Showing posts with label Media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Media. Show all posts

23 October 2021

Carlo Caracciolo - newspaper publisher

Left-leaning aristocrat who co-founded L’Espresso and La Repubblica 

Carlo Caracciolo set up La Repubblica in 1976
Carlo Caracciolo set up
La Repubblica in 1976
The newspaper publisher Carlo Caracciolo, who was the driving force behind the news magazine L’Espresso and the centre-left daily La Repubblica, was born on this day in 1925 in Florence.

Caracciolo aligned himself politically with the Left and spent the last two years of World War Two fighting against the Fascists as a member of a partisan unit he joined at the age of 18.

Yet he was born into Italian aristocracy, inheriting the titles Prince of Castagneto and Duke of Melito with the death of his father in 1965. After his younger sister, Marella, married the Fiat chairman, Gianni Agnelli, in 1953, he became one of the best connected individuals in Italian society. His funeral in 2008 was attended by members of five of Italy’s most powerful dynasties: Agnelli, Caracciolo, Borghese, Visconti and Pasolini.

Tall and handsome, effortlessly elegant in his dress sense and instinctively well-mannered, he could not disguise his refined roots but never flaunted them. He was at his most comfortable in the company of left-wing intellectuals and insisted he be known only as Carlo.

At the same time, however, he was a formidable businessman, pursuing his ideals of an independent free press but at the same time rebuilding his family’s fortune, which had suffered after the stock market crash of 1929 when his American mother, heir to a distilling company in Illinois, lost much of her inheritance. He was said to be the only man Gianni Agnelli, whose wealth and influence made him the most powerful person in Italy, genuinely regarded as an equal.

Caracciolo was fortunate to survive his experience of fighting with the partisans, which saw him arrested and sentenced to death. In an early indication of his talent for negotiating, however, he secured his escape from prison by striking a deal with his jailer, promising that when the Axis alliance fell to the Allies he would use his influence to return the favour.

Caracciolo (right) pictured with Eugenio Scalfari,  who helped him make L'Espresso his first success
Caracciolo (right) pictured with Eugenio Scalfari, 
who helped him make L'Espresso his first success
After the conflict ended, Caracciolo was sent to study law first in Rome and then at Harvard. It was there he met and became friends with Giorgio Agnelli, Gianni’s brother. Caraciollo remained in America for a while, working for a leading New York law firm.

He moved to Milan in 1951, where he worked at a trade publication for the packaging industry.  His business contacts soon included Adriano Olivetti, who inherited the Olivetti typewriter company from his father, Camillo, but had a progressive view of entrepreneurialism, believing that profits generated should be reinvested for the benefit of wider society.

Caracciolo likewise was a man of progressive ideas and wanted to challenge Italy’s tradition of clientelism, where so much depended on patronage, connections and favours, and which made it difficult for there to be a truly free press. He saw in Olivetti the perfect partner for his ambition to set up a genuinely independent news magazine. Together, they created the Nuove Edizioni Romane publishing company, enlisted two of Italy’s most respected journalists, Arrigo Benedetti and Eugenio Scalfari, and launched L’Espresso.

From the start, L'Espresso championed aggressive investigative journalism, seeking out the corruption and clientelism on which Caracciolo felt the Christian Democrats relied to maintain their grip on Italian politics. This had repercussions for Olivetti, who lost some major contracts as a result. Olivetti ultimately had to withdraw and handed Caracciolo his majority shareholding for a token amount.

Scalfari and Caracciolo (centre) at the launch of La Repubblica in Rome in 1976
Scalfari and Caracciolo (centre) at the launch
of La Repubblica in Rome in 1976
At that point, the magazine was losing money but, with the help of Scalfari in particular, Caracciolo transformed L’Espresso, redesigning it along the lines of Time magazine and altering Italian attitudes to the purpose and potential of a free press.

The magazine’s success gave them the platform to pursue their dream of publishing an independent daily. Seeking an investor, Caracciolo homed in on Giorgio Mondadori, who was looking for a new venture after a somewhat acrimonious split with the publishing house set up by his father, Arnoldo Mondadori, and saw their project as the right fit.

