French fall for a herd of bullocks

Last Friday it was the cows that came to Paris, with the farmers' protest; yesterday it was the bullocks, but they had nothing to do with agrarian protest. They were the star turn in France's favourite summer television game show, Intervilles, and they had a considerably more difficult passage than the cows.

Intervilles is a version of It's a Knockout, played between mainly resort towns in summer, and the bullocks are released, apparently at random, to wreak havoc with the teams' performances. Until this week, they were part of the show, reflecting the bull-fighting tradition of southern France, where many heats are staged.

But this year France's animal-protection society said their use was cruel and could be dangerous. The society dug up a law forbidding the introduction of cattle into Paris, and the project seemed in danger. The fuss showed, among other things, the risk of taking Intervilles out of its southern-resort habitat.

For the TF1 channel the prospect of having to find a new venue or drop the bulls was a catastrophe. It had negotiated hard with the council of the chic 7th arrondissement and with the Interior Ministry, which still maintains a state of alert after last summer's bombings.

Yesterday morning, though, TF1 was confident: "The bulls will be there," a spokesman said. Bulls or no, the spectators were. Throngs of people from Pont-Saint-Esprit, in the Rhone, and from Puy-du-Fou, in the Vendee, were eyeing each other with appropriately warlike mien as they strolled across the Champs de Mars.

On the "battlefield", lifting gear was putting a turret on to a fortress and a windmill was having its sails tested. Peering through barriers, local gentry examined the alien phenomenon.In the unlikely event that they wanted to see more, however, they were out of luck. Tickets to yesterday's evening combat were sold out long ago.