Drunkenness, insults and spats, some anthology moments from “Apostrophes”, the cult show by Bernard Pivot

Drunkenness, insults and spats, some anthology moments from “Apostrophes”, the cult show by Bernard Pivot
Drunkenness, insults and spats, some anthology moments from “Apostrophes”, the cult show by Bernard Pivot

The show Apostropheswhich Bernard Pivot hosted for 15 years from 1975 to 1990, was peppered with great television moments.

Apostropheswhich Bernard Pivot hosted 724 times on Antenne 2 from 1975 to 1990 (before continuing with “Culture broth” until 2001), experienced many anthological moments as well as great controversies.

The show, broadcast on Friday evenings, was watched by several million viewers. Great connoisseurs of literature or modest book lovers, they appreciated the witticisms, the strikingly concise thoughts, the lyrical tirades or the shouting matches that Bernard Pivot knew how to provoke in the invited authors.

Matzneff against Bombardier

There were dozens of surprising or heated debates. During one of the most notable, in 1990, the Quebec novelist Denise Bombardier opposed Gabriel Matzneff, whose writings advocated sexual relations with children and adolescents.

“If there is a real sex education teacher, it’s still Gabriel Matzneff, he willingly gives lessons,” says Bernard Pivot, playfully, introducing the author whom he also describes as a “collector of kitties “.

“Mr. Matzneff seems pitiful to me,” replies Denise Bombardier, the only one on set to worry about the writer’s minor conquests and judging that he would have been “accountable to the courts” if he did not have “a literary aura”. “There are limits even to literature,” she still declares.

This sequence went viral when the book was released in late 2019 The consent by Vanessa Springora, on her relations, as a minor, with Gabriel Matzneff, leading Bernard Pivot to make amends on Twitter.

“In the 70s and 80s, literature came before morality; today, morality comes before literature. Morally, this is progress. We are more or less the intellectual and moral products of a country and, above all, of an era,” he wrote to his almost million subscribers.

“Shut up, Bukowski!”

In 1975, the Russian Vladimir Nabokov was the exceptional guest ofApostrophes. Bernard Pivot asks him several times: “A little more tea, Mr. Nabokov?” In fact, the author of Lolita had asked for whiskey to be poured into the teapot.

Three years later, Charles Bukowski drinks three bottles of Sancerre before the start of the show and during his interview. On the air, the author of Diary of a disgusting old man, completely drunk, makes incoherent remarks. The journalist and writer François Cavanna says to him: “Shut up, Bukowski!”, who leans towards the novelist Catherine Paysan to caress her knee. “That’s the pompom!”, she writes. Bukowski fidgets in his chair. Someone comes to support him so he can leave the set. Sales of American novels are exploding.

Gainsbourg and the “badger”

In 1986, Serge Gainsbourg, slumped in front of a piano, perhaps tipsy, perhaps not, said: “Du champ’, du brut’, du vamp’, du put'” and explained that “these are the words which convey the idea and not the idea which conveys the words”.

Guy Béart does not agree. Gainsbourg, without even turning his head, blurted out: “What did the badger say there?” Béart tries to speak, the author of Melody Nelson scales: “Shut up.” “I sense there is a little contention between you,” Pivot said. “But no!”, breathes Gainsbourg. “Absolutely not! I don’t know him.” Which is entirely false.

Bernard Pivot will have bad memories of this episode: “Guy Béart had been attacked, he had to react and the show did not put him to his advantage”. “What was hurtful about ‘badger’ was the way it was said. A nastiness was evident,” Béart noted.

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