Thus, La Repubblica was launched on 14 January, 1976. Based in Rome, it was to be the first Italian daily to position itself on the centre-left, playing an important role in shifting Marxist activism in Italy towards contemporary social democracy.  Caracciolo was astute enough to see the value of arts coverage in building a strong circulation, particularly among younger readers.  He also correctly judged that adopting the Berliner format, the compact size that is slightly bigger than a tabloid but shorter and narrower than a broadsheet, would appeal to readers buying a newspaper to read on the go.

As a newspaper that was neither the voice piece of a political party nor owned by an industrial tycoon, La Repubblica was able to forge an independent path that also enabled it to recruit some of the best journalists in the country, giving them a chance to report the news without fear or favour.

Caracciolo's sister, Marella, who married Gianni Agnelli
Caracciolo's sister, Marella,
who married Gianni Agnelli
Caracciolo took his publishing activities to the Italian stock exchange in 1984 and four years later, with a circulation of 730,000 that made La Repubblica the most read newspaper in Italy, he sold his holdings in Editoriale L'Espresso to Mondadori. 

Much to his dismay, parts of the company subsequently ended up in the hands of Silvio Berlusconi, the entrepreneur whose politics were diametrically opposed to his own, but it was another Berlusconi opponent, Carlo De Benedetti, who took control of L’Espresso and La Repubblica.

With the money he made from the venture - his fortune was estimated at around $200 million (€172m; £145m) - Caracciolo acquired two country estates, one in Tuscany and the other - Torrecchia Vecchia - south of Rome, where he had a 17th-century barn converted into a villa by the architect Gae Aulenti and employed the English gardener and TV presenter Dan Pearson to design gardens that became his favourite part of the estate. He also owned an elegant apartment in the Trastevere district of central Rome. 

Caracciolo died in 2008, having survived his wife of 12 years, Violante Visconti di Modrone, a niece of the stage and film director Luchino Visconti, by eight years. He is survived by three children, Carlo, Margherita and Jacaranda.

The house on the Torrecchia Vecchia estate where Caracciolo spent much of his time when not in Rome
The house on the Torrecchia Vecchia estate where
Caracciolo spent much of his time when not in Rome
Travel tip:

Torrecchia Vecchia, one of two estates owned by Caracciolo, covers over 1500 acres just outside the town of Cisterna di Latina, some 55km (34 miles) south of Rome. Recognised as a Natural Monument in 2007, it may be visited by permission. Containing over 625 acres of woodland, the estate originally contained a medieval hilltop village and ruined castle, which was abandoned some 800 years ago.  Cisterna di Latina is acknowledged to have grown on the site of the village of Tres Tabernae, which was mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as one of the towns where Saint Paul stopped on his way to Rome.

The Basilica of Santa Maria is one of Rome's oldest churches
The Basilica of Santa Maria is
one of Rome's oldest churches
Travel tip:

Although formerly a working class neighbourhood alongside the Tiber, the Trastevere district, where Caracciolo kept an apartment for when he was working in Rome, is regarded as one of the city's most charming areas for tourists to visit. Full of winding, cobbled streets and well preserved medieval houses, it is fashionable with Rome's young professional class as a place to live, with an abundance of restaurants and bars and a lively student music scene. It is also home to one of the oldest churches in Rome in the Basilica of Santa Maria, with a wall structure and floor plan dating back to the fourth century, although most of it was built in the first half of the 12th century. Inside, the walls and ceiling are covered with breathtakingly beautiful 13th century mosaics, by Pietro Cavallini.

Also on this day:

1457: The forced abdication of Francesco Foscari after 34 years as Doge of Venice

1966: The birth of racing driver and Paralympian Alex Zanardi

The Feast of Saint John of Capistrano


1 June 2021

Arrigo Benedetti - journalist and author

Founder and editor of three major news magazines

Arrigo Benedetti had a passion for news journalism
Arrigo Benedetti had a passion
for news journalism

Arrigo Benedetti, one of the most influential figures in postwar Italian news journalism, was born on this day in 1910 in Lucca.

Benedetti was the founding editor of three of Italy’s most important news magazines, one of which, L’Espresso, still ranks as one of the two most prominent Italian weeklies, alongside Panorama.

Of the other two, L’Europeo, which was launched in 1945, ceased publication in 1995, although the title was briefly revived in the 2000s, while Oggi continues to be published some 82 years after its inception, making it one of Italy’s oldest still-active magazines.

Arrested by the Fascist regime during World War Two, Benedetti escaped after the prison in which he was being held was bombed during an Allied air strike.

