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Obituary: Michel Pericard

HE WAS born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye; he became mayor of Saint- Germain-en-Laye; he was elected deputy for the department of the Yvelines (where Saint-Germain-en-Laye is situated); he died in Saint-Germain-en- Laye.

When one describes the life of Michel Pericard in this way, then it would seem that one is describing the life of a typical French politician. Edouard Herriot, the legendary mayor of Lyons, used to say that in the communes and municipalities one saw the real France, the France that was united. It was only on the national level that France was a divided country.

But Pericard was more than this. Born in 1929, he was a student at the Sorbonne in the post-liberation period and a leader of the student movement. His sympathies were with General de Gaulle and the rally of the French people he had launched in 1947. Pericard chose the radio as his career, and from 1954 was a newsreader and a leader of discussions on the news. In 1957 he transferred to television, where he presented the news and took part in a leading news programme, 5 Colonnes a la Vue.

After 1958, de Gaulle had returned to power. This was the time when, with a majority of newspapers being critical, he was asked what he could do to get public opinion on his side. His reply was simple. He would take a microphone and he would speak. Television seemed to be at his disposal and it was not surprising that one of the most prominent presenters should be a declared Gaullist.

Pericard was elected municipal councillor at Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1959. But the call of politics became too strong. Pericard took leave of absence from the Office of Radio and Television to advise ministers more directly. The first was Francois Missoffe, a daring young man who used to comment sotto voce during cabinet meetings. But Missoffe's career suffered from his encounter with a bold young student named Daniel Cohn- Bendit in 1968.

In that year of student revolt Pericard gave much-needed advice to the Minister of Information, Yves Guena, and later to the Minister of Agriculture, Bernard Pons. But, with de Gaulle's resignation in 1969, Pericard returned to television, as director of the second channel. It was then that he became a widely accepted target for left-wing hostility. In September 1970 Jacques Chaban-Delmas, then Prime Minister, deliberately took the opportunity of standing in a by-election in Bordeaux, in order to test public opinion. His opponent was Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber. Speaking in a special studio in the offices of the Bordeaux newspaper Sud-Ouest, Pericard announced the first post-voting poll which gave Chaban 60 per cent of the votes. He did this triumphantly. In later elections, he more than once let slip the phrase "We have won another victory" when speaking of a Gaullist success.

At the same time he was gaining another reputation, that of an ecologist. He had known Robert Poujade as a fellow-Gaullist student, and when Poujade became the Minister for the Environment (a new post), the idea grew of having a television programme devoted to environmental problems. Thus from 1971 Pericard was responsible for La France Defiguree which, for the first time, showed the ways in which the countryside and the towns in France were being disfigured. This was a highly successful programme. But it was also delicate, because Pericard was effectively attacking politicians when he was hoping to join them. In 1971 he had attempted to be elected mayor of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and was defeated. In 1975 he was made Director of News at Radio-France; but he resigned. He was elected mayor of Saint-Germain in 1977 and in 1978 deputy for the Yvelines for the first time. He was to occupy both posts until his death.

The Gaullists had to wait a long time for victory. Pericard found himself increasingly a follower of Jacques Chirac. He became the leader of the Gaullists in the Assembly and brought together in a process of reconciliation those Gaullists who had disagreements with Alain Juppe, the new Prime Minister. After Chirac's disastrous dissolution of the Assembly in 1997, Pericard was even more in demand as a conciliator. As Vice-President of the Assembly he was an important member of the group presided over by Bernard Pons, Les Amis de Jacques Chirac.

Pericard had also renewed relations with broadcasting by his successful opposition to the Socialist proposal to bring together four of the existing television channels into one, which he called "the new monster".

Douglas Johnson

Michel Pericard, journalist and politician: born Saint-Germain-en- Laye, France 15 September 1929; married Catherine Cochet; died Saint- Germain-en-Laye 2 February 1999.