds of nightclubs, especially in the coastal resorts of Scheveningen and Zandvoort. Over the years, the band, with Joe Andy’s wife Ellen as the lead singer, had gone through a series of personnel changes, but it still enjoyed the reputation of being one of the country’s better dance orchestras. The fact that Frans de Kok was asked by Joe Andy proves that he had mastered his profession admirably well in the preceding years.

Frans (second from left) in Joe Andy's dance orchestra (c. 1950)

Together with his wife Mia – Frans was married not long after the war, at a very young age, because, as he jested, “I was afraid I would be the only one left” – Frans moved to Scheveningen in the summer season, hiring an apartment at Tweede Messstraat. Frans’ younger brother Leon visited there regularly, especially in the summer months. “I often came over during holidays. I must have been about twelve years old at the time. In Tilburg I was put on the train to The Hague to stay with Frans and his wife for a week. At that time, they were still without children; and I suspect Frans regarded me as his son. I thought it was great. At our house in Tilburg I was used to austerity, because that was what the post-war years were like, but at Frans’ place the situation was the complete opposite; I was allowed to go to bed late, visit cafés with him, and so on. It was one big party!”

“When I think back about it now, their apartment was actually rather cramped,” Leon continues. “A living room, a kitchenette, and a bedroom, nothing more. When I came over, a mattress was put on the floor of the living room. To my mind, Frans was living an exotic life. All my brothers and sisters had simply stayed in or around Tilburg. Frans was the only one choosing a completely different life path. His working day started at 10pm. He had to play until about 4 or 5am... but then he had the whole day to himself, allowing him to focus his attention on me all day long. I was really spoiled by him!”

Frans rested during the day, but in those free hours he also worked on writing arrangements, not only for Joe Andy’s ensemble; other bandleaders, such as Nico de Vries, also valued his scores. In this way, he managed to raise his income above what an average musician in the freelance sector earned.

Promotional leaflet of Bob van Waasdijk's orchestra (1954)

In 1952, Joe Andy and his wife withdrew from the world of music altogether, leaving the leadership of the band to saxophonist Bob van Waasdijk. Under Van Waasdijk, in addition to the usual mix of swing and slows, Latin was added to the repertoire, a genre that was fashionable at the time. In addition, the orchestra moved from The Hague to Amsterdam, the setting-off point for engagements and tours throughout Western Europe. 

“Our tours usually started at Rembrandtplein in the heart of Amsterdam,” Frans de Kok recalled. “From there, we went to Hamburg, the American army base in Bad Godesberg, Switzerland, France, Spain… we travelled the length and breadth of Europe, staying here and there for a month or two to play in a bar or a dance hall. We once accompanied a very young Caterina Valente, who happened to perform with us as a guest singer. My wife and I moved dozens of times in those years. This is how my boyhood dream of travelling and discovering the world was eventually fulfilled. As a musician, you led a sailor’s life. I was able to stay away from its darker sides reasonably well, but I saw a lot of my colleagues lose out, succumbing to drink and women.”

With Bob van Waasdijk, Frans wrote the the lion’s share of the arrangements of the wandering orchestra. At some point, Van Waasdijk resolved to expand the sextet to a seven-piece formation; a new double bassist was recruited, José Marcello van Kinsbergen, with Frans de Kok moving from the bass to a most unusual instrument that he invented himself. The monthly magazine Rhythme, which attended a performance by the orchestra in the Amsterdam dancing Extase, wrote about it:

Bob van Waasdijk's orchestra performing at nightclub 'Extase', Leidseplein, Amsterdam (c. 1955), from left - Cor Wesenaar (piano), Ferdy Posthuma de Boer (drums), Frans de Kok (electric accordion), Bov van Waasdijk (tenor sax), Henk van Montfoort (baritone sax), Leo van Vugt (trumpet), and José Marcello van Kinsbergen (double-bass)

“This band consists of seven people, but the volume produced by those seven elements sounds like an orchestra of ten to twelve musicians! This certainly is no sales trick. The ‘secret’ of this orchestra is Frans de Kok, an ambitious musician who also writes arrangements, assembled an electric accordion, which produces the sound of a saxophone. This ‘accordion’ is not made use of as a solo instrument, but has the sole task of adding a third voice to the sax team, making the timbre of the band as a whole warmer.”

“My back had started to bother me, so I came up with the idea of that little organ,” Frans de Kok explained many years later. “This way I could play the accordion without having to lift it. I then incorporated the mechanism of a vacuum cleaner to provide the air supply. It had ten registers and produced such a powerful sound that the orchestra’s sound became much richer overnight. The sound of that electric organ was so grand that I had to play it at all of our performances. Other bandleaders also came to listen. One of them, a guy from Switzerland, even commissioned me to make him one as well. I took a month off for that.”

In 1957, Frans de Kok, 33 years old by now, decided to try his luck in Hilversum, where the Netherlands’ radio service was located. With his back bothering him and after all those years of travelling around, he and particularly his wife Mia were eager to start living a more regular existence. A friend advised him to inquire at the various broadcasters if they were looking for an arranger to work with one of the many radio orchestras – not a bad idea, given that, after all those years of writing arrangements for dance orchestras, Frans had built up an impressive portfolio in that field. However, plans failed to work out initially. “It took a year before I found some sort of solid foothold. First I dropped by at all kinds of famous conductors; Klaas van Beeck, Bep Rowold, Jos Cleber, Dolf van der Linden. I wrote test arrangements for them, but it took months before I heard anything back.”

In his early days as a conductor, leading AVRO's radio orchestra De Zaaiers in a studio session (c. 1962)

Particularly the meeting with Van der Linden, conductor of the Metropole Orchestra, was still etched in Frans de Kok's memory towards the end of his life, although not for the best reasons. “At a time when my name was still unknown in Hilversum, I was trying to sell my arrangements to all the radio orchestras. Violinist Carlo Carcassola, a friend of mine, took me to Hilversum for a day to shake hands with people, as he put it. That’s how I also found myself in front of Dolf van der Linden, with whom I had a quick chat. He then invited me to write something for his orchestra. So I got to work. I came up with something I had really worked hard on. But no matter how long I waited, I heard nothing from Dolf van der Linden. That is, until I ran into him at a rehearsal of the Metropole Orchestra. He said, ‘Oh yes, Mr De Kok, we played through your arrangement, but if I may say so, we’ve long forgotten about it.’ I stood there with the full orchestra in attendance. I never forgave the man for that. I was furious. That was the last time I had anything to do with him. Of course, he was very good at his job – mind you, he got that Metropole Orchestra off the ground after the war. But the way he treated me was bad. In a way, though, that moment was a wake-up call for me. It gave me an extra incentive to keep going.”

Eventually, Theo Uden Masman, leader of VARA’s big band The Ramblers, was the first to include an arrangement by De Kok in his radio repertoire, because, as Masman wrote to him, “We really like your arrangement of ‘Swinging The Blues’. So we invite you to write more charts for us.” Yet it was not with socialist broadcaster VARA, but with their liberal rivals AVRO, where Frans found a job. After Bep Rowold, conductor of AVRO’s jazz band The Skymasters, had expressed his satisfaction with his orchestrations, he was offered a freelance contract as an arranger in 1958 – a wonderful opportunity.

From that moment on, De Kok put his activities as a performing musician on the back burner. Henceforth, he only played his familiar electric organ at home as an arranging tool. In his four years at AVRO, De Kok wrote more than a thousand scores, not only for The Skymasters, but also for De Zaaiers and the larger Cosmopolitain Orchestra, the broadcaster’s two entertainment orchestras, both led by Jos Cleber. De Kok described the collaboration with Cleber as particularly enjoyable as well as instructive, because he felt Jos Cleber “turned me into a first-class arranger.” Cleber's orchestras were employed in countless entertainment shows for AVRO radio. De Kok also wrote for various other ensembles that performed on radio and television in those years.

During a studio session with De Zaaiers (c. 1962)

In 1962, to the dismay of AVRO’s management, Jos Cleber decided to turn his back on the broadcaster. As it turned out, Cleber, who had already given up a position as a musician in the Metropole Orchestra just after the war to lead a radio orchestra in the Dutch East Indies, had succumbed to the lure from faraway places once more, accepting an offer from Johannesburg to form an entertainment orchestra for South African broadcaster SABC. Considering who to choose as Cleber’s replacement, AVRO eventually took the decision not to appoint one permanent successor to lead De Zaaiers and the Cosmopolitain Orchestra from now on, preferring to allow different conductors to work with the ensembles. For the radio programmes, Gijsbert Nieuwland was appointed, who had worked as head of the Light Music Department of the broadcaster and previously conducted the Marine Band of the Royal Netherlands Navy, alongside the seasoned radio musician Gerard van Krevelen, who had been associated with AVRO from the 1930s on as an arranger and leader of countless formations.

Two younger arrangers, on the other hand, were trusted with both orchestras’ television assignments; the classically trained Belgian Bert Paige, a prolific arranger for the Metropole Orchestra, and Frans de Kok, who had specialised in swing and rhythm-oriented music. “For me that was the big breakthrough,” De Kok claims. “At that time, I had absolutely no experience as a conductor, but the orchestra musicians put forward my name. I was appointed on their recommendation.”

With De Zaaiers, Frans de Kok did several major shows for AVRO television, including the jazz programme Let’s Face The Music And Dance with singers Corry Brokken and Mieke Telkamp. In the meantime, however, he also won commissions with other broadcasters, a luxury which his freelance status offered him. As an example, in 1962, he was involved as an arranger and bandleader in VARA show Seizoenszang, with young jazz singer Milly Scott being one of the stars.

In the control room (c. 1962)

Scott liked working with Frans de Kok. “I had a lot of respect for Frans – and many others with me; he was a gentleman-conductor. I felt very safe with him in front of the orchestra. A few years later, Dolf van der Linden was my conductor at the Eurovision Song Contest, but he was a rather distant man, always immersed in his work. You didn’t get to speak to him, but Frans was always available for a personal chat; you simply met at his house to discuss matters. He was not so much concerned with status and career as others; simply a pleasant guy from Brabant.”