Born Giulio Benedetti, the son of a sales representative, he studied literature and philosophy at the University of Pisa and had some literary works published in the early 1930s. 

But he had ambitions to pursue a career in journalism rather than academia and in 1937 moved to Rome to join his boyhood friend, Mario Pannunzio, in working for a new weekly news magazine, Omnibus, edited by Leo Longanesi.

Omnibus was closed on the orders of prime minister Benito Mussolini in 1939, deemed to be a subversive publication. Benedetti follows Longanesi in writing for another newspaper, Tutto, which was also suppressed.

At this point, Benedetti decided to leave Rome, accepting an invitation along with Pannunzio from the publisher, Angelo Rizzoli, to go to Milan with the aim of launching a new newspaper. They decided on a weekly publication along the lines of Omnibus, inviting young intellectuals not aligned with the Fascist regime to write social commentaries, and launched Oggi on June 3, 1939.

A modern edition of L'Espresso, which was launched by Benedetti in 1955
A modern edition of L'Espresso, which
was launched by Benedetti in 1955
Oggi’s existence was tolerated until 1942 before the regime finally moved to close its offices and prevent the publication of further editions.

When Mussolini was overthrown and arrested in 1943, Benedetti celebrated. In collaboration with Pannunzio and Longanesi, he wrote a leader column in Il Messaggero, the Rome newspaper, hailing the return to freedom.

It was only a matter of weeks, however, before Mussolini was freed from his house arrest by a daring Nazi raid on the Apennine mountains ski lodge where he was being held.

Benedetti left Milan with his pregnant wife, Caterina, whom he had married in 1938, to live at her parents' home outside Reggio Emilia, reasoning that they would be safer there than in the Lombardy capital. 

Italy by then had signed an armistice with the Allies, but much of northern Italy was still under the control of the Nazis, who installed Mussolini as the leader of a new Italian Social Republic.

Benedetti was soon arrested, along with many other opponents of the regime, and detained in a prison in Reggio Emilia. He was accused of aiding and abetting the Allies and of being in possession of weapons. On the eve of his trial, however, the prison was almost destroyed in an air raid and Benedetti escaped.

Back in Milan, he joined the anti-Nazi resistance before returning to journalism as soon as he could once the German surrender was secured.

Politician Eugenio Scalfari, pictured in 2016
Politician Eugenio Scalfari,
pictured in 2016
In 1945, along with the entrepreneur Gianni Mazzocchi, he launched the news magazine L'Europeo, which quickly established a following among Italian readers thanks to the contributions of journalists such as Tommaso Besozzi, Enzo Biagi, Giorgio Bocca, Oriana Fallaci and Indro Montanelli.

In 1953 the Rizzoli publishing company bought the publication, but Benedetti’s relationship with the publisher became difficult and he left the magazine and teamed up with politician Eugenio Scalfari to launch another new weekly, L'Espresso, in October 1955, with backing from the progressive industrialist Adriano Olivetti.

Benedetti was the editor-in-chief until 1963, having uncovered major scandals in the health and housing industries. He handed over to Scalfari, who was strongly focussed on corruption and clientelism by the Christian Democrat party. 

In addition to his journalism, Benedetti wrote novels notable for their meticulous attention to detail and a narrative style that drew comparisons with Italian neorealist cinema, in particular in his last novel, Rosso al vento (Red in the Wind), describing life in Italy during World War II. 

He intended to spend his last years living in his villa outside Lucca but became increasingly ill in his later years and died of kidney failure in a Rome clinic in October, 1976. 

The oval Piazza Antifeatro is a point of interest in the Tuscan city of Lucca
The oval Piazza Antifeatro is a point of interest
in the Tuscan city of Lucca
Travel tip:

Lucca is situated in western Tuscany, just 30km (19 miles) inland from Viareggio on the coast and barely 20km (12 miles) from Pisa, with its international airport.  It is often overlooked by travellers to the area in favour of Pisa’s Leaning Tower and the art treasures of Florence, 80km (50 miles) to the east, yet has much to recommend within its majestic walls, where visitors can stroll along narrow cobbled streets into a number of beautiful squares, with lots of cafes and restaurants for those content to soak up the ambiance, but also a wealth of churches, museums and galleries for those seeking a fix of history and culture.   Of particular interest is the oval Piazza Antifeatro, which owes its shape to a second century Roman amphitheatre. The Renaissance walls, still intact, are an attraction in their own right, providing a complete 4.2km (2.6 miles) circuit of the city popular with walkers and cyclists. 

