8 August 2023

8 August

- Giuseppe Conte – politician and academic

Lawyer who led Italy despite having no political experience

Former Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte was born on this day in 1964 in the town of Volturara Appula in the province of Foggia in Puglia.  Conte served as Italian Prime Minister between 2018 and 2021, becoming the longest serving independent prime minister in the history of Italy.  He was the fifth technocrat Italian Prime Minister - defined as being appointed without any previous political experience - and the first from southern Italy since Ciriaco De Mita in 1989.  A law professor for a large part of his career, Conte is often referred to as ‘the people’s lawyer’ (l’avvocato del popolo), as this is how he described himself during his first speech as Prime Minister. He is now the president of the Italian political party, the Five Star Movement.  Conte’s father, Nicola, was an employee of the local authority, and his mother, Lillina, was a school teacher.After the family moved to San Giovanni Rotondo, another town in the province of Foggia, Conte attended the nearby liceo classico and then went to study at the Sapienza University of Rome. To this day he remains an avid AS Roma fan, having started to support the club while at university.  Read more...


Leo Chiosso – songwriter

Writer of lyrics and scripts was inspired by crime fiction

Prolific songwriter Leo Chiosso was born on this day in 1920 in Chieri, a town to the south of Turin in Piedmont.  He became well known for the songs he wrote in partnership with Fred Buscaglione, a singer and musician, but Chiosso also wrote many scripts for television and cinema.  Chiosso met Buscaglione in 1938 in the nightclubs of Turin, where Buscaglione was working as a jazz singer. They formed a songwriting duo that went on to produce more than 40 songs.  However, their friendship was interrupted by the Second World War.  Chiosso was taken prisoner and deported to Poland, where he became friends with the writer Giovanni Guareschi, while Buscaglione was sent to a US internment camp in Sardinia.  It was only when Chiosso heard Buscaglione playing in a musical broadcast by the Allied radio station in Cagliari that he knew his friend was still alive.  They were reunited in Turin after the war and continued to write songs together. Chiosso was an avid reader of American crime fiction, which inspired his lyrics and also suited Buscaglione’s amiable gangster image.  Their first hit was Che bambola in 1956, which turned humorous tough guy Buscaglione into a celebrity.  A subsequent hit was Love in Portofino, recently recorded by Andrea Bocelli and also the inspiration for one of his albums.  Read more…


Ugo Bassi - priest and patriot

Unarmed chaplain was a follower of Garibaldi

Catholic priest Ugo Bassi was executed by firing squad on this day in 1849 in Bologna.  Bassi had been a preacher of eloquent sermons that attracted large crowds and had travelled all over Italy helping the poor, often himself not having enough food to eat.  He was also strongly patriotic and had been a follower of Giuseppe Garibaldi in his fight for a united, independent kingdom of Italy. It was while he was with Garibaldi’s army battling French troops loyal to the Pope in Rome that he was captured and sentenced to death on a false charge of carrying a weapon.  His execution was said to have enraged Liberals all over Europe.  Bassi was born in 1801 in Cento, a small town in the province of Ferrara, in what is now Emilia-Romagna. Although he was baptised as Giuseppe Bassi, he later changed his name to Ugo in honour of the patriotic and revolutionary poet, Ugo Foscolo.  An unhappy love affair led to Bassi becoming a novice in the Barnabite order at the age of 18 and, after studying in Rome, he entered the priesthood in 1833.  In 1848, when the revolutionary movement began in Italy, Pope Pius IX was known to be an Italian nationalist and liberal.  Read more…


Dino De Laurentiis – film producer

Campanian pasta seller helped make Italian cinema famous 

The producer of hundreds of hit films, Agostino ‘Dino’ De Laurentiis was born on this day in 1919 at Torre Annunziata, near Naples in Campania.  He made Italian cinema famous internationally, producing Federico Fellini’s Oscar- winning La strada in 1954 in Rome.  After moving to the US he enjoyed further success with the film Serpicoin 1973.  De Laurentiis was the son of a pasta manufacturer for whom he worked as a salesman during his teens.  While selling pasta in Rome in the 1930s he decided on impulse to enrol at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in the city as an actor.  He quickly realised he had more talent for producing and after gaining experience in the different sectors of the industry made his first film, L’amore canta - Love Song - in 1941 when he was just 22.  After serving in the army during the Second World War, De Laurentiis became an executive producer at one of Rome’s emerging film companies, Lux.  Among the films he produced for Lux was Riso amaro - Bitter Rice - starring Silvana Mangano, whom he later married and had four children with. The film was a box-office success both at home and abroad.  Read more…


Danilo Gallinari - basketball player

Giant from Lodi province who plays in America’s NBA

Danilo Gallinari, the only Italian-born player currently active in America’s National Basketball Association, was born on this day in 1988 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano in Lombardy.  Only nine Italian-born players have participated in the NBA – America’s premier basketball league – since its formation in 1946.  Gallinari, who stands 6ft 10ins tall, has played for six NBA teams, the latest of which is Boston Celtics. Previously he had played for New York Knicks, under the coaching of Mike D’Antoni, is an American-born former player who is now an Italian citizen, the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Atlanta Hawks.  Gallinari, whose father, Vittorio, played professional basketball for teams in Milan, Pavia, Bologna and Verona, began his career in 2004 with Casalpusterlengo, a third-level Italian team from a town about 25km (15 miles) from his home in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano.  He moved up a tier in 2005 by joining Armani Jeans Milano and then Edimes Pavia, where in 2006 he was named best Italian player in the Italian League Second Division, despite missing half the season through injury.  Read more…


Book of the Day: The Archipelago: Italy Since 1945, by John Foot

Italy emerged from the Second World War in ruins. Divided, invaded and economically broken, it was a nation that some people claimed had ceased to exist. And yet, as rural society disappeared almost overnight, by the 1960s, it could boast the fastest-growing economy in the world.  In The Archipelago, historian John Foot chronicles Italy's tumultuous history from the post-war period to the present day. From the silent assimilation of Fascists into society after 1945 to the artistic peak of neorealist cinema, he examines both the corrupt and celebrated sides of the country. While often portrayed as a failed state on the margins of Europe, Italy has instead been at the centre of innovation and change - a political laboratory. This new history tells the fascinating story of a country always marked by scandal but with the constant ability to re-invent itself.  Comprising original research and lively insights, The Archipelago chronicles the crises and modernisations of more than seventy years of post-war Italy, from its fields, factories, squares and housing estates to Rome's political intrigue.

John Foot is an English academic historian specialising in Italy. He is the author of several books, including histories of Italian football, Italian cylcling and the story of the pioneering psychiatrist, Franco Basaglia, who led a revolution in mental health care in Italy. 

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(To the best of our knowledge, all entries were factually accurate at the time of writing. In the case of individuals still living, some of the information may need updating)


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