After this prelude, more VARA work was to follow for De Kok. One year previously, in 1961, comedian Rudi Carrell had switched from AVRO to VARA, where a large budget was put at his disposal to put together a fully-fledged personality show, due to be broadcast twice a month. For the first season of this Rudi Carrell Show, the pre-recorded orchestral accompaniment was taken care of by VARA arranger Ger van Leeuwen. In the summer of 1962, however, Van Leeuwen was replaced by Frans de Kok. For the first time, De Kok’s name was seriously discussed in the media. Some of the musicians of Van Leeuwen’s orchestra caused upheaval by sharing inside information with a journalist. Anonymously, they made clear that Van Leeuwen had been “passed over in an extremely rude manner” and “had to make way for a man who had virtually never held a baton in his life, Frans de Kok.”

Later in the same article, the reason why the musicians were so indignant becomes clear; De Kok took three trumpet players from De Zaaiers with him to the orchestra for Carrell’s shows, including the legendary Willy Schobben. As such, at least three musicians of Ger van Leeuwen’s original band had to make way. According to the anonymously cited musicians, the poor interaction between Carrell and his first orchestra leader lay at the basis of Van Leeuwen’s replacement: “Rudi Carrell felt his vocal performance was below par due to Ger van Leeuwen’s unclear signals, which is why VARA agreed to drop Ger.”

When asked about the episode years later, Frans de Kok explained, “In that period, I had already worked with Rudi Carrell on freelance gigs across the country. He had taken notice of me because I accompanied him so carefully. Carrell was a fantastic entertainer, but as a singer he had his shortcomings. He had a tendency of starting one beat early or late; and I gave him a signal at the exact time. He had already been making shows for a year with Ger van Leeuwen, whom he thought was a jerk. That’s why he offered me the chance to do his TV shows. Needless to say this was a fantastic offer. I didn’t hesitate for a moment. Commissions soon followed to arrange and record all kinds of other VARA shows. I then decided to allow my contract with AVRO to expire. The great thing about working for VARA was that I was given complete freedom in putting together the orchestras. I had never had that kind of freedom at AVRO.”

Following Van Leeuwen’s methods, Frans de Kok chose to pre-record the orchestral as well as the vocal parts for the Carrell shows a few days beforehand, using a 27-piece orchestra. “It felt a bit strange at first, but I’ve got used to it. Now I wouldn’t want it any other way,” De Kok said in early 1963, when he had worked with Carrell for a few months. Initially, De Kok used facilities of the radio studio to record the audios. Backing vocals and the orchestration itself were recorded separately. “In this way, you could achieve a unity of sound that couldn’t otherwise be achieved in television. At radio we had technicians and a sound engineer (in our case André Smit) who could focus entirely on sound matters. With television, you always have to compromise with the director and the image – especially acoustically.”

Leading figures of the Netherlands’ Radio Union (NRU) quickly expressed their opposition to radio facilities and personnel increasingly being put to use for television productions. For example, André Smit, mentioned by Frans de Kok, was a popular sound engineer with various radio orchestras, most importantly the Metropole Orchestra. For Smit personally, the TV commissions were lucrative, but they also meant that he was not always available for his regular radio work. Moreover, radio studios were increasingly fully booked due to TV recordings. In 1963, anticipating problems, the NRU leadership took the far-reaching decision to officially ban the production of television recordings in the radio studios.

Frans de Kok (back to the camera, third from right) during rehearsals of VARA show 'De muziek van' (c. 1964)

The decree was a major spanner in the works for Frans de Kok, but he quickly came up with a solution. From now on, he recorded his audio tapes in the commercial studios of record company Phonogram at Honingstraat in Hilversum. When a journalist asked him about his choice, De Kok explained, “Because Phonogram is a studio where the sound situation is perfect. You can communicate directly with the sound engineer by giving him a signal or by using a command microphone – unlike the situation of TV Studio A, where the engineer has to go from the back upstairs through the studio, down the stairs and to the floor and back again to tell you to move this or that part in the studio. Or like in Musis Sacrum [the concert hall of the Guelders Orchestra in Arnhem], where they recently turned out to have just one tape recorder available. At Phonogram, we record four tracks – independently – which can later be mixed or adjusted at wish. The rhythm can be brought out a little more firmly at the expense of the strings; or the soloist’s voice can be given some more eminence. It is all about the final result, isn’t it?”

VARA was quick to appreciate Frans de Kok's contribution to their show programmes. In the summer of 1963, Joop Simons, Head of Entertainment of VARA’s TV department, offered him a contract as a musical advisor. From now on, all music heard on VARA’s television programmes would fall under his supervision. De Kok accepted, but on the condition that he would not have to give up his privileges as a freelancer. He did not want to have his hands tied. Simons reluctantly agreed. “I actually need the freelance work. It’s a major stimulus for me,” De Kok once explained. “I am not a civil servant type of person, someone who stands in line for the cashier every month, bound by collective labour agreements and fixed working hours.”

With the signing of his VARA contract, the busiest years in Frans de Kok's career began. Between 1963 and 1967, he worked on three to four programmes per week on average, be it as an arranger, conductor, sound director, musical supervisor, or a combination of those. It is almost impossible to have a clear view of all the productions in which he was involved in one way or another. Doubtlessly the most controversial of these programmes is Zo is het toevallig ook nog ‘s een keer, a copy of David Frost’s topical entertainment show That Was The Week That Was on BBC Television. The sketches for this programme were mainly written by some of the angry young men from the editorial departments of Amsterdam’s main papers – and unsurprisingly, in the prudish Dutch media landscape of those days, upheaval ensued time and again.

At home, writing an arrangement with the help of his electric accordion (c. 1964)

For Zo is het toevallig ook nog ‘s een keer, which was recorded live at the Frascati Theatre in Amsterdam, the musical accompaniment was provided by Frans de Kok with a small combo he had put together himself. De Kok also wrote the intro tune for the show. “It took me weeks to write that tune. It had to be something punchy, matching the satirical character of the programme. I succeeded, even though I was in a struggle for nights on end. Eventually, you could hear people in the street whistling the melody, which is proof to me that it was the right music for this show. In Frascati, where Zo is het… was recorded, I often stood in front of my men with sweaty hands. Regularly, just five minutes before the broadcast started, the guys were changing sentences and even entire items. In the afternoon, I would ask Jan Blokker or Rinus Ferdinandusse (two of the hosts in the show’s panel – BT) how a certain sketch would end – and then in the evening, during the broadcast, I noticed that they still did it slightly differently. I developed a sixth sense for that; an instinctive feeling that you have to play the tune in three seconds – pam-pam-pam… tusch!

Writing and arranging catchy tunes and incidental music became Frans de Kok’s trademark. A large part of his arrangements, preserved in Hilversum’s music libraries, consist of this type of production music. De Kok patiently explained to a newspaper journalist, who wondered whether such short musical intermezzos were really necessary, that these constituted an essential addition even in a seemingly simple game show, “When the quiz candidate walks to his cubicle, you’ll hear some little melody playing. Of course, you can leave out that piece of music, but it would feel empty; a certain effect would be lost. Those few seconds of music give the show some extra pace. Those are details that I pay attention to. The pieces I write are consciously designed to blend in with the image.”

With his approach, Frans de Kok made a name for himself as an innovator, someone who was not afraid to poke a sacred cow if need be. “When I made my first orchestral recordings [for television], I stipulated that I wanted a sound director on board. That was a concept completely alien to TV crews at the time, whereas it is something completely normal in radio. Broadcasting authorities weren’t that happy with the idea, but I went ahead with it anyway.” Thanks to his somewhat unusual background, he had a sharper view on matters such as acoustics and sound mix than other musicians. “You should know that I am a certified radio engineer,” he once explained to a journalist. “It’s a real bonus having that technical knowledge – especially in the studios, you’ll quickly notice what the technical possibilities are.”

VARA's musical advisor having a go at the vibraphone with one of his musicians (c. 1965)

While many of his colleagues did not have a clue about technical matters, De Kok enjoyed making full use of the possibilities of sound engineering. An anecdote he told a journalist of Algemeen Dagblad in 1964 about an incident in the lead-up to a Corry Brokken Show for VARA clearly illustrates this. “A Corry Brokken Show contains more than thirty songs, each measured down to the second. And yet, when Corry’s vocals were recorded, there turned out to be one piece which had been recorded a tad too fast for her. Because we had already spent the five hours [of recording time in the] sound studio allotted per show, we couldn’t record the song a second time. It somehow had to be slowed down. Now, if you play a recording slowly, a violin will sound like a cello or even a double-bass, and a saxophone will sound really horrible, but an old radio technician remembered some device that could slow down a recording without distorting the music. This machine hadn’t been used in twenty years, but he managed to track it down; and when we had dusted it off and it turned out to actually work, Corry Brokken could stick to her preferred tempo.”

Besides carefully guarding his reputation as an effective conductor, Frans de Kok had another reason why he did not like to go back into the studio with an orchestra to replay parts of the music for a TV show; after all, as a freelancer, he insisted on producing all his music recordings independently, selling them to VARA – and, unlike fellow conductors who made the recordings under the auspices of the broadcaster, he would therefore suffer a direct financial setback. Everything had to be recorded quickly, preferably in one take. All in all, this must have been a lucrative business, although De Kok emphasised that his entrepreneurial approach also caused him headaches from time to time. “It takes me a lot of extra work, paying artists, paying taxes, keeping the accounts, but the advantage is that you keep everything in one hand, ridding VARA of a lot of hassle in the process.”

Although De Kok assembled the orchestras he worked with according to the needs of a given show, there was a core of musicians who were there almost without fail; as concertmaster, he recruited his old friend Carlo Carcassola, viola player in the Metropole Orchestra. Carcassola often took with him part of that ensemble’s string group, seasoned musicians such as violinist Piet Kelfkens and cellist Henk Kiekens. For the wind section, De Kok usually hand-picked players from the AVRO and VARA big bands, The Skymasters and The Ramblers – renamed VARA-Dansorkest in 1964. De Kok spoke fondly of ‘his’ boys, “freelance musicians from other orchestras, but only the very best of them; excellent professionals who will play any score for you perfectly, even something that you’ve just scribbled on a piece of paper in between two rehearsals.”