The Basilica di San Prospero in the square of the same name in Reggio Emilia
The Basilica di San Prospero in the square
of the same name in Reggio Emilia
Travel tip:

Reggio Emilia, a city in the Po Valley 28km (17 miles) southeast of Parma and 32km (20 miles) northwest of Modena, has an attractive historic centre with a number of notable buildings, including the Basilica della Ghiara and the 10th century Basilica di San Prospero, which overlooks the elegant Piazza of the same name.  The city is believed to have given Italy its tricolore national flag. There are historical records that suggest that a short-lived 18th century republic, the Repubblica Cispadana, had a flag of red, white and green that was decreed in Reggio Emilia in 1797.  The city today lacks the cultural wealth of neighbouring Parma and is consequently less visited but it Italy's world famous hard cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano - known in English as Parmesan - is thought to have originated in nearby Bibbiano, about 15km (9 miles) to the southeast.

Also on this day:

1675: The birth of playwright Francesco Scipione

1819: The birth of Francis V, the last reigning Duke of Modena

1858: The birth of mezzo-soprano Alice Barbi

1901: The birth of Princess Iolanda of Savoy, one of the Italian royals banished in 1946

(Picture credits: Piazza Antifeatro by Saverio Giusti from Pixabay; Basilica di San Prospero by RatMan1234 via Wikimedia Commons)


7 August 2017

Gerry Scotti - television show host

One-time politician who presented Chi vuol essere milionario?

Gerry Scotti
Gerry Scotti
Gerry Scotti, the host of Italy’s equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and one of the most familiar faces on Italian television, was born on this day in 1956 in Camporinaldo, an agricultural village in Lombardy.

The presenter, whose career in television began in the 1980s, was also a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies between 1987 and 1992, having won the Lombardy 1 district in the Milan college for Bettino Craxi’s Italian Socialist Party.

But he is best known as the face of Chi vuol essere milionario?, which he fronted when it launched in Italy in 2000 and continued in the role after Italy’s entry into the single currency in 2002 required the show to make a subtle change of name.

Originally Chi vuol essere miliardario – billionaire – the title was changed to milionario – millionaire – with a new top prize of 1,000,000 euro replacing the 1,000,000,000 lire of the original.

Scotti continued to host the show until it aired for the last time in Italy in 2011, at which time he held a Guinness World Record for the number of editions presented of the show, which was created for the British network ITV in 1998 and was subsequently exported to 160 countries worldwide.

The son of a printworker at Corriere della Sera in Milan, Scotti – whose real first name is Virginio - studied law at university but dropped out to pursue a career as a radio DJ, working for a number of stations in Milan before being hired as a launch presenter for Radio Deejay, a national network based in Milan.

Scotti is nicknamed Uncle Gerry by his fans
Scotti is nicknamed Uncle Gerry by his fans
He fronted Deejay Television, the first music video programme on Italian television, before moving into full-time TV work with the commercial Mediaset networks, working mainly for Canale 5.

Apart from Millionaire, Scotti has been the host of a number of other popular quiz shows, notably the word game Passaparola. He also fronted The Money Drop and Avanti un altro.

In the entertainment category, his credits include La sai l'ultima?, La Corrida, Paperissima and Buona Domenica. 

He also co-hosted the satirical current affairs programme, Striscia la Notizia, and has been on the judging panels of the talent shows Italia’s Got Talent and Tú sí que vales.

The winner of 10 Telegatto awards – the prize sponsored by the Italian TV listings magazine TV Sorrisi e Canzoni – and a Telegatto Platinum prize for career achievement, Scotti has presented almost 100 different TV shows, appearing in almost 600 prime time editions and more than 6,000 daytime slots.

Known as Uncle Gerry by his fans, he has also acted in around a dozen films, mainly for television, and two sitcoms. He has made commercials on behalf of around a dozen companies.

He was married for 18 years to Patrizia Grosso, with whom he has a son, 25-year-old Eduardo, and has for several years been the companion of Gabriella Perino, a divorcee who is the mother of one of Eduardo’s former schoolfriends.

