Jacques Martin

Cécilia Sarkozy's first husband
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The Independent Online

Jacques Martin, television entertainer: born Lyons, France 22 June 1933; married 1969 Anne Lefèvre (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1984 Cécilia Ciganer-Albeniz (two daughters; marriage dissolved), 1992 Céline Boisson (one son, one daughter), (two sons with Danièle Evenou); died Biarritz, France 14 September 2007.

Jacques Martin was for three decades one of the most popular entertainers on French television. He began in the mid 1970s as a kind of French David Frost, the main figure in Le Petit Rapporteur, a satirical spoof news programme which shattered the solemnity and dullness of state-owned television. He ended as a kind of French Hughie Green, hosting a much-loved Sunday afternoon programme, L'Ecole des Fans, in which small children met and imitated their favourite pop stars.

In between times, Jacques Martin married in 1984 a young woman 25 years his junior, Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz. Four years later, the second Mme Martin left him, with their two small daughters, for a young, up-and-coming politician, mayor of the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. To register his displeasure, M. Martin strode into the town hall and punched the young mayor on the nose. The politician's name was Nicolas Sarkozy.

Jacques Martin was born in Lyons in 1933, the son of a factory-owning family. He abandoned his studies at the age of 15 to train as an actor. Selling lingerie in the daytime, working as a theatre janitor in the evening, Martin gradually made a name for himself as a comic actor, singer and writer.

"He was the complete artiste. He could do anything and had every kind of talent," said Philippe Bouvard, one of the other most popular entertainers on French television. "He could dance, tap-dance, play comic roles, sing, write. He was the king of improvisation. He could do anything except be happy."

Martin's big break came in 1975 with the launch of Le Petit Rapporteur on Sunday afternoons on TF1, the most popular French television channel. The show lasted for less than two years but is still remembered for breaking the mould of reverence and formality which marked the early years of state-owned television. Looking back today, Martin's gags – such as bluffing his way into the Elysée Palace as a petit four deliveryman – seem pretty tame. Nonetheless, the whole of France was pleasurably shocked when one of Martin's spoof "reporters" was dispatched to the small town of Montcuq, near Cahors in the Lot. Montcuq is pronounced the same way as "mon cul", which means "my bum". The reporter announced: "Today, for the first time on television, I will be showing you 'mon cul'." The town was so delighted with the publicity that it renamed one of its streets the Rue du Petit Rapporteur after Martin's programme.

Afterwards Jacques Martin drifted into more sentimental forms of entertainment, presenting the Ecole des Fans on Sunday afternoons on France 2 for almost 20 years. When he suffered a stroke in 1998 which left him partially paralysed, the programme was unceremoniously dumped. Martin, who had been determined to make a comeback, was devastated, though he continued to contribute to radio shows and give interviews. He retired to Biarritz.

John Lichfield

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