Now that he had to work on so many different programmes simultaneously, Frans de Kok could not possibly write all the charts himself. That is why he largely outsourced this part of the job, initially working with well-known Hilversum arrangers like Bert Paige and Pi Scheffer, but later on also, and mainly, with Cees Smal and Frans Elsen, who came from the jazz world and provided a more contemporary sound. De Kok particularly thought highly of young Frans Elsen, also the regular pianist in De Kok’s freelance orchestras, “He is an excellent pianist and arranger, who can assist me well in this specialist area. He is one of those youngsters with genuine talent; one of the few in our country.”

From a certain point onwards, De Kok even allowed others to take over the conducting baton from him occasionally for productions with small orchestras. As he saw it, it was simply too much for one person to stand up in front of a group of musicians for all of those shows and be well-prepared at the same time. “I don't think you should keep everything in your own hands. You also have to give younger generations a chance. Some fresh blood is always a good idea,” he stated. At the end of his life, looking back on that period in which more work came his way than he could take on himself, he said, “At the time, I felt it was the most normal thing in the world that everything I touched changed to gold, but of course it wasn’t! Within a short amount of time, I had managed to reach the top in the world of TV orchestras.”

Another entertainment show for which Frans de Kok was the musical director was VARA’s TV magazine, hosted by Rob de Nijs – and therefore better known to audiences as the Rob de Nijs Show. The programme ran for two seasons (1964-65) and, in addition to De Nijs himself, included a cast of regular guests including Ria Valk, Trea Dobbs, and Anneke Grönloh. As with the Rudi Carrell Show, all the arrangements were pre-recorded. While the soloists were recording their vocals, De Kok was naturally present to lend a helping hand.

Single release with two songs from Rudi Carrell's 'Robinson Crusoë Show', with Esther Ofarim playing a mermaid (1964)

In an interview from 1964, he gave a glimpse of what went on during those recording sessions. “The easiest to work with is Ria Valk; she walks into the studio, chuckles, and says, ‘Well guys, I hope I have brought my yodel with me’; then she proceeds to sing all of her pieces twice, first seriously and the second time acting weird. Anneke Grönloh is more difficult to work with; she’s prone to crying – and once she’s crying, she can continue doing so for hours. Many lady singers cry, usually just before the recording session, because television work gets on your nerves. Suddenly such a singer starts thinking to herself, “In a moment, six million people will be watching me.” So they cry, and while they’re crying, they want a shoulder to cry on; ‘Frans,’ the director shouts at such a moment. That’s because my hair has started turning grey a bit, so I make a fatherly impression.”

Throwing a wink, De Kok then added that his function of comforting singers was by no means official; he was not paid for it, he said, but still he fulfilled this task without any qualms. In Hilversum, it earned him the nickname ‘Father of Crying Singers’. Whether Anneke Grönloh was happy with Frans de Kok’s revelations is anyone’s guess, but the story confirmed this singer’s reputation for having a somewhat unbalanced personality at times. Be that as it may, the Rob de Nijs Show, with its teenage sounds wrapped in a warm orchestral tone, was well received by the critics. Het Vrije Volk spoke of a “fresh approach”, while the Leeuwarder Courant said it had enjoyed some “excellent music”.

In 1964, one of the episodes of the Rudi Carrell Show was sent to the television festival in Montreux, where it won second prize, the so-called Silver Rose. For this legendary Robinson Crusoe Show, in which Rudi Carrell plays a stowaway on a desert island, meeting a beautiful mermaid, performed by the Israeli singer Esther Ofarim, the music was composed by Dick Schallies, the Metropole Orchestra’s pianist, while, naturally, the orchestra was conducted by Frans de Kok.

Frans de Kok listening closely as double-bass player Robbie Langereis is playing a solo (c. 1966)

“That was fantastic!”, De Kok enthuses, when asked about the award-winning show. “As always when working with Carrell, we recorded the orchestral parts in advance in a studio in Hilversum with a truly excellent orchestra. I wrote the arrangements with Bert Paige. Bert was originally a trumpet player with The Ramblers. I got to know him well because he worked a lot for me. He lived in Hilversum with his wife and mother-in-law, who were bossing him around all day. The three of them were inseparable. He had no ambitions to come to the fore as a conductor. His strength lay in writing arrangements, in creating music… and he created some truly beautiful music. As for Esther Ofarim, I had little to do with her, except for a preparatory meeting in Antwerp. The show itself was recorded at Scheveningen’s Circus Theatre. Abraham Ofarim (Esther’s husband and singing partner – BT) was proving one big nuisance, hanging around there all the time! He was taken out for sightseeing trips by different crew members to keep him away from rehearsals...”

The stylish arrangement for the most famous song from the show, Esther Ofarim's rendition of ‘Split Personality’, was created by Frans de Kok himself. In all, the partnership between De Kok and Rudi Carrell lasted for six years, until Carrell, who had built up a career as a television presenter in West Germany by then, stopped making shows for VARA in 1968. De Kok acknowledged that Carrell was not the easiest person to work with, but he went on to state, “I have only fond memories of Carrell. He respected my musicianship, while I respected his showmanship. He could be mean to others, scolding them in front of everyone, but the two of us knew how to maintain a nicely balanced working relationship. I also went out with him in Amsterdam once or twice, meeting some of the underworld figures that he was close with. Of course, Rudi wasn’t a very good singer, but in the studio we would work on the recordings to ensure that audiences at home noticed very little of that.”

From 1964 onwards, De Kok broadened his field of work even further, when he was invited by Warry van Kampen, director at VPRO, to provide the musical accompaniment to a series of music programmes for that broadcaster. Under the pseudonym Peter Franssen, De Kok took care of the arrangements of, among other things, a sketch show, Sjootijm. Initially, no-one except insiders knew the well-known VARA conductor was behind the name Peter Franssen. One journalist was even misled by it, as De Kok once said: “A newspaper reviewer wrote that he was pleased to find a new name in the music world and he noted that, as far as he was concerned, the music of this guy Peter Franssen was by no means inferior to the arrangements written by Frans de Kok…!” In the following years, the good working relationship with Warry van Kampen resulted in De Kok being commissioned to work on several more VPRO programmes, including a jazzy Christmas show starring Cleo Laine and Joy Marshall.

Frans de Kok's orchestra accompanying jazz soloist Joy Marshall

Frans de Kok’s success as a television conductor did not go unnoticed in the world of pop music. In 1965, he was approached by Phonogram producer Tony Vos to record a number of pieces with young singer Boudewijn de Groot. De Groot's first release, the 1964 single ‘Strand’, had barely managed to attract the attention of the record-buying public – and Vos presented his protégé with a straightforward choice; quit music altogether or agree to a more commercial approach. On ‘Strand’, which was also released as an EP with five other pieces, De Groot accompanied himself on the guitar without any additional instrumentation. At Vos’ insistence, more attention was now going to be devoted to the musical accompaniment. Vos, hailing from the Brabant region like De Kok, remembered him from the world of jazz in the 1950s and asked his old acquaintance to back up De Groot with his TV orchestra. A first recording at Phonogram Studios followed in the summer of 1965, an arrangement of folk tune ‘The Lowland Sea’, translated in Dutch to become ‘Noordzee’.

It took some getting used to working with an orchestra for Boudewijn de Groot, which he had never done before. “Of course, I found it really interesting, an orchestra in the studio playing along with you. Also nerve-racking, though, standing there in between a group of well-educated and very experienced music professionals.” De Groot had previously recorded the vocal parts for ‘Noordzee’. The orchestra was dubbed in later on. That recording did not go smoothly, De Kok recalled many years later: “There’s one thing I’ll always remember; Boudewijn had recorded that song himself, playing his guitar while he sang it. But when we were about to record the orchestra, it turned out that his guitar on the tape had been tuned a little too high, halfway between two pitches. Of course, Boudewijn had had no help with that; he had just recorded those songs and that was it. The result of all this was that all the violinists in the studio had to adjust the strings of their violins in order to be in tune with Boudewijn’s guitar!”

For the moment, however, ‘Noordzee’ remained on the shelf, because Vos ultimately decided to release a single with two better-known songs first; ‘Een meisje van 16’ and ‘De eeuwige soldaat’, covers of Noel Harrison’s ‘A Young Girl Of Sixteen’ and Donovan’s ‘Universal Soldier’. The studio sessions in which both songs were recorded took place in the autumn of 1965. Yet again, Frans de Kok’s orchestra was there to provide the accompanying music. ‘Een meisje van 16’ was a hit, marking Boudewijn de Groot’s breakthrough with a large audience.

Following this, an album was recorded in January 1966, on which, in addition to the previously recorded pieces, new material by De Groot was included, most notably the iconic protest song ‘Welterusten mijnheer de President’, which was an indictment against Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam policy. Most songs were backed up by Frans de Kok’s orchestra, but Vos and De Kok – or one of them? – appealed to Bert Paige to write some additional arrangements.

“These are all matters in which I was not involved at the time,” Boudewijn de Groot explains. “This was taken care of by Tony Vos and I didn’t interfere. Another matter I don’t have exact information about is which orchestrations were written by Frans or Bert or someone else. Only in the case of ‘Welterusten mijnheer de President’ I am positively sure that the arrangement was done by Bert Paige. In the following years, Bert Paige became the permanent arranger of my records, which no doubt was a very fortunate move on Tony Vos’ part, because Bert was the best arranger ever. On the other hand, I would have liked to keep Frans on board as conductor. I got along well with him in the studio and, unlike Bert, who was more classically educated, it was clear that Frans had a jazz feel. Frans stood there swinging in front of his orchestra, something which could not be said of most arrangers and conductors in the studio at that time.”

Except for the incident with the guitar which had been tuned too high, Frans de Kok later apologised that he could not remember more about his short-lived partnership with Boudewijn de Groot. “I never worked with him outside the studio. We had a preliminary discussion with him and Tony Vos and then there was the recording – and that was it. Remember that I was incredibly busy at the time.” Still, he felt satisfaction for having had a hand in that first Boudewijn de Groot album, because, as he put it, “Television is hard work, then it’s put on air, and the next moment everything is gone forever. An album has lasting power; it’s a small document.”

