CULTURE

Bernard Pivot presents awards

Bernard Pivot, whose enormously influential programs about books and culture on French television have been widely envied but never successfully emulated, is in Greece to present «Les Trophees de la Langue Francaise» French language awards. He met the press yesterday at the French Embassy in Athens. First with «Apostrophes» then with «Bouillon de culture» and «Double Je,» Pivot had unprecedented success in attracting viewers of all ages and backgrounds. Magical ingredient How did a journalist with no training as a literary critic manage to inspire countless viewers of all ages and backgrounds to read and buy books? Pivot attributes the success of his literary program «Apostrophes» to the cultural moment and the fact that the French enjoy the kind of conversations on which his program was built. But a single encounter with Pivot reveals that the man himself is the magical ingredient that resists emulation. Success has certainly not gone to this star’s head. Warm, modest and totally unpretentious, he communicates an unaffected enthusiasm for his subject. Kathimerini English Edition asked him how he felt about having the extraordinary power to make an author’s reputation in one evening. «It was a pleasure,» said Pivot, «but it was also a constraint. There was both the pleasure of meeting great authors and the responsibility of launching unknown writers. It was more of a question of influence than of power – I would say I was a man of influence rather than of power. «It was extraordinary to be able to get people reading, to get them buying hundreds of thousands of books, but that’s normal for a program about books, that is to be expected. Now if I had been dishonest, if I had been getting paid off by the publishers to push their books, then I would have been found out.» Did he have any regrets? Were there any books and writers that he didn’t feature and now wished that he had? «Yes,» said Pivot. «There were French writers or writers who were living in France and who were already old when I started. The poet, Rene Char, for example. Of course there was Samuel Beckett, and I would have loved to have had his beautiful face on the program. But he never spoke a word so there was no point interviewing him; he wouldn’t have answered any of my questions. And there are writers like Romain Gary, who was not great but who was interesting.» But Pivot did get to invite eminent foreign writers who spoke French to be on his program – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Norman Mailer, among others. Responsibility Asked how he chose the books and writers that he presented on his programs, Pivot said it was particularly difficult if the writers were unknown. He had to provide for a range of tastes and he felt a responsibility to give the books a chance to be known, «to breathe.» In addition, he said, «I read a lot, and I got help from reviews in the press by colleagues whose opinions I valued. And I would get tips from one or two advisers and from friends. It was a bit like navigating by sight, without any rules – a kind of freedom in disorder. But it all came down to whether the book was good or not. If it was good, we presented it.»