Friday, 11 September 2009

Buonasera Bongiorno

As many of Nutshell's readers will be aware, legendary television host Mike Bongiorno died on Tuesday. How to communicate to those unfamiliar with Italian television the scale of his talent? I take the wikipedia entry for Mike Bongiorno and I run my eye down it. Quite quickly I arrive at this: "In 1963, Umberto Eco wrote an essay entitled Fenomenologia di Mike Bongiorno in which he used advanced academic theories to shed light on Mike Bongiorno and his way of communicating. Eco held that Mike Bongiorno was so good at portraying himself as no better than average in every respect, that 100% of his audience could feel good about themselves, could feel that they were more sophisticated in some way." Let us dismiss this false start.

How well I remember Mike Bongiorno's presentation of the San Remo festival. Who better qualified to introduce popular contemporary music to a new generation than a man in his late seventies? His co-host of the night, a spritely fifty-year-old, was under the impression Madonna would accept an interview in Italian. Though immediately evident Madonna's command of Italian didn't stretch beyond 'Buonasera, San Remo', this co-host laboriously persisted with question after question to a blank and increasingly annoyed Madonna. Of course it was Mike, Mike Bongiorno who saved the day, ushering Madonna away from her tormentor with promises to 'see you back in the States' in an impressive American accent. Mike, you did good work on Italian television and will be missed.

I cannot call to mind Mike Bongiorno without seeing the faces of other outstanding Italian presenters: Maria De Filippi; Red Ronnie. Still living? Surely yes. And surely not yet so antique they're ready to present the San Remo festival. Not yet ready, so I'm saying, to step into the shoes of one Mike, Mike Bongiorno. Maria De Filippi, wife of fellow television presenter Maurizio Costanzo, a man famed for his wit, though a wit of such subtlety it ran beyond my limited language skills to appreciate. How many long Saturday afternoons did I pass with Maria and her 'Amici', Roman juveniles with emotional problems and Invicta rucksacks? I cannot now recall, nor would I wish to.

Red Ronnie presented (still does I guess) an afternoon music show in which Italian teenagers would watch famous bands perform, and then submit questions to the band. One exchange I remember in particular. Following a performance by Suede of 'Beautiful Ones', which contains the line 'loved up, Doved up, hung around, stoned in a lonely town / shaking their meat to the beat,' an astute Italian girl asked Brett Anderson if the dove in that line represented the dove of peace.

Too big for afternoons only, Red also had an evening programme, during which he would tackle the main band on the show with an interview in English. During such occasions, which could be arduous affairs, I have to admit, I was always sympathetic towards Red who knew how to handle himself in a Q&A situation despite some notable revisions to the book of English grammar and syntax on his part. Alas, my sympathy was not shared by the army of Italian girls who would call the show on a routine basis to communicate to Red their opinion of his foreign language skills. But what did they know? Were any of those bilingual callers fronting a national television show? Are they now? Of course not.

We might have said to Mike Bongiorno arrivederci (or should that be a fussy arrivederla?), but young guns like Maria De Filippi and Red Ronnie survive him to carry his torch and perhaps in a decade or two, when of sufficient seniority, to present, as he did, the San Remo festival.


Ian McLachlan

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