Partly because of his extensive work for television, Frans de Kok never became a household name as a record arranger. His involvements remained limited to some incidental recordings, including the single ‘In oktober’ by Liesbeth List from the same year 1965. List had performed the song at that year’s Knokke Festival in Belgium, where she was part of the winning Dutch team. De Kok had had his share in the success. At the request of the Netherlands’ delegation leader Lou van Rees, he had rushed down to the Flemish seaside resort to put the finishing touch to the arrangements for Liesbeth List and her colleagues Jan Arntz and Greetje Kauffeld in the days leading up to the festival. He had spent the night leading up to the finale sorting out the final details – and then stayed to attend the final rehearsals to ensure that Francis Bay’s orchestra would play his score properly.

Topping off his successful year 1965, Frans de Kok was also commissioned to take care of the orchestral backing for that year’s Grand Gala du Disque, the Netherlands’ equivalent of the Grammy Awards. In the past, Jos Cleber and Dolf van der Linden had alternated at the helm of the orchestra accompanying the Grand Gala. When De Kok was asked in rehearsals whether his approach would differ markedly from his predecessors, he stated, “We are going to try to make some changes. Not just one song following the other. After all, this is a show programme, so you want incidental music when an artist mounts the stage or leaves. It’s not a new concept, you know. In revue theatre you’ll find it’s the most normal thing in the world.”

It is no mean feat to put together a four-hour live broadcast in just a few days of rehearsals. The guest list that evening in Amsterdam’s RAI included The Everly Brothers, Lucille Star, Dalida, and many, many others. “It was very tough, a lot of artists performed, all with just one or two songs,” De Kok later said. “People like Vera Lynn, The Supremes, and Trio Hellenique. Dave Berry was also there, he made a mistake when he had to start. And everything was done live, so that was a hell of a job. I was very nervous beforehand, but once I stood in front of my orchestra, those nerves were gone. I consider that Grand Gala to be one of the highlights, perhaps the highlight, of my career.”

Conducting the combo of Mies Bouwman's talkshow 'Mies en Scène'

Apart from the programmes mentioned above, Frans de Kok worked on a series of portraits of American Songbook composers, including George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers, entitled De muziek van. The artists cast to perform the songs included Milly Scott and Belgium’s Louis Neefs. In 1966, Frans de Kok recorded the orchestral parts for major show programmes with Thérèse Steinmetz and the popular revue artist Dorus. That same year, he was also commissioned by VARA to conduct a large-scale show programme, again staged in the RAI auditorium in Amsterdam, on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of socialist trade union NVV. Working with director Ben de Jong, he put together a program of music from those sixty years, ranging from operetta from the beginning of the century to contemporary protest songs. A range of popular artists were booked for the event, including Thérèse Steinmetz, Tante Leen, and Boudewijn de Groot. The programme was broadcast live on radio and television.

“I’ve been preparing this show for months now,” De Kok said a few days before the broadcast. “Sixty years in music, ranging from The Merry Widow to West Side Story. This will be an explosion of music of one hour and fifteen minutes… and my honour is at stake to stick to those 75 minutes exactly (...). Man, I’ll be feeling like Leo Horn (famous football referee in the 50s and 60s – BT). I’ll be standing in RAI’s West Hall in the middle of those ascending stands. Four thousand spectators, a 35-piece orchestra, Frans Müller’s choir, comprising 25 vocalists. Dozens of soloists, a large ballet group, a jazz band, a combo, a beat group. Man, I think I’ll have to start using a referee’s whistle to maintain order!”

At the end of the interview, De Kok had already made it known that after all the efforts required to prepare the NVV show, he would take some rest – “not sixty years, but sixty days, if I may say so,” as he put it jestingly. Ultimately, De Kok even took a full four-month break, during which he undertook a short study trip to London to watch the BBC orchestras at work; but he spent most of the remaining weeks in his native city of Tilburg. Was he just enjoying a sabbatical or was Frans de Kok really overworked?

Driving his orange Porsche (c. 1967)

“I wouldn’t be able to give you a conclusive answer to that question,” brother Leon says. “We lived in Tilburg and only saw Frans when he came down to visit. Those were always very pleasant occasions. When he stepped out of that orange Porsche of his, it was as if a rich uncle walked into the house. It seemed as if everything came to Frans so easily. Rudi Carrell, the Grand Gala du Disque; everything he touched turned to gold, but there was a downside too. To keep up all that hard work, he led a pretty hectic lifestyle. He was a heavy smoker and he was quite keen to have a drink once in a while as well. From the 1940s onwards, he had already been used to working mainly at night, but his health suffered as a result, and so did his family life. By the 1960s, Frans and Mia had moved into a large house in Ermelo. In the meantime, their son Frans Junior had been born, but because Frans was away hard at work, his marriage wasn’t going well in those years. My parents were very proud of everything Frans had achieved in television, but they were very concerned about those other things. He worked harder than was good for him.”

Be that as it may, in the autumn of 1966 Frans de Kok was back. As usual, he made audio tapes for entertainment shows starring Rudi Carrell and Henk Elsink, but also for a new satirical programme Hadimassa. He also conducted the combo for Mies Bouwman’s talk show, Mies en Scène. De Kok also wrote the tune for this programme, for which he explains that it is “almost a prerequisite that there is music present live on stage.” Mies en Scène, which invariably attracted an audience of millions, ran for five seasons (1965-69).

Meanwhile, for programmes in which the orchestrations were pre-recorded, De Kok, like many of his colleagues, had mainly started using the Soundpush Studios. This relatively new studio, housed in a former theatre in Blaricum, had acquired an excellent reputation in a short time. One of the sound engineers in this studio was Dick Bakker.

On a TV set with singer / host Frans Halsema and British comedian Millicent Martin (1968)

“I was very lucky that the acoustics at Soundpush were so good,” says Bakker. “At that time we only worked with four tracks. Still, when the double-bass was playing, you could hear the sound of it very clearly without being cancelled out by other instruments. So not much work was required on that, even though the orchestration as a whole was recorded in one take, with all players in the same studio. The sound quality was incomparable to Phonogram and the radio studios, where they were used to recording the different groups of the orchestra one by one. Still, recordings could sometimes run late, because some conductors were so chaotic in their approach that you could be sure that it would affect the musicians. In this respect, Ger van Leeuwen springs to mind. When he got overstrained, you could see him slapping his concertmaster. During such a fit of anger, it also occurred that his wig would stand on end, which did not exactly benefit his authority. That kind of thing certainly didn’t happen with Frans de Kok. He worked quickly and efficiently. Moreover, he understood the art of writing ‘open’ arrangements, avoiding the addition of all kinds of superfluous elements in his score.”

From the late months of 1967 onwards, Frans de Kok showed his face less regularly in Hilversum. He continued to work on selected programmes as a conductor and he was also still on stage with his orchestra for Mies en Scène, but he had given up his position as VARA’s music supervisor. During his sabbatical the year before, he had decided to take a completely different tack. He set his sights on returning to his hometown: “I must have acquired a strong character trait from my father, because the world of business attracted me. Especially after I had been able to save some money in Hilversum, having my own business really appealed to me. I only had one condition; I wanted to start in Tilburg’s best shopping street, Heuvelstraat. It took a while before that location became available…”

After a year of patience, in the autumn of 1967, the desired location in the heart of Tilburg finally presented itself; a small shop at 104 Heuvelstraat. De Kok had in mind to set up a gramophone store. Did he no longer have any dreams as a performing musician? In Hilversum, everything seemed to be going his way. In interviews he had spoken of his ambition to also make his mark as a film composer. When asked why he chose to leave Hilversum – especially at that moment in his life – he explained in 2006, “There is one reason for that. When I was a young musician, a 35-year-old saxophonist joined our orchestra. Well, we all felt he was a really old man! From then on, I told myself, “Frans, you may be perceived as a contemporary and modern musician now, but over time you’ll find you’re obsolete and outdated. Once you’re forty years old, you’ll have to make sure you’re gone.” I wanted to choose the right moment to draw a line, at a point in my career when things were still running smoothly.”

Shortly before the opening of his record store at Tilburg's Heuvelstraat in 1967

De Kok moved to Tilburg, but still drove back and forth to Hilversum regularly for TV assignments. In the meantime, he was laying the foundation for his new record store together with his wife Mia and his younger brother Leon. “For me, Frans’ offer to work in his store came at the right time,” Leon explains. “After secondary school, I went to work for my father, who was still selling designs and lasts to shoe factories. But soon, very suddenly, he died of a heart attack. I was only 27 and my father’s business was in serious trouble. I didn’t know what to do, losing customers on a weekly basis. Frans realised that I was stuck in a dead-end street; and so you could say he saved me. It turned out very favourably for me. He also asked other family members to come on board; my brother Guus was working in the storage room and my brother-in-law Michel kept the accounts. So it was some sort of a family business.”

“We opened our doors in the last week of November 1967,” Leon remembers. “In other words, right before the festive season – and we had five shopping nights in a row. It was madness! Frans had had the first collection for our shop put together by the record companies, but we sold practically everything in a matter of hours. After 9pm, three or four of us had to stay to make phone calls with the companies in order to replenish the collection for the next day. At the end of such an evening you were feeling really exhausted! But it was great fun too.”

“Frans understood that no record store can flourish on the third floor at the back of some building,” Leon continues. “Potential customers have to walk by accidentally to be given the idea to buy a record on impulse. We’re now talking about the heyday of the record business, because, when Wim Sonneveld or Wim Kan (famous revue artists – BT) had been on TV, people would line up the next day to buy the album. Furthermore, it was helpful that everyone in Tilburg knew who Frans de Kok was. People just loved it when he had invited John Woodhouse (popular accordion player – BT) to mark the opening of his record store. In those early days, Frans was often away to Hilversum, but people would see me and say, ‘Hi Frans’, when they walked into the shop. Frans and I looked quite alike, you know. I didn’t correct them, because it was good for business! Another factor was the shop itself; it was very cosy, as small as a sweet shop. Fortunately, we were soon able to rent the building next door. We then broke down the walls, which enabled us to create a slightly larger classical music department, as a result of which we started attracting a wider range of customers.”