In 2009, Scotti wrote a letter published in Corriere della Sera supporting a proposal that the Catholic Church soften its position towards divorce, which traditionally it does not recognise.

The Palazzo Pubblico in Piacenza dominates the  central Piazza dei Cavalli
The Palazzo Pubblico in Piacenza dominates the
central Piazza dei Cavalli
Travel tip:

Camporinaldo is an agricultural hamlet, part of the municipality of Miradolo Terme, a small town of 3,500 people about 25km (16 miles) east of Pavia and 55km (34 miles) south-east of Milan, on the way to Piacenza, which was given its name – meaning ‘pleasant place’ – by the Romans.  Piacenza’s industrial suburbs may bely that description but its well-preserved historical centre includes an imposing Gothic town hall – the Palazzo Pubblico, which dominates the central Piazza dei Cavalli, also notable for its equestrian statues.

The elaborately carved tomb of St Augustine in the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro in Pavia
The elaborately carved tomb of St Augustine in the
Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro in Pavia
Travel tip:

The city of Pavia once rivalled Milan as the regional capital and was the seat of the Kings of Lombardy for more than 200 years from 572 to 774.  It was once also known as the ‘city of 100 towers’ although only a few remain.  Among the attractions of this historic university city is the Romanesque basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, which contains an elaborately carved ark housing the remains of St Augustine, a convert to Christianity who became one of the religion’s most influential theologians.

29 June 2017

Oriana Fallaci - journalist

Writer known for exhaustively probing interviews

Oriana Fallaci interviewed politicians and leaders from around the world
Oriana Fallaci interviewed politicians and
leaders from around the world 
Oriana Fallaci, who was at different times in her career one of Italy’s most respected journalists and also one of the most controversial, was born in Florence on this day in 1929.

As a foreign correspondent, often reporting from the world’s most hazardous regions in times of war and revolution, Fallaci interviewed most of the key figures on both sides of conflicts.

Many of these were assembled in her book Interview with History, in which she published accounts of lengthy conversations, often lasting six or seven hours, with such personalities as Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Yasser Arafat, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Willy Brandt, Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Henry Kissinger and the presidents of both South and North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Others she interviewed included Deng Xiaoping, Lech Wałęsa, Muammar Gaddafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

She seldom held back from asking the most penetrating and awkward questions. Henry Kissinger, the diplomat and former US Secretary of State, later described his meeting with Fallaci for a piece published in Playboy magazine as "the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press".

During her interview with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 she called him a “tyrant" to his face and attacked the chador – the full-length cloak she was obliged to wear for the interview – as representing “the apartheid Iranian women have been forced into after the revolution” and described it as “a stupid, medieval rag”.

Henry Kissinger described his encounter with Fallaci as "disastrous"
Henry Kissinger described his encounter
with Fallaci as "disastrous"
Fallaci’s stance on many political issues related to her background. Her father, Edoardo Fallaci, a cabinet maker in Florence, was a political activist opposed to the dictatorship of Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Despite her youth – she was only 10 when the conflict began – she supported her father’s cause during the Second World War by joining the anti-Fascist resistance movement, Giustizia e Libertà.

One of the tasks assigned to her was to smuggle a gun concealed in a basket of food into the Pitti Palace, where the Jewish writer Carlo Levi, author of the 1945 book Christ Stopped at Eboli, was in hiding.

She later wrote: “Whether it comes from a despotic sovereign or an elected president, from a murderous general or a beloved leader, I see power as an inhuman and hateful phenomenon ... I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born.”

As well as a child fighter against the Fascists, Fallaci also displayed precocious talent as a journalist, becoming a special correspondent for the Italian paper Il mattino dell'Italia centrale in 1946, when she was just 16.

Her work as a war correspondent began in earnest 20 years later.  Beginning in 1967, she worked as a war correspondent for a number of newspapers and magazines, covering Vietnam, the Indo-Pakistani War, the Middle East, and South America.  During the 1968 massacre of students at Tiatelolco in Mexico, she herself was shot three times.

Fellaci in the chador she was told to wear to interview Ayatollah Khomeini
Fellaci in the chador she was told to
wear to interview Ayatollah Khomeini
Fallaci won many awards for her work and was also honoured by the Italian state, the city of Milan and the Council of Tuscany, where she kept a home even while living mostly in New York, for her contribution to Italian culture.

