Thursday, 2 May 2013

Conversation with a French actor about attractive TV newsreaders

I'm reminded of serendipity today because as it happens I was just 17 and buff, bronzed and clueless when I interviewed Ugo Tognazzi, the French actor, during a holiday spent in New Caledonia - without my parents, it goes to say - and during the conversation we talked about Geoffrey Barker's column that appeared in The Age today.

Tognazzi is famous, now, for playing one of the lead roles - the straight guy - in the incomparably funny and ever-so-risque movie La cage aux folles, which is a story about two screaming ponces living in southern France. We can all dream of 100m-long luxury yachts and holiday villas situated picturesquely in the countryside outside Nice. Cherry blossoms and poplars, tart red wine and luscious, red tomatoes. It helps if you look like a down-market version of Roger Moore who has spent too much time under a sun-lamp. You blend in.

I blended in in Noumea, of course, with my astonishingly fluent schoolboy French, and so without further ado I'll transcribe what Tognazzi said about Barker's article before I overextend myself and fall flat on my face.

"Of course, it's obscene for a young woman with pert breasts to also have an intelligent mind," Tognazzi told me. "An assured demeanour must remain the province of the older man. It's just natural. How ridiculous to imagine a young woman with beautiful, long hair, slender legs, a narrow waist, and those adorable puppies attached to her chest can also think and make complex decisions herself, without the calm guidance of a mature gentleman like myself. Preposterous!"

Tognazzi told me that he was a big fan of women, especially young women, and that he felt a deep tenderness toward them because of their inherent frailty.

"But a woman in the media is almost an abomination," he said, inserting a fresh Gauloise into the long ivory cigarette holder he carried in his beringed and perfectly manicured right hand. "We do not ask them to be right all the time. It's not possible. Ooh-la-la! But we have earned the right to be pleased with their appearance, and so I think Barker has - how do you say in English - 'hit the screw on the bottom' when he brings our attention to les seines - the breasts - of the television newsreader.

"If it wasn't for the breasts I would never watch television news. It's just too poor in execution. The editors are always just looking for the most frightfully violent and sensational angle. And then the stories are so short - shorter than a nymphomaniac's miniskirt - that you do not have the ability to go to any depth, if you know what I mean."

Tognazzi winked lubriciously at this point, turned on his heel, and stalked away into the crowd outside the suburban cinema - which we had reached in the Citroen my host family kept in their two-car garage - only to disappear in a forest of elegantly coiffed heads. Oh the French were so sophisticated, I thought to myself. With what ease did the famous actor insert a crude sexual allusion into his absurd banter. Production values, I thought, are everything.

Production values are certainly important for commercial television stations, and the use of predominantly blonde female newsreaders cannot be a random decision. Use of non-Anglo anchors seems to be a growing trend, but only for the ABC and SBS. I wonder what Tognazzi would think of the lovely Karina Carvalho. Certainly it's a big step for Queensland, where the likes of Tracey Spicer have been more the done thing in the past.

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