In March 1969, Frans de Kok conducted Lenny Kuhr’s winning Eurovision performance (much more about that in the Eurovision Song Contest section of this article, below). This was nothing short of a huge publicity stunt for his business in Tilburg. “Yes, I benefited enormously from that,” Frans admitted. “On the day of the festival, I had a full-width advertisement placed in the local newspaper in Tilburg, ‘We also provide the music from Madrid. Watch the Eurovision Song Contest tonight!’ The business grew like crazy in those days. That Eurovision Song Contest didn’t do me any harm, if you know what I mean. I had good contacts with local journalists in Tilburg, enabling me to play up my image as the guy who had made it in Hilversum without becoming too big for his boots.”

One of the shop assistants who joined the business in Tilburg in 1969 was 19-year-old Danny Schuwer from Waalwijk. He distinctly remembers the Eurovision episode. “After that Eurovision Song Contest, a large photo of Frans and Lenny together was put in the shop window. Frans took advantage of that, of course. Commercially he was exceptionally astute. He paid attention to details like that. In those days, many stores were still working with blank carrier bags, but Frans had bags and wrapping paper with the company’s logo on it – a very striking purple logo with a huntsman in it. It was instantly recognisable. The interior of the store, the record bins, everything looked really slick. In terms of marketing and design, he was way ahead of his time.”

Schuwer’s sentiments are echoed by Clemens van Bracht, another youngster from Waalwijk who joined the store in Tilburg in 1969. “Frans knew how to lure people in. His counter staff was young and always included some really beautiful girls. That was very smart. I brought in other qualities. I had grown up in a family which had a café in Waalwijk. I knew what it was to run a business. When I came to work at Frans’, I brought with me the work ethics required to run a company. I immediately took responsibility. In those days, I literally knew everything about pop music. Because we were much more assertive in our approach, we swept away our rivals in Tilburg. One of them was Muziekhuis Rossmeisl. They were a store specialised in classical music, but they also had a small selection of pop records. Well, after a while they simply gave up on that. That was enhanced by the fact that Frans and Leon left the procurement of single records to me and other young people. Soon all the deejays flocked to our shop to buy their records, simply because we had the best collection.”

A small crowd gathering at Frans de Kok's record store in Tilburg (1969)

“We usually bought our music at wholesale departments in Antwerp, who had records which weren’t available in the Netherlands yet,” Van Bracht continues. “Belgium was miles ahead of the Netherlands in terms of music; their radio also played much better stuff than the stations in Hilversum. Frans knew that – and he also knew that I was the guy who kept track of all that, so I regularly went to Antwerp with him to buy those singles. In fact, he usually let me drive that orange Porsche of his. It sometimes happened that we had been selling certain songs for six months before they were actually released in the Netherlands.”

What did Danny and Clemens think of Frans de Kok himself? “I thought he was a guy oozing charisma,” Danny Schuwer responds. “I really looked up to him, if only because I knew that he had conducted that LP by Boudewijn de Groot. For us as staff, Frans was a friendly man who had an aura of natural authority. Around Christmas in 1969, we were checking the inventory of the shop. All the records were counted and all of this was written down accurately. I worked on that until quite late in the evening. When I was about to go home, Frans complimented me, handing me the triple album of the Woodstock Festival. He knew I was fascinated by Woodstock. That was my music. I got on the bus with that record in the carrier bag and remember feeling very impatient to get home and play that LP immediately!”

“Don’t forget that Frans formed an excellent team with his brother Leon,” Clemens van Bracht adds. “At heart, Frans was an artist, someone who liked being in the spotlight; not in a nasty way, on the contrary, because he was very amiable, but still he was proud of what he had achieved in music. Leon was the opposite; very modest, but also a really nice guy. 'Our Frans is a bit of a character, isn’t he?', Leon would laugh, but together they achieved great things. Leon took over the daily management from Frans, but he in turn realised that he owed that wonderful job to Frans.”

'Due to part of our staff being on holiday, Conny Vink will be in our store to lend a helping hand' - Conny Vink being a popular singer at the time - newspaper advertisement, probably from 1969

Before long, new branches of Frans de Kok Grammofoonplaten opened; a second shop in Tilburg at Topmarkt in 1968, and in the following years additional stores in Waalwijk, Den Bosch, and Eindhoven. “There were no record stores to speak of in those places,” Leon de Kok explains. “Taking Den Bosch as an example, there were just a few small mom-and-dad shops, as we used to call them. With his lucky hand, Frans was able to rent a building from Van de Ven, the fur store in Den Bosch, right in the town centre. Van de Ven added, 'Mr De Kok, you are renting a shack, but it is a golden building,' and that was entirely correct. We had plastic sheets and buckets on the top floor, because water was seeping through all over the place, but in no time that business had an incredible turnover. I don’t know whether Frans had already considered a formula with multiple stores before he started in Tilburg; but when the business at Heuvelstraat quickly started to do well, he must have understood that he could achieve similar success elsewhere in Brabant. Frans was a daredevil who made big decisions without getting nervous. In addition, he was very good at setting up something, thinking about all facets, writing everything down on sticky notes to organize his thoughts. That was really where his strength lay.”

Frans and Leon invariably picked young guys who had done well in the shop in downtown Tilburg to become branch managers in their new stores. Danny Schuwer started his own record business in Waalwijk in 1971 – thus becoming Frans de Kok’s rival – but Clemens van Bracht was given the opportunity to prove his worth at De Kok’s store in Waalwijk, and subsequently for a longer period in Den Bosch.

“In Waalwijk, I succeeded Hans Kievits, a friend of mine who had introduced me to Frans de Kok in 1969,” Van Bracht recalls. “That was a nice little shop. Then I was thrown into the deep end in Den Bosch. The great thing about Frans was that he gave you full responsibility. That was quite something, because that store in Den Bosch was already doing a great turnover before I started. It was very nice to be given so much confidence. As far as Frans was concerned, it was really your shop. You only had to report to him on really important things. Frans was not a boss who would look over your shoulder constantly. This also meant that I could pretend it was my store. Frans’ name was on the facade, but no one in Den Bosch knew who Frans de Kok was. I could really put all my passion into it, which was also reflected in the sales figures.”

At the inauguration of the Waalwijk branch of his brand of record stores, with invitees Piet Souer and Lenny Kuhr (1969)

In the meantime, Frans de Kok had finally closed the door in Hilversum. His last job as a conductor was a series of six shows for KRO in the spring of 1971, produced by his old friend Warry van Kampen, who had switched from VPRO to the Catholic broadcaster. “Those were shows with Frans Halsema as presenter that were recorded at Theatre 't Spant in Bussum,” Frans de Kok recalled. “After that I finally ended my career there with a big full stop. I am very satisfied that I did it that way.”

Brother Leon can still remember the moment when Frans said he had stopped working in Hilversum. “I was astonished, because he hadn’t made it known that he intended to withdraw. A number of well-known conductors took over his work, but he could have continued in that line of work easily. He was still a popular figure in Hilversum. It was incomprehensible that he just stopped working as a musician altogether! He never spoke about his time in television afterwards, although I must say Frans was never one to tell big stories about the past. Thinking back, I suspect he noticed that it was too hard to combine the two careers, travelling back and forth to Hilversum every time and then running your own company. I made sure everything ran smoothly in Tilburg, but the final responsibility was his. It must have been quite a burden for him.”

In the course of the 1970s, Frans de Kok Grammofoonplaten expanded even further with shops in Oisterwijk, Veghel, Oss, and briefly in Breda. In addition, Combidisc was set up, a purchasing association with two major colleagues, Van Leest from Eindhoven and Nijmeegse Muziekhandel. Another novel concept, a records wholesale company, Discourier, was devised by Frans to considerable success. At its peak, Discourier had 130 shops across Brabant as regular customers.

Shaking hands with singer Vader Abraham, who had been invited to perform at the fifth anniversary of Frans de Kok's shop in Tilburg (1972)

“The idea to begin a wholesale company started when lots of record dealers from across the border in Belgium started coming to our store in Tilburg to purchase large quantities,” Leon explains. “We told them to come to the back of the shop, where the storage room was. Later we moved the storage elsewhere, because the shop in Tilburg was really too small for wholesale. Frans and I set up Discourier together, but I was put in charge of it. Small music shops from across Brabant, of which there were still many at the time, came to us early on Saturday mornings to do their shopping. We also had a delivery service, with the orders being delivered in a little van. This brought in quite some money, although a lot of handling costs were involved and the margins were actually rather thin. Still, it was nice to keep in touch with all those smaller colleagues.”

At the end of the 1970s, the recording industry ran into trouble both nationally and internationally – and there were far-reaching consequences for Frans de Kok Grammofoonplaten. Frans had just made major investments in the automation of the company. He had also purchased a large estate just outside Tilburg. When business started to slow down, that country house, Dongewijk, with 30 hectares of land around it, became an albatross around his neck.

Leon de Kok cannot help shaking his head when thinking back to Dongewijk and the consequences. “When Frans came back to Tilburg in 1967, he had bought a very modest semi-detached house. That was a wise decision, because there was no knowing if he would be successful. But when all those shops in Brabant were doing very well, he bought himself that estate with a very old house on it. That house turned out to be a money pit, because the maintenance costs were huge. He also liked to drive expensive cars and travel back and forth to Lake Garda with his boat on a trailer. Looking back, you cannot escape the conclusion that Frans was terribly naive in financial matters.”

Frans de Kok (second from right, between Willem Duys and Piet Beishuizen) as a member of the Edison jury; in this photo, Joop de Roo, Jip Golsteyn, John Vis, and Tineke Vos can also be recognised (1972)

“Furthermore, my impression was that Frans was less and less interested in business,” Leon continues. “He had never been a keen shopkeeper anyway, someone who liked having a chat with people. Even after he had just won Eurovision and everyone wanted his autograph on Lenny Kuhr’s single record, he tip-toed out of the shop in a matter of minutes. Somehow he felt uncomfortable with that type of attention. The concept of those stores made perfect sense; Frans was a genius at lifting businesses off the ground, but once things got going, he quickly became bored. That may have played a part too when he left Hilversum so abruptly. When our company started running into difficulty, he made an attempt at cutting the costs, but it was all too little too late.”