Later in her career, she attracted controversy for her writings on Islamic fundamentalism, which she regarded as a threat which was the equal of Fascism in her youth.  She accused European politicians of not taking the threat seriously.

Two books, The Rage and the Pride and The Force of Reason, sold more than a million copies in Italy alone but Fallaci was criticised for using language that was extreme and for appearing to demonise Muslims in general, although a number of legal actions against her failed because the state ruled that she was protected by freedom of speech laws.

Fallaci died in Florence aged 77 in 2006, having suffered from lung cancer.  Although a smoker all her life, she claimed she developed the disease after being exposed to smoke from oil wells torched on the orders of Saddam Hussein while she was reporting from Kuwait in 1991.

She was buried at the Cimitero Evangelico agli Allori in Florence alongside family members and close to a memorial to Alexandros Panagoulis, a former Greek resistance fighter with whom she formed a relationship in the 1970s but who was killed in a mysterious road accident, which Fallaci claimed was an assassination by remnants of the 1960s Greek military junta.

Fallaci's tomb at the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori
Fallaci's tomb at the Cimitero
Evangelico degli Allori
Travel tip:

The Cimitero Evangelico agli Allori is situated between Florence and Galluzzo Certosa, a town about five kilometres outside the city centre. It was in 1860 when the non-Catholic communities of Florence could no longer bury their dead in the English Cemetery in Piazzale Donatello. Apart from Fellaci, it houses the remains of the British writer and aesthete Sir Harold Acton, the American sculptor Thomas Ball and Alice Keppel, the mistress of the British monarch King Edward VII.

Travel tip:

Florence’s Palazzo Pitti – the Pitti Palace – was originally built in the second half of the 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi for Luca Pitti, but was unfinished at his death in 1472. The building was purchased in 1550 by Eleonora da Toledo, the wife of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, and became the official residence of the family. It was expanded in 1560 by Bartolomeo Ammannati. More work was carried out in the 17th century by Giulio and Alfonso Parigi, giving the building its present day look.

29 September 2016

Silvio Berlusconi - entrepreneur and politician

Businessman now barred from office but still leading his party

Silvio Berlusconi is Italy's longest serving post-war Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi is Italy's longest serving
post-war Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi, who has served as Prime Minister of Italy in four Governments, was born on this day in 1936 in Milan.

Head of a large media empire and owner of the football club AC Milan, Berlusconi was Prime Minister for a total of nine years, making him the longest-serving post-war Prime Minister and the third longest-serving since Italian unification.

Berlusconi was the eldest of three children born to a bank employee and his wife and, after completing his secondary school education, he studied Law at the Università Statale in Milan, graduating with honours in 1961.

While at University he played the double bass in a group and occasionally performed as a cruise ship crooner. In later life he was to co-write both AC Milan’s and Forza Italia’s anthems and, in collaboration with Mariano Apicella, a Neapolitan singer and musician, he wrote the lyrics for two albums of Neapolitan-style songs, which Apicella put to music.

In the late 1960s, Berlusconi’s company, Edilnord, built 4,000 residential apartments in a new 'town' he called Milano Due and he was able to use the profits to fund his future businesses.

In 1973 he set up Italy's first private television network, TeleMilano and went on to buy two further television channels. He founded the media group Fininvest, which expanded into a country-wide network of local television stations.

In 1980 he founded Italy’s first private national television network, Canale 5. He followed this with Italia 1 and Rete 4, all of which come under the umbrella of another Berlusconi company, Mediaset, of which Fininvest is the largest shareholder.

Berlusconi in his days as a singer on a  cruise ship
Berlusconi in his days as a singer on a
cruise ship 
Berlusconi was helped by his connection with Bettino Craxi, secretary-general of the Italian Socialist Party, who was Prime Minister at the time. In October 1984 Craxi’s Government passed an emergency decree legalising the nationwide transmissions made by Berlusconi’s television stations. In 1990, Craxi was to be one of Berlusconi’s best men at his second wedding.

Berlusconi was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time in 1994. He became Prime Minister the same year, after his party, Forza Italia, gained a majority just three months after it was launched.

He was defeated in the elections of 1996 but won again in 2001, holding on to power till 2006, when he was defeated by a narrow margin. He became Prime Minister again in 2008 and led the Government until he had to resign in 2011. After the 2013 general election he became a member of the Senate.

