Magazine article The Spectator

Box Wallies

Magazine article The Spectator

Box Wallies

Article excerpt


I AM not in the least hostile to Italians but I must admit I laughed out loud when I read that Italian television is the worst in the Western world.

Few tourists get to sample the exquisite awfulness of Italian television. The British middle classes fly in to Pisa to revel in the glories of the Renaissance, to chill out, Florida-style, by the pools of Chiantishire, and to read the latest improving paperback. The one thing they don't do is watch television. That's a pity. They'd learn a lot about Italy if they did.

The Italians themselves become very angry at any suggestion that their television is not quite top-notch. The newspapers here were full of noisy indignation when last month the Rome correspondent of Variety - the American publication known as the show-business bible - said that Italian television is 'a complete and utter disaster', nothing but a mass of cashprize quiz shows 'for idiots', and neverending song-and-dance shows featuring politicians and semi-naked showgirls. The formula is as 'implacable as an oil slick'.

Yes, I thought. Oh, yes. I laughed some more. Sooner or later, if you live in a place, you switch on the box. I have watched a fair amount of Italian television in my time. It is really bad. But there is something most endearing about its badness, its lack of slickness. For example, In Bocca al Lupo (literally 'In the Mouth of the Wolf, but meaning `good luck') runs every night on Raiuno, the equivalent of BBC l, starting at 6.35 p.m. This is a quiz show in which two couples compete for a multibillion-lira cash prize.

They are asked simple questions such as the Christian names of 20 famous people against the clock. `Da Vinci?' goes the host. 'Leonardo' goes the contestant. 'Right!!!' goes the host.'Puccini?"Pino.' 'Wrong!!!' Each time a contestant fails to say Leonardo or Giacomo, the other side gets asked the same 20 questions. On and on goes this Bill and Ben business like a mad mantra until someone gets it right and it is time for a new set of questions, such as the past simple tense of Italian verbs. 'Do? Doing. Wrong!!!' Etc.

In between the question sessions there is much singing and dancing by semi-naked showgirls, prancing and cavorting by a pantomime wolf, and wild cheering from the studio audience.

At last, just before 8 p.m., the curtain comes down on In Bocca al Lupo and it is time for the main evening news. It is unusual for an Italian news programme to reach its conclusion without at least one technical hitch - usually loss of contact with the world. 'We seem to have lost the Pope in Jerusalem,' the newscaster informs viewers. She or he then reaches for a phone, mutters into it, 'Capito. Si. Bene', replaces it, and says, 'We'll move on to the next item.... ' These technical hitches on Italian state television news make me wonder about other state-run Italian stuff, such as my gas boiler or Alitalia. It is alarming how often Italian apartment blocks collapse or blow up. Another one blew up on Sunday, and only last week an Italian air-traffic controller warned, 'Fly if you dare. I wouldn't.'

News over, it is back, would you believe it, to a final ten-minute dose of In Bocca al Lupo before moving on to, say, the most famous current soap, A Doctor in the Family. It caused a minor political stir in a recent episode when a paedophile was shown reading a right-wing newspaper and the hero a left-wing one. …

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