Finally, in 1982, having run into grave financial trouble, Frans de Kok was forced to sell Frans de Kok Grammofoonplaten as well as Discourier to his brother Leon. Together with a new partner, Leon managed to keep the company afloat in a slimmed-down form, until the business as a whole was sold to record company Arcade in 1988. The remaining Frans de Kok shops formed the core of a new, nationwide chain of record stores called The Music Store. By that time, Frans de Kok had joined his son’s software company, taking care of financial matters. The record store where it all started for Frans de Kok, at Heuvelstraat in Tilburg, had been taken over by Clemens van Bracht in 1983, the same year when he experienced his breakthrough as a recording artist as half of the singing duo De Deurzakkers.

“From that moment on, that store in Tilburg was renamed Clemens van Bracht Grammofoonplaten,” Van Bracht explains, “until, a few years later, it became part of The Music Store. Leon de Kok worked very hard in the 1980s to keep Discourier afloat and ultimately walked away with the top prize when Arcade presented itself. The business run by Frans’ son continued supplying the cash register system and automated stock lists for all those stores; partly thanks to him, we were at the forefront in this development in this in the Netherlands. Later, Van Leest and Free Record Shop also began using his systems. Frans de Kok, the father, was an excellent businessman, but from a certain point on the whole retail business was past its peak, especially when the transition from vinyl to CD was coming. He probably didn’t feel like putting any more energy into it. From a commercial point of view, his son’s software business was much more interesting.”

During his last working years (1995)

“Software was my brother’s lifeline,” Leon de Kok confirms. “He had put all his money in those record stores – and when he had to sell all of them in 1982, he had lost most of his capital. In a way, he left me with a near-bankrupted business, but I didn’t hold a grudge and just continued doing what I had always done; working hard, very simple. Ultimately, I came out better than him. He had to continue working in his son’s business until he was 74. He looked after the administration there and earned a nice salary for quite a few years.”

After a working life of over fifty years, Frans de Kok retired with his second wife Henriëtte in Balen, just across the border in Belgium. When we visited him there in 2006, he had just recovered from a serious illness. “I was confined to bed for three years,” he said in his unmistakable Tilburg accent. “I’m glad I’m up and running again, because I’ve never much enjoyed sitting still. I’ve always liked working, especially in those last years in the software business. After my retirement, I put my energy into my hobby, filming and editing films. A few years ago there was a reunion of the staff of my record store, for which I made a film about my life and the store in Tilburg.” When we turned out to have a colour recording of the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest containing Lenny Kuhr’s performance, De Kok was very pleased with it. He only had a black and white version. It prompted him to re-edit his life film.

In 2011, Frans de Kok passed away in a hospital in Mol, Belgium, after contracting pneumonia and various infections. He was 87 years old.

In the hallway of his house in Balen-Wezel, showing Salvador Dali's painting made on the occasion of the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest in Madrid


Frans de Kok was involved as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest on one occasion, in 1969, when the festival was held in the Spanish capital Madrid. There, he conducted the Netherlands’ entry ‘De troubadour’, interpreted by Lenny Kuhr, which was crowned one of the four winners of the festival. Prior to this, he had also conducted the pre-selection in Scheveningen. How did Frans de Kok, an acclaimed television conductor in those years, but someone who had never been involved in the Eurovision Song Contest, come into the picture for this one-off, ultimately very successful festival participation?

For many years, Dolf van der Linden had been the permanent conductor for the Netherlands in the Eurovision Song Contest. He had only had himself replaced twice; in 1956, when he did not attend the first edition of the festival in Lugano due to obligations with his orchestra in the Netherlands; and seven years later, in 1963, when the pre-selection was cancelled due to a musicians’ strike, as a result of which broadcaster NTS did not feel the need to send Van der Linden to London with singer Annie Palmen. In both cases, the chief conductor of the Metropole Orchestra, the light-music orchestra of Dutch radio, was replaced by the musical director of the organising country, Fernando Paggi in Switzerland and Eric Robinson in England.

In 1969, after the Netherlands had done badly in the voting for many years in a row, however, he skipped a year. In his own words, he was too busy preparing the monthly television programme Muziek om naar te kijken, the recording sessions of which coincided with the Eurovision Song Contest. When asked, he emphasised that he had also had to cancel the Grand Gala du Disque and the Singing Europe Festival in Scheveningen due to his overloaded agenda. At those two events, Van der Linden was replaced by his BRT colleague Francis Bay and Charlie Nederpelt, leader of the VARA Dance Orchestra, respectively.

In front of his Festival Orchestra at the 1969 National Song Contest in Scheveningen

There were some other stories doing the rounds as well. A newspaper article claimed that the conductor, who had been critical of the standard of the songs in the national selection as well as the international final the year before, “wasn’t really looking forward to the prospect of doing another Eurovision after all these years.” However, another consideration also played a part, as Van der Linden acknowledged years later. That year, the Eurovision final was held in Spain, ruled by dictator Franco at the time. Van der Linden refused to work in a country with a government for which he had nothing but contempt. Sometimes, the Metropole Orchestra’s chief could be a very principled man. “We never went on holiday to Spain either,” his daughter Anneke confirms. Although being involved in the initial preparations for the National Song Festival in 1969, Van der Linden may have allowed all considerations mentioned above to play their part in his eventual decision to withdraw.

When we interviewed Frans de Kok in 2006, asking him if he thought matters of principle may have played a part in Van der Linden’s decision to withdraw, he commented, “Yes, he was a stiff man… I don’t have good memories of him. At a time when my name was still unknown in Hilversum, I was trying to sell my arrangements to all the radio orchestras. Violinist Carlo Carcassola, a friend of mine, took me to Hilversum for a day to shake hands with people, as he put it. That’s how I also found myself in front of Dolf van der Linden, with whom I had a quick chat. He then invited me to write something for his orchestra. So I got to work. I came up with something I had really worked hard on. But no matter how long I waited, I heard nothing from Dolf van der Linden. That is, until I ran into him at a rehearsal of the Metropole Orchestra. He said, ‘Oh yes, Mr De Kok, we played through your arrangement, but if I may say so, we’ve long forgotten about it.’ I stood there with the full orchestra in attendance. I never forgave the man for that. I was furious. That was the last time I had anything to do with him. Of course, he was very good at his job – mind you, he got that Metropole Orchestra off the ground after the war. But the way he treated me was bad. In a way, though, that moment was a wake-up call for me. It gave me an extra incentive to keep going. And later, of course, he must have noticed that I was successful…”

And indeed, Frans de Kok had enjoyed considerable success in the following years. After five years as an arranger at AVRO radio, he was employed by VARA TV in 1963 as a musical supervisor. In that position, he worked as an arranger and conductor on countless successful productions in the following years, such as the Rudi Carrell Show, Zo is het toevallig ook nog ‘s een keer and Mies en Scène. There was no doubting that he had the right credentials to take on the Eurovision job, although he was no longer as involved in Hilversum as a few years before; from late 1967 onwards, De Kok subdivided his attention between a newly established record store in the heart of his native Tilburg and a slimmed-down package of commissions as a conductor for television programmes with various broadcasting services.

Patricia Paay's performance at the 1969 Netherlands' Eurovision pre-selection

The offer to lead the 1969 national final and to take part as a conductor in the international festival in Madrid came from Warry van Kampen, Head of Entertainment at broadcaster VPRO, who was also in charge of the National Song Contest at umbrella broadcasting service NTS. In previous years, De Kok and Van Kampen had already teamed up regularly. “I had already made jazz programmes for him with singers such as Joy Marshall and Cleo Laine,” Frans de Kok commented. “He was a nice man who had an ear for music. In 1969, he was head of a committee which was preparing the Eurovision project. I received a phone call from him and he said, ‘Frans, listen, we haven’t seen each other for a while, but you can do Eurovision, if you like.’ I had to think about it for a while – after all, I was already running my record store – but I decided to do it. That’s because the entrepreneur in me woke up... make no mistake, that Eurovision Song Contest was the best advertising imaginable for my business!”

As it happened, De Kok was not necessarily a keen follower of the annual event. In 1968, he had told a newspaper journalist, “I actually find (...) the Eurovision Song Contest a very annoying TV show.” De Kok, never shy of strong statements, also explained why he believed the Netherlands had done so poorly in previous years. “We obviously do enjoy little success internationally and I believe this is mainly due to our extraordinary inferiority complex. Only music from abroad is pleasing to our ears. There are only a few Dutch musicians with an international touch, like Malando; and secondly, we’re obviously stuck in a small country. You’ve got to take into account the limited range of our language, because 95 percent of gramophone releases are vocal records. Unfortunately, the few talents that we have here hardly experience any competition, so no sifting out the real talents is happening. That is why the level of domestic music is so variable and it also explains why so many mediocre acts come to the fore in this country.”

On the other hand, on another occasion he had said, “There are two things I’ve always dreamt of doing; the Grand Gala du Disque and the Eurovision Song Contest.” The honour of conducting the Grand Gala had already been accorded to him in 1965; in 1969, the opportunity followed to leave his mark on that other major show programme. Because the Metropole Orchestra was not available, De Kok put together a freelance orchestra for the National Song Contest – much to Van Kampen's liking, because, as we read in Het Nieuwsblad van het Zuiden, the organising committee had already been on the lookout for “a young orchestra with a modern style”. An undisguised sneer at the ageing Metropole Orchestra, of which most members were in their 40s or 50s.