While in power Berlusconi was criticised for his dominance of the Italian media and was also undermined by allegations of sex scandals.

He became embroiled in a number of court proceedings for alleged abuse of office and corruption and in 2013 was sentenced to a one-year prison sentence, but later acquitted of the offence of which he was accused.

Berlusconi has also been convicted of tax fraud but, because he was more than 70 years of age, was exempted from imprisonment and ordered to do unpaid community work.

The Senate has been forced to expel him and bar him from holding public office for six years.

UPDATE: Berlusconi, having pledged to remain leader of Forza Italia throughout the remaining period of his public office ban, was elected as an MEP at the 2019 European Parliament election and returned to the Senate after winning a seat in the 2022 Italian general election. He died in June 2023 after suffering from chronic leukaemia. 

The Italian government granted him a state funeral, which took place in the Duomo in Milan, before his body was cremated at the Tempio Crematorio Valenziano Panta Rei in Alessandria, and his ashes buried in the chapel at his Villa San Martino mansion in Arcore, next to the tomb of his parents Luigi and Rosa, and his sister Maria.

Travel tip:

Silvio Berlusconi’s football club, AC Milan, play at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in the San Siro district of Milan. The club’s administrative headquarters are about three kilometres from the ground in Via Aldo Rossi in the Portello district, accessible from the centre of Milan via Linea 1 on the metro, getting off at the QT8 station. At the same location is the Mondo Milan museum, which charts the 117-year history of the club, founded in 1899 by two Englishmen, Alfred Edwards and Herbert Kilpin.

Silvio Berlusconi's home, the Villa San Martino, is in the  town of Arcore, north-east of Milan
Silvio Berlusconi's home, the Villa San Martino, is in the
town of Arcore, north-east of Milan
Travel tip:

Silvio Berlusconi’s personal residence, the Villa San Martino, is about 20 kilometres to the north east of Milan, in the town of Arcore in the province of Monza and Brianza. Berlusconi’s home, along with other important villas in the area, was built in the 16th century by a wealthy noble Lombardian family.

More reading:

Berlusconi and Gianni Rivera - poles apart politically, linked by AC Milan

Giuseppe Meazza - Italian football's first superstar

Matteo Renzi - Italy's youngest Prime Minister


The Italians, by John Hooper

(Photo of Villa San Martino by MarkusMark CC BY-SA 3.0)


28 August 2016

Maurizio Costanzo - talk show host

Journalist whose show is the longest running on Italian TV

Maurizio Costanza pictured early in his broadcasting career, as host of a 1972 radio show, Buon Pomeriggio
Maurizio Costanza pictured early in his broadcasting
career, as host of a 1972 radio show, Buon Pomeriggio
Veteran talk show host and writer Maurizio Costanzo celebrates his 78th birthday today.

Born on this day in 1938 in Rome, Costanzo has spent 40 years in television.  His eponymous programme, the Maurizio Costanzo Show, has broken all records for longevity in Italian television.

Launched on September 18, 1982, the current affairs programme continued for 27 years, alternating between Rete 4 and Canale 5, two of Italy's commercial television networks, part of the Mediaset group owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. 

Its run came to an end in 2009 but was relaunched on the satellite channel Mediaset Extra in 2014 and returned to terrestrial television in 2015, again on Rete 4.

Costanzo began his media career in print journalism with the Rome newspaper Paese Sera at just 18 years old and by the time he was 22 he was in charge of the Rome office of the mass circulation magazine Grazia.

After branching into radio, he switched to television in 1976, hosting the RAI programme Bontà loro, which is considered to be Italy's first TV talk show.  Others followed before the launch of the Maurizio Costanzo Show, which involved prominent politicians and others in the public eye, discussing major issues of the day.

Costanzo returned to print in 1978, while continuing his broadcasting career in parallel, when he was appointed editor of La Domenica del Corriere, the Sunday edition of the Milan newspaper, Corriere della Sera, a move that saw Costanzo caught up in scandal.

Maurizio Costanza as TV audiences know him today
Maurizio Costanza as TV audiences know him today
Corriere della Sera had in 1977 secretly fallen into the control of Propaganda Due, a clandestine network that evolved from a masonic lodge into an alliance of industrialists, members of parliament, military leaders, journalists and other influential figures who aimed to create a "state within a state" to control the direction of Italy's social and political future.

