Obituary: Armand Jammot

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FRANCE isn't known as a great exporter of television formats. Coming up with a top-rated educational game show and selling it to 15 foreign countries is a most unlikely feat. Yet Armand Jammot, the French television producer and broadcaster, achieved this when he created Des Chiffres et Des Lettres in 1965.

Within a few years, Des Chiffres et Des Lettres could attract more viewers than the French football cup final, with a peak audience of 15 million. When Channel 4 launched in November 1982, the first programme transmitted was Countdown, a renamed version of the French show. Hosted by the brainy and now ubiquitous Carol Vorderman and the avuncular Richard Whiteley, the late afternoon programme is still going strong on British television and has recently spawned a hybrid, Celebrity Countdown, of which its original creator might not quite have approved.

Well aware of the French fondness for crosswords and mental arithmetics, Jammot, a veteran of French radio quizzes, devised a television show relying on both. The format was simple, yet effective: nine vowels and consonants drawn at random to spell the longest possible word, six numbers to be tabulated to reach or get close to a given figure in a race against the clock. Two contestants, a host, two judges to rule with a dictionary and a blackboard. Not even a pocket calculator in sight.

Born in 1922, Jammot first worked as a journalist with the regional paper France Du Centre and then the national daily L'Aurore. On his 33rd birthday, he joined the French commercial radio station Europe 1 and worked on audience- participation shows like Vous Etes Formidables! ("You're Amazing!"), on which listeners helped people in need. The mid-Fifties were the golden age of French commercial radio and Jammot proved a natural. He launched Verdict, a programme which asked a panel of listeners to rule on a matter of conscience, before he was poached by a rival network, RTL.

He found time, too, to write two filmscripts: Le Passage du Rhin, directed by Andre Cayatte and featuring Charles Aznavour, won a Golden Lion in Venice in 1960 while Les Risques du Metier, directed by Andre Cayatte seven years later, gave Jacques Brel his film debut as a teacher accused of rape by a pupil.

In 1962, Jammot joined the newly launched television station Antenne 2 and devised a variety of shows which would eventually constitute up to 35 per cent of the channel's output. Des Chiffres et Des Lettres of course, but also the daily magazine show Aujourd'hui Madame and, most famously, Les Dossiers de l'Ecran ("The Small Screen Files"). The show, which ran from 1967 to 1991, gave over the whole evening schedule to a specific theme. A feature film opened proceedings, followed by a studio debate with experts and a viewer-phone-in. Though operating in a still tightly controlled broadcasting environment, Les Dossiers de l'Ecran managed to tackle issues like drug-taking, prostitution, homosexuality, collaboration under the Vichy regime and the war in Algeria. Audience interest often caused the studio switchboards to collapse.

Jammot considered that "tele-participation" was a natural extension of the broadcaster's public mandate. In 1976, after becoming director of programmes at Antenne 2, he convinced President Valery Giscard d'Estaing to answer questions from a live studio audience. Jammot then successfully repeated the trick with the actor Yves Montand and nearly convinced the monstre sacre to run for office.

But Jammot never pushed himself in front of the cameras: "It's not in my nature to appear on television. I don't have the temperament necessary to perform." Instead, he thought up more shows, such as Ya un Truc ("There's a Trick"), L'Homme du 20eme Siecle ("20th-Century Man"), La Bourse aux Idees ("Stock Exchange for Ideas") and, with the help of his son Maurice, devised dozens of board games.

Jammot retired in the early Nineties and courageously fought a cancer which weakened his body but not his vision. "Of course, I still have ideas. When I run out of them, you can write my obituary!" he said.

Pierre Perrone

Armand Jammot, television and radio producer, broadcaster, journalist and board-game inventor: born Alfortville, France 4 April 1922; married; died Paris 19 April 1998.