In a hotel room in Madrid with Piet Souer and Lenny Kuhr

As always, De Kok mainly chose musicians from other broadcasting orchestras. Now that the strings of the Metropole Orchestra were not available, he picked a group from the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, led by concertmaster Johnny Kroon. Tony Nolte was at the piano. For the wind section, De Kok probably selected musicians from The Skymasters and the VARA Dance Orchestra. Frans de Kok’s Festival Orchestra accompanied the ten songs in the national final, held in Scheveningen’s Circus Theatre, but it also had to play in a preliminary round, with each of the ten candidates performing three songs. These semi-finals, which were not broadcast on television, took place over two evenings in Amersfoort. For the final in Scheveningen, the orchestra treated the audience to an intro arrangement, ‘Worksong’, written by De Kok himself. The orchestra could enjoy some rest between the performances of the ten candidates and the voting, because flamenco guitarist Paco Peña, flown in from Spain to provide the interval act, played solo, without orchestral accompaniment.

The field of participants of the 1969 National Song Contest included several national stars, including Anneke Grönloh and Rob de Nijs, and promising young teenage singer Patricia Paay. Dave Levenbach was also there, future superstar in France with successful singles such as ‘Dansez maintenant’ and ‘Du côté de chez Swann’. However, neither of them came close to victory. Almost forty years later, Frans de Kok’s memories of the program had faded. “No, I don't remember, except that Patricia Paay forgot her lines and started singing la-la-la. With another participant, Dave, who was already living in Paris at the time, I also did a studio recording of the song he had performed in the preliminaries.”

This exciting episode of the National Song Contest was won by Lenny Kuhr’s ‘Troubadour’, just one point ahead of Conny Vink and her sing-along tune ‘De toeteraar’. Apart from Frans de Kok’s orchestra, young Lenny was accompanied on stage by guitarist Piet Souer for her performance. This trio was going to defend the Dutch tricolour at Madrid’s Teatro Real. “I personally wouldn’t have predicted that this song would come out on top in Scheveningen,” De Kok admitted after the show, “not because it lacks quality, but because it isn’t what you would expect.” Nevertheless, he was not pessimistic about the chances of the solemn-sounding ‘Troubadour’, for which the orchestration had been taken care of by master arranger Bert Paige, “Since most of the songs in this [international] festival are bound to be in the 'Boom-Bang-A-Bang' vein, you can never tell how such an outlier will do in the voting.”

Backstage in Madrid with Spain's resident conductor Augusto Algueró and his wife, singer Carmen Sevilla

His withdrawal notwithstanding, Dolf van der Linden sat in the hall at the 1969 National Song Festival to watch the orchestra and the ten candidates perform. A reporter asked him if he thought about a comeback the following year. Van der Linden’s reaction was surprisingly honest, “Maybe yes, because I didn't feel well when I saw Frans de Kok standing there in front of the orchestra.”

Once in Madrid with Lenny Kuhr and Piet Souer, Frans de Kok was confronted with a major, very unexpected problem. Delegation leader Warry van Kampen told journalist Ale van Dijk from Het Vrije Volk, who had travelled along to Madrid, that the score of the Dutch entry had been lost, “We’ve been looking for it everywhere. When we arrived in Madrid at 3pm on Tuesday, we immediately heard that the first song of the sixteen, which had not previously been rehearsed by the Spanish orchestra, was Lenny’s song. At Madrid airport, they told us the package sent ahead had not arrived and at Schiphol they said that it had been dispatched.”

Years later, Frans de Kok still remembered the incident well. “The arrangement of the song was by Bert Paige, but I had adapted it a bit here and there. Then we travelled to Madrid. There was everything to look forward to; a one-week holiday interspersed with the occasional rehearsal. What could be better? But when we arrived there for the first rehearsal, well... the scores weren’t there. Our producer said he would look into the matter. I told him, ‘Yeah, that seems like a good idea, because it is Monday now, but Saturday isn’t that far off!’ They then started looking for it in every possible corner. Everybody around me was in the most terrible distress. But nothing surfaced for the second and third rehearsals either. So we still couldn’t rehearse. Then I started to get a little worried. If need be, Lenny could have performed it without the orchestra, with just Piet Souer backing her up.”

Orchestral rehearsal of the Netherlands' entry at Madrid's Teatro Real

When asked why he had not taken the arrangement with him in his luggage, De Kok replied: “All of that had been taken care of by the broadcasting service – well, that’s what I thought they would do. It would be sent ahead to allow the Spanish orchestra to rehearse in advance. I never thought for a second that it might get lost. If I had known, I would have had photocopies made just to be sure, but how could I have imagined? I simply expected that all the musicians would have the parts on their music stand for the first rehearsals and that we could take it from there!”

De Kok remembered that the situation disturbed young Lenny Kuhr. “Well, she was tense. It was obviously a horrible situation. But I didn’t show anything; I was just being very nice to her. In Hilversum, I had always been called ‘Father of Crying Singers’. Anyway, on the third day I said, ‘If the arrangement has not been found by tomorrow, I’ll burn the midnight oil to write something new.’ I still remembered more or less what it was like, but not exactly of course. I had already had to do similar things in the past, so it would have worked out. I had already started writing down the symbols, but the next day the score was found. The music had been left somewhere in a drawer at the Spanish customs. It was a very thick folder… unbelievable!”

When asked, Lenny Kuhr recalled that De Kok had been a beacon of calm for her amidst all the tension, “My experience with Frans de Kok as a conductor and inspirator was wholly positive. When the arrangements turned out not to be there during the first rehearsal with the Spanish orchestra, Frans remained very relaxed about the situation – or so I thought. On the third day he said, ‘If it isn’t here tomorrow, I will write an arrangement myself.’ I remember the three of us sitting together and Frans being in the process of writing down the piano part of ‘De troubadour’. And all this time, a smile was on his face, which made me understand that everything would be fine. The next day, a lady from Spanish television arrived happily waving a stack of music paper. I remember the smile on his face becoming even more expressive at that point.”

During rehearsals in Madrid

Once the arrangement had arrived, De Kok had an easy time, because the Spanish orchestra played it exactly to his liking from the start. The Dutch delegation had stipulated that De Kok would be allotted extra rehearsal time with the orchestra, but it turned out he did not need it, “Communication with the orchestra went well; music is an international language. The resident conductor had really sympathised with me. His wife was a singer whom I had already accompanied in Holland in Warry van Kampen’s TV programme.” And indeed, searching the broadcasting archives, we found that Carmen Sevilla, the wife of the Spanish chief conductor of the festival, Augusto Algueró, had performed in KRO’s sketch show Moet je kijken in 1968, accompanied by Frans de Kok and his orchestra.

According to guitarist Piet Souer, Frans de Kok took those rehearsals very seriously. “He had Lenny and me come to his hotel room in Madrid twice to play through the song, so he could check the score and learn all decelerations and accelerations by heart. His preparation and performance struck me as very meticulous.”

During rehearsals, there was a tense atmosphere around the venue in Madrid. “You could clearly tell that this was a dictatorship – and that there was tension in the air. The theatre was closely guarded by soldiers with Kalashnikovs. And you had to show an accreditation pass 80,000 times before you were allowed into the hall,” De Kok stated hyperbolically. “At the time, these matters were hardly reported on, because the Eurovision Song Contest was supposed to be an apolitical event, but those Spaniards were terribly nervous. In addition to the fact this was Spanish television’s first colour broadcast, they were also worried that this would be an excellent opportunity for an ETA action, as the eyes of the whole world focused on Spain that night. To prevent the whole of Europe from being put in the dark, a large number of generator trucks had been brought as a precaution, so that the live broadcast could continue at all times.”

Lenny Kuhr performing 'De troubadour' on the festival stage in Madrid backed up by Piet Souer and Frans de Kok

The strict precautions taken by the Spanish hosts also meant that the various delegations could not, as usual, monitor each other’s actions during rehearsals. Nobody was allowed to sit in on them. “You have to remember that we got to see virtually nothing of the rehearsals of the others,” Frans de Kok remembered. Yet he met an old buddy backstage, who was representing another country. “Louis Neefs was there for Belgium. I have very pleasant memories of Louis, who I accompanied several times in TV programmes in Holland. In Madrid, he was a little upset because he felt his conductor Francis Bay only took an interest in his prikkelpop (translated literally meaning ‘stimulating doll’ – BT), as Louis put it – a woman with whom he was having an affair and who he had brought with him to Madrid. Yes, they have a way with words, those Belgians…”

In spite of all the safety measures, there was room for some relaxation. In the evenings, all the delegations were invited to parties, organised by Spanish television and local authorities. “I also remember that numerous invitations for receptions were slipped under the door of your hotel room,” De Kok said. “There were so many that you could play quartets with them, so to speak. We went to some of them with other delegation members, such as Adrie van Oorschot and Rens van Dorth, the producer.” And Lenny? Frans reported to Ale van Dijk that there was no reason to worry about her. “Nothing can go wrong now. Lenny is a wonderful, intelligent, and calm girl. Last night, after spending a few hours at receptions, she was in bed by midnight in order to be fit the next day.” In short, the home front could go to sleep in peace.

On the evening itself, Frans de Kok felt no nerves. “I was very calm. Beforehand you could find me getting a little excited for these kinds of performances or lying awake for some time, but as soon as I got the signal from the floor manager, I was always icily calm.” Lenny Kuhr remembered that, when she and Piet Souer started their performance of ‘De troubadour’ on the big night, strumming their guitars, De Kok had looked at her from the orchestra pit with a “reassuring, friendly smile.” The rendition was flawless, both on stage as well as in the orchestra pit. It was striking that, compared to the performance in Scheveningen, an organ part had been added to the arrangement, which gave the song some extra cachet. Perhaps that was the element De Kok had referred to when he claimed that he had “adapted” Bert Paige’s original score “a bit here and there”?

Eurovision host Laurita Valenzuela announcing the four prize winners; behind her, from left - Piet Souer, UK conductor Johnny Harris, Frans de Kok, Lenny Kuhr, Massiel (the previous year's winner), Lulu (UK), Salomé (Spain), and Frida Boccara (France)

After the performance, Lenny Kuhr sat backstage with Frans de Kok at her side. In the meantime, Piet Souer could be found at the bar with a large glass of beer. When the Netherlands moved closer to the lead during the voting, De Kok whispered to the singer: “We are going to win, we are going to win!” “I’m off, I can’t stand it here anymore,” was her response, as she isolated herself until the final results came through; the Netherlands, along with the entries from the United Kingdom, France and organizer Spain, had achieved the highest score, 18 votes. For the first and only time in history, the Eurovision prize was awarded to more than one delegation. The four countries won first prize together and were all allowed to perform their song again. As he mounted the conductor’s platform, Frans de Kok received an unsolicited hug from his ecstatic British conducting colleague Johnny Harris, who had just thrown his baton metres high into the air for the performance of Lulu’s ‘Boom-Bang-A-Bang’.

