Obituary: Corrado Mantoni

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The Independent Culture
IN THE Garzanti Enciclopedia della televisione, the bible of Italian small-screen entertainment, Corrado Mantoni is listed simply as Corrado. Though the encyclopaedia explains that this was his stage-name, for the average Italian it was far more than that. The whole of Italy felt it was on first-name terms with him.

The Italian state television on to which Corrado burst in the 1950s was a grey, stilted affair. For better or worse, he went far towards transforming it into what it is today, introducing hours-long variety and quiz shows, complete with simpering, underdressed starlets, heavy-handed humour and a taste for games aimed at humiliating their all-too-willing participants.

In his wildly successful and long-running programme Corrida - which transferred triumphantly to television from the radio in 1986 - Corrado presided over studio audiences which were urged to shout derision at non-professional performers.

Corrado began his career in Italian state radio while in his teens, shooting to fame in 1945 as the voice that announced the end of the Second World War. "Only because I happened to be on duty at the time," he said later. "It could just as easily have been someone else."

Throughout the late 1940s and the 1950s, Corrado's programmes - Radio Naja, a mould-breaking chat show for the military, and the popular variety shows Opla and Rosso e Nero - proved some of the most successful in what until then had been stiff, formulaic state radio.

With the advent of television, programmers sought to transfer Corrado's winning formula to the small screen. The move was not an easy one at first: so camera-shy was he, Corrado recalled in his autobiography E non finisce qui ("It Doesn't Stop Here", 1999), "I immediately stuck my hands in my pockets" - a gesture which shocked television directors. The public, however, loved it: the RAI (the Italian state broadcasting company) was inundated with letters demanding that Corrado remain on screen.

Resistance came from Mantoni himself, who fought to remain behind a radio microphone, making sorties on to the small screen only when they were unavoidable. Avoiding them, however, became progressively more difficult.

L'Amico del giaguaro (a games-cum-chat show) was a huge hit in 1961, La prova del nove another in 1965. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, the RAI drafted in Corrado to stop Italians from wasting petrol by hosting Domenica In, an interminable talk-quiz competition which kept the nation immobile all Sunday afternoon. By now he was more at home in front of a camera - not so much a presenter as an entertainer, punctuating his performances with a biting sarcasm loved by his audiences.

In 1983 Corrado quit the RAI, moving across to Silvio Berlusconi's private Canale 5 station, taking Corrida with him and transforming it into one of the biggest ratings successes in Italian television history. His legacy, Berlusconi said at the funeral, will continue to make its way into Italian homes: "Corrado's Corrida will go on. That way, we'll still have Corrado with us."

Corrado Mantoni, broadcaster: born Rome 2 August 1924; married Marina Donati (one son); died Rome 9 June 1999.