In 1980, Costanzo conducted a controversial interview with Licio Gelli, a former Fascist blackshirt who was head of Propaganda Due - already under scrutiny because of apparent links with the disgraced former banker, Michele Sindona - in which Gelli denied P2 had any malevolent agenda but spoke about his support for a rewriting of the Italian constitution along the lines of the Gaullist presidential system of France.

Less than a year later, police investigating Sindona raided Gelli's villa outside Arezzo in Tuscany and discovered a list of supposed subscribers to P2 that ran to almost 1,000 names.  As well as Berlusconi, 44 MPs, the heads of all four of Italy's secret services and 195 officers of the armed forces, the names included Costanzo himself.

Although at first he denied being a member, Costanzo later admitted his involvement but stressed his deep regret, insisting he was naive and acted only in the interests of safeguarding his career. He publicly distanced himself from the organisation and Gelli, who was subsequently jailed.

Costanzo rebuilt his reputation in the eyes of the public after shifting his political stance more towards the left and risking his own safety to campaign against the Mafia through his broadcasting. It is suspected that a car bomb that exploded in Rome in 1993 outside the Teatro Parioli, which was regularly used for the Maurizio Costanzo Show, was intended either to do him harm or at least frighten him.

A man of immense professional energy, Costanzo had a parallel career as a screenwriter both for television and the cinema, with a long list of credits from the 1960s until as recently as 2007.

He has been married four times and has two children by his second wife, journalist Flaminia Morando, of whom, Saverio, is a film director. He married his current wife, television host and producer Maria de Filippi, on his 57th birthday in 1995.

UPDATE: Maurizio Costanzo sadly passed away in Rome on February 24, 2023, at the age of 84. His funeral took place at the Church of Santa Maria in Montesanto, known as the Church of the Artists, in Piazza del Popolo, on Monday, February 27, 2023. His remains were buried at the Campo Verano cemetery.

Travel tip:

The Teatro Parioli - full name Teatro Parioli Peppino De Filippo - is situated in the Parioli district of Rome, about 20 minutes north of the city's historic centre. Opened in 1938 in the Via Giosuè Borsi, it takes its name from the Italian artist Peppino De Filippo.  Costanzo became artistic director in 1988 and remained in the position until 2011.

April in Rome: a view over St Peter's Square along  Via della Conciliazione towards the Tiber
April in Rome: a view over St Peter's Square along
Via della Conciliazione towards the Tiber
Travel tip:

Seasoned visitors to Rome consider the Eternal City to be at its best between October and April, when there are fewer tourists and hotel prices are generally cheaper than in the high season.  The early part of October can still feel like summer with temperatures in the low to mid-20s, although there is an increasing chance of rain.  April tends to be a little cooler but is often dry and with plenty of sunshine.

(Photo of Maurizio Costanzo today by Birillo253 CC BY-SA 4.0)
(Photo of St Peter's Square by Diliff CC BY-SA 3.0)


28 November 2015

Alberto Moravia - journalist and writer

Italian novelist recognised as major 20th century literary figure

The novelist Alberto Moravia was born Alberto Pincherle on this day in 1907 in Rome.

The island of Capri in the Bay of Naples

He adopted Moravia, the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, as a pen name and became a prolific writer of short stories and novels. Much of his work has been made into films.

Before the Second World War, he had difficulties with the Fascist regime, which banned the publication of one of his novels. But his anti-Fascist novel Il Conformista later became the basis for the film The Conformist directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.

In 1941 he married the novelist Elsa Morante and they went to live first on Capri, and then in the Ciociaria area of Lazio before returning to Rome after it was liberated in 1944.

Moravia was once quoted as comparing a childhood illness, which confined him to bed for a long period, with Fascism. He said they had both made him suffer and do things he otherwise would not have done.

The rugged terrain of the Ciociaria

He died in Rome in 1990 and is remembered today as an important literary figure of the 20th century.

Travel tip

The beautiful island of Capri is a sophisticated holiday resort that has attracted many writers, artists and celebrities over the centuries. It lies in the Bay of Naples and can be reached by boat from Sorrento and Naples. 

Travel tip

The Ciociaria is a remote, hilly part of Lazio, lying south of Rome and north of Naples, dotted with small towns and villages. It is believed the area is named after the ciocie (sandals), traditionally worn by the people living and working in the area.