Afterwards, all participants rushed to a large dinner, but before that Frans de Kok was asked to give his first reaction to newspaper Het Vrije Volk. “After the national final in Scheveningen I thought to myself, ‘That song ‘Troubadour’ could make some impact in Madrid.’ Of course, in Eurovision, you hear one awful song after the other and in those circumstances such a nice melody stands out. But that we would be among the winners, no. You have to realise that it’s ten years ago we last won this.” Indeed, in 1969 it was exactly ten years ago that the Netherlands had last tasted victory, with Teddy Scholten and ‘Een beetje’. De Kok was lucky; after all the bad results with songs conducted by Dolf van der Linden in the previous years, he was part of a winning performance in his first festival participation – although he stressed that he did not really consider himself a winner: “No, the victory was Lenny’s, completely hers. She was starting her career. And I was just doing a routine job.”

When we asked him whether he had not shown off at home in Tilburg, that characteristic grin appeared on his face again. “Yes, that I did! I benefitted greatly from that Eurovision win. On the day of the festival, I had a full-width advertisement placed in the local newspaper in Tilburg, ‘We also provide the music from Madrid. Watch the Eurovision Song Contest tonight!’ My business grew like crazy in that period. That Eurovision Song Contest didn’t do me any harm, if you know what I mean. I had good contacts with local journalists in Tilburg, enabling me to play up my image as the guy who had made it in Hilversum without becoming too big for his boots. It was then that I spoke the winged words, ‘Everybody’s happy now, except for Dolf van der Linden and Dankers Disco.’ Dankers ran a rival record store here in Tilburg. Yes, of course, now I had my revenge on Dolf van der Linden!” 

The Netherlands' representatives lining up for press photographers after their win in Madrid - Piet Souer, Lenny Kuhr, and Frans de Kok

Understandably, when asked by journalists, De Kok declared that he would like to be involved in the Eurovision Song Contest more than once, but it would not come to pass. By drawing lots, the EBU determined that the Netherlands would organise the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest. It goes without saying that the NOS – the 1969 merger between NTS Television and the Netherlands’ Radio Union (NRU) – wanted the Metropole Orchestra to provide the musical accompaniment, with Dolf van der Linden automatically becoming chief conductor of the festival. Thus, Frans de Kok's first participation as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest was also to remain his only one.

Referring to the fact that he was already in the process of withdrawing from the world of television in 1969, Frans de Kok called his successful festival participation in Madrid a kind of a “lifetime award” for the Hilversum part of his career, of which he was “very proud”. And still he felt the Eurovision Song Contest was not the highlight of his career: “Well, what still appeals to me personally the most is the Grand Gala du Disque of 1965. That was usually done by Van der Linden, but that year the commission went to me. It was very tough, a lot of artists performed, all with just one or two songs,” De Kok later said. “People like Vera Lynn, The Supremes, and Trio Hellenique. Dave Berry was also there, he made a mistake when he had to start. And everything was done live, so that was a hell of a job. (…) Eurovision was one of the other things I had always dreamt of doing, but mainly for commercial reasons.”

Finally, during the interview in 2006, we asked him whether he still followed the Eurovision Song Contest. Looking somewhat apologetic, De Kok concluded, “I still switch on the TV, out of nostalgia. It’s a great event in itself, but the music doesn’t appeal to me any longer. It is meant to be a festive occasion, and that’s why you need an orchestra – and strong artists. I don’t know if the formula requires adaptation; who knows, it might continue to run for another ten or twenty years, but it doesn’t mean much to me anymore.”

Flowers for Lenny Kuhr upon her return at Schiphol Airport


Already cherishing aspirations as an arranger at the time of his festival participation in Madrid, guitarist Piet Souer would start as a professional in that field a few years later; he remembered that he had called on Frans de Kok shortly after returning from Spain: “Frans, well-dressed as always – groomed to perfection, I would say – assisted and advised me in my very early arranging days at a performance in Tilburg for which I had written a small string score. I had a gig there with Lenny Kuhr and we had a small group of string players accompanying us that day. It was really one of the first times for me that I had ventured into something like this and I was quite unsure about it. Frans then checked that arrangement for me.” (2006)


1969 Madrid
Country – Netherlands
Entry – “De troubadour”
Rendition – Lenny Kuhr (with Piet Souer, guitarist)
Lyrics – David Hartsema
Composition – Lenny Kuhr
Studio arrangement – Bert Paige
(studio orchestra conducted by Bert Paige)
Orchestration – Bert Paige / Frans de Kok
Conductor – Frans de Kok
Score – 1st place (18 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Frans de Kok in Balen-Wezel, November 2006; this interview was previously published in the Dutch language under the title “De wraak op Dolf van der Linden” in: EA-Nieuws, 2006-07, no. 3/4, pg. 69-79
  • A playlist of music productions in which Frans de Kok had a hand can be found by clicking this YouTube link
  • Bas Tukker interviewed Frans de Kok’s younger brother Leon, as well as Danny Schuwer and Clemens van Bracht, all in October / November 2023; thanks to all of them for sharing their memories with us; also thanks to Ad Masseurs for getting me in touch with Mr Schuwer and Mr Van Bracht
  • Thanks to Frans de Kok, Jnr., for the information provided in an email exchange, June 2011
  • Thanks to Boudewijn de Groot, Milly Scott, Piet Souer, and Lenny Kuhr for sharing with us their memories of working with Frans de Kok (all in 2006, with some additional information provided by Boudewijn de Groot in 2023 – thanks due to Peter Voskuil)
  • A book about all of Boudewijn de Groot’s songs written by Peter Voskuil & Boudewijn de Groot, “Boudewijn de Groot – Oeuvreboek. De verhalen van alle liedjes”, ed. Spectrum: Amsterdam 2023
  • The wonderfully illustrated book “Jazz in Tilburg. Honderd jaar avontuurlijke muziek”, written by Rinus van der Heijden, Henk van Belkom, Ruud Erich en Jan van Rijthoven, ed. Stichting Jazz in Tilburg: Tilburg 2010
  • In Bas Tukker’s biography of Dick Bakker, “Dick Bakker. Achter de schermen van de muziek” (Vrienden van het Metropole Orkest: Hilversum 2017), Frans de Kok’s name is mentioned with regards to his recording orchestral tapes in the Soundpush Studios in Blaricum (pg. 76-79). Moreover, Bas Tukker spoke again with Bakker about his memories of Frans de Kok (2023)
  • Ale van Dijk, “Partituur van Lenny was zoek”, in: Het Vrije Volk, March 27th, 1969
  • Ale van Dijk, “Lenny lacht om voorspellingen”, in: Het Vrije Volk, March 29th, 1969
  • Ale van Dijk, “Lenny in een paar seconden vedette”, in: Het Vrije Volk, March 31st, 1969
  • Elly van Hoeven, “Mannen die de toon aangeven (1) – Frans de Kok”, in: Utrechtsch Nieuwsblad, January 20th, 1968
  • Henk van der Meyden, “Onze show kan beter worden”, in: De Telegraaf, October 27th, 1962
  • Nico Scheepmaker, “Gemoderniseerde Vondel ouderwets gespeeld”, in: Leeuwarder Courant, November 9th, 1964
  • Rob van Scheers, “Memoires – Frans de Kok (71), dirigent”, in: VARA TV Magazine, no. 18, May 1st, 1995
  • Frits Versteeg, “De enige platenhandelaar die ooit een Eurovisie Songfestival dirigeerde…”, in: Billboard-Benelux, March 30th, 1979
  • (anon. 1962), “Geen vaste dirigent”, in: De Nieuwe Limburger, November 13th, 1962
  • (anon. 1962), “Rudi Carrell, lastige jongen maar enige met eigen show”, in: De Stem, November 16th, 1962
  • (anon. 1963), “Frans de Kok dirigeert in Rudi Carrell-show”, in: De Volkskrant, April 5th, 1963
  • (anon. 1963), “Muziek voor Carrell”, in: Algemeen Dagblad, April 5th, 1963
  • (anon. 1964), “Marijke Fransen en Anneke Grönloh in de muziek van George Gershwin”, in: Limburgsch Dagblad, May 5th, 1964
  • (anon. 1964), “Frans de Kok: Als de muziek maar af is”, in: Algemeen Dagblad, May 23rd, 1964
  • (anon. 1964), “Idee Frans de Kok: orkest voor alle omroepen”, in: De Volkskrant, December 19th, 1964
  • (anon. 1965), “Muzikaal adviseur bij tv: uitzonderlijke functie”, in: Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant, July 23rd, 1965
  • (anon. 1965), “Rob de Nijs gaat platen maken in Duitsland”, in: Het Vrije Volk, November 6th, 1965
  • (anon. 1969), “Frans de Kok: muzikale man van Songfestival 1969”, in: Nieuwsblad van het Zuiden, January 18th, 1969
  • (anon. 1969), “Eurovisie Songfestival Madrid krachtproef Spaanse televisie”, in: Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, March 28th, 1969
  • (anon. 1969), “Zilvervloot dé hit in festivalstad Madrid”, in: De Telegraaf, March 29th, 1969
  • (anon. 1969), “Televisie-musicus Frans de Kok opent platenzaak in Waalwijk”, in: De Echo van het Zuiden, June 19th, 1969
  • Except for the sources mentioned above, a wealth of other sources – articles from newspapers and magazines – from Frans de Kok’s private archives were used
  • Photos courtesy of Frans de Kok, Snr., Henriëtte de Kok, Frans de Kok, Jnr., and Ferry van der Zant
  • Thanks to Mark Coupar for proofreading the manuscript

No comments:

Post a Comment