Indro Montanelli

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Indro Montanelli, journalist: born Fucecchio, Italy 22 April 1909; married Colette Rosselli (died 1996); died Milan 22 July 2001.

The fascists expelled him from the party for telling the truth. The Nazis sentenced him to death for disrespect to Mussolini. The Red Brigades terrorists tried to assassinate him. Silvio Berlusconi thought he could use him. But throughout most of the 20th century, of which he was one of the most brilliant chroniclers, Indro Montanelli remained stubbornly independent, polemical, fearless and incorruptible. Decades before his death, at the age of 92, he was already seen as the great master of Italian journalism.

Montanelli's greatest work was his columns in the Corriere della Sera and elsewhere in which he commented on events and issues with a clear-sightedness, lack of illusions, courage and fierce principles. He was highly critical of his fellow countrymen ("anarchic sheep"), but they loved him for it. A liberal-minded conservative, he had no political home in Italy and liked to say he was at heart an English Whig. His mind, in fact, often seemed more Anglo-Saxon than Italian and he even liked to dress in tweeds and polo-necked sweaters.

In a country where writing is often a vehicle for vanity and convoluted phrases regarded as clever, his style, aimed for the ordinary reader, was extraordinarily clear, pithy and short. Equally clear and readable were some 60 popular history books he wrote.

Less successful, by his own admission, were his attempts at editing newspapers. When, in the early 1970s the Corriere della Sera, like a sizeable part of the Italian middle class, shifted to the left and he found himself increasingly isolated, he left with like-minded journalists to found Il Giornale Nuovo. As editor of this "bourgeois" paper he was shot and wounded in the legs by Red Brigades terrorists – and promptly launched a campaign against terrorism. "If they think I am going to shut up they are very mistaken," he said. Later he went to see his attackers in prison and forgave them.

In 1994 the media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, a shareholder in Il Giornale, went into politics and wanted the paper to support him. Montanelli, dead against Berlusconi's ambitions and refusing to take orders from anyone, launched another newspaper, La Voce, which however folded a year later. Montanelli returned as columnist to the Corriere. In the last elections, when Berlusconi became prime minister, the conservative Montanelli voted for the left.

Extremely tall, bony and with brilliant blue eyes, Montanelli, a Tuscan, had cut his teeth on Paris Soir and in United Press International and fought in Ethiopia in the 1930s before joining the Corriere. As a young war correspondent in Spain, Finland, Norway and elsewhere he was expelled from the Fascist party – an early enthusiasm – for refusing to peddle their propaganda. Arrested by the Gestapo and sentenced to death for an article about Benito Mussolini and his mistress, he escaped to Switzerland just in time.

Patricia Clough