Obituary: Yves Mourousi

YVES MOUROUSI achieved fame as a television presenter of current affairs. The news of his death from a heart attack was carried by all the television and radio stations in France and everyone quoted the habitual "Bonjour" with which he had begun his lunch-time programme on the station TF1. Several wondered how he would have announced his own death, and it was suggested that he would have chosen to say, "Bonjour - ou plutot, Adieu". Directness was his hallmark.

The evening after he died, TF1 paid a solemn tribute to him. Words of praise and sympathy were spoken by his fellow presenter, Patrick Poivre D'Arvor, and by the Vice President of Francis Bouygues's company, Emile Mougeotte.

And this was ironical. It was the same Bouygues who had become the largest shareholder in TF1 when it was privatised in 1987 and who had put an end to Mourousi's programme within little more than a year of taking charge. It was thus some ten years ago that Mourousi had last functioned as a presenter. Yet he was well remembered, and that someone should have left such a clear memory behind him in the changing world of television is remarkable. It reflects the continued controversy that surrounds the management of the French television industry.

A viewers' association that was opposed to the privatisation of TF1, looked back to the achievements of the programme as part of the national heritage, "as much as is the Louvre, the Chateau of Versailles or the Eiffel Tower". Mourousi is remembered as being part of that past.

He insisted that when he appeared in people's homes at lunch time, he was doing two things. He was passing on information, and he was entertaining; this was "politique spectacle". Thus he interviewed Brezhnev in the Kremlin, Colonel Khadafi in Tripoli, Chinese spokesmen from Tiananmen Square, Edgard Pisani from the roof of the Arab Institute, from where one looks across Paris to the buttresses of Notre Dame.

And when he interviewed a President of the Republic, he wanted to present a man. When de Gaulle appeared on television it was the Republic that had come into the living-room. Mourousi wanted more of that. In his famous interview with Mitterrand in 1985, he asked the President if he had seen Bresson's latest film, he tested his knowledge of current slang and having shown an alluring commercial slot, he enquired as to his reactions. This was an adaptation of the popular dictum that if you want to judge a politician you ask him if he knows the price of a metro ticket. Asking Giscard d'Estaing about the diamonds that he had been given by the African leader Bokassa was putting to the test Raymond Aron's dictum that it was difficult for a statesman to tell lies on television.

To do all this, Mourousi also presented himself. Sometimes dressing eccentrically, sometimes incongruously, half-sitting on President Mitterrand's desk as he spoke to him, capable of imitating his interviewee, he always sought to achieve the unexpected. Those who worked with him have stories of how he wanted to do everything himself, creating chaos as he organised the cameras, shifted the sets, bristled with new ideas and answered five telephones. He was fortunate in having Marie- Laure Augry alongside him as co-presenter.

He was also something of a grand seigneur. He used to display recently published books at the end of his programme and an author once expressed disappointment that although he had sent his book, it had never been displayed. He was told that he should have had a word with Mourousi's chauffeur, just as, in the old days, one approached a grand seigneur via his valet de chambre.

Mourousi avoided the two constant dangers of French television: the heavy- handed, patronising elitism and the low quality populism. But he did not meet the needs of commercialism and he was sacked.

Outside television Mourousi had many interests. He was the owner of a trendy bar, Look, the organiser of variety shows, a well-known figure in Paris night-life and the festivities of the Club Med. After his dismissal he worked for some time with Radio Monte-Carlo, engaged in publicity for motor-bikes (he became known as "Monsieur Moto") and wrote books on politics. Unfortunately, his book on the neo-Gaullist Philippe Seguin was completed just before the political upheaval that followed the regional elections of March and Mourousi had stated that he would have to rewrite it. Most importantly the Mayor of Paris had invited Mourousi to organise the capital's millennium festivities.

Born in Suresnes in 1942, he was brought up by his grandparents and educated at the lycee Lakanal at Sceaux. He became a trainee for French radio. In 1967 he went to stay with his then fiancee in the region of Pau, when a nearby earthquake gave him the opportunity of reporting what was happening. Consequently he lost his fiancee, whom he had abandoned, but acquired a job since he had impressed the director of French radio. He transferred to TF1 in 1975, after a successful radio career.

His wife, Veronique Audemar died of meningitis in 1992. Mourousi's death leaves a daughter, Sophie, aged 12.

Yves Mourousi, television presenter: born Suresnes, France 20 July 1942; married Veronique Audemar (died 1992; one daughter); died Paris 7 April 1998.

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