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Death of Bernard Pivot, the man who loved books

Hello, Bernard Pivot, can you react to the death of Michel Tournier, Jean d'Ormesson, Alexandre Soljenitsyne, Jean-Claude Lattès?… Do not cross out the unnecessary mentions, there are none.

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Death of Bernard Pivot, the man who loved books

Hello, Bernard Pivot, can you react to the death of Michel Tournier, Jean d'Ormesson, Alexandre Soljenitsyne, Jean-Claude Lattès?… Do not cross out the unnecessary mentions, there are none. He himself smiled at this reflex of journalists to call him as soon as the death of a writer was announced. He joked: “I'll be called on the phone to get a reaction to my own death. » If only for this reason, many people will miss Pivot.

His great story with books began with Le Figaro littéraire. He often talked about how his career owed to chance. “It was in September or October 1958, I was 23 years old, he told us. I was recruited by Maurice Noël, to whom I owe everything - his portrait has never left me. My arrival at Le Figaro Literaire was a small event: it was the first time that we had hired someone so young - the other editors could have been my father. I inaugurated the integration of other young people, like Jean Chalon, Dominique Jamet, who later joined me. » Trained at the Journalist Training Center (CFJ, class of 1955), he joined the editorial team at the Champs-Élysées roundabout.

Noël is a journalist with a strong character, capable of mood swings and fiercely attached to independence from editors. The young Pivot learns from contact with this personality.

How far we have come from becoming president of the Goncourt jury, through the creation and hosting of the most prestigious literary show of all time, “Apostrophes”!

Bernard Pivot was born in Lyon on May 5, 1935. His parents were grocers. During the war, while his father was a prisoner, he took refuge with his mother in Beaujolais. This childhood will mark him forever – and give him a taste for friendship, football and gastronomy. His childhood friend was called Paul, a pastry worker whose specialty Bernard spoke of with relish: meringue crusts filled with cream.

His father, originally from the Loire, had passed on his passion for AS Saint-Etienne to him, and he was in Glasgow to watch the final lost to Munich: “The Germans had already held my father prisoner for five years. It was a lot,” he wrote.

His first job in an editorial office will be an internship at Progrès de Lyon. There he became friends with Jean Hamelin, whom he considered one of his masters and whom he would meet again at Le Figaro. This will introduce him to the art of writing an article and smoking a cigar.

At Le Figaro littéraire, his work was initially modest: “There was no question of literary criticism. We were “courriers” in the style of what was done in the 19th century. We covered literary life, publishing and bookselling. We wrote news, briefs, echoes, little posts. With Chalon, we carried out the most modest work, those that other editors did not do. Jean and I were very complementary: he loved salons and I loved journalistic investigations into the world of publishing, literary prizes…” His other friend is called Jean Sénard, the general secretary of Le Figaro – also attentive to the promising beginner - and whose premature death will affect him.

The young journalist had talent: in July 1961, he landed an interview with Karen Blixen, and invited her to lunch. She is being talked about for the Nobel Prize. He therefore invites her to Drouant, the Goncourts' restaurant. But, when ill, the author of Babette's Feast only eats an artichoke, settles for a glass of white wine and smokes cigarette after cigarette.

When he learns that Aragon has obtained, thanks to communist elected officials, the grand literary prize of the City of Paris for Bernard Clavel, candidate for Goncourt, in order to leave the way clear for his foal Nourissier, Pivot writes it, which results in the maneuver failing. Aragon will resign from the jury.

Also read: “Apostrophes” was the place for contradictory debate

His wife Monique, met at a journalism school working in the press in the heart of Del Duca (“We Two”), the young Pivot couple is invited by the press, publishing and cinema magnate who has become infatuated of them, inviting them to incredible stays in Monaco, where he assiduously frequents the casino and the great restaurants.

Passionate and a lover of good things, Bernard also has a temperament: in 1965, he refused to participate in a quest organized in the service for the 80th birthday of Mauriac, the great literary signature of the time. Pivot judges the writer distant and even contemptuous of the team, whom he never visits.

Also read... But life goes on, by Bernard Pivot: old age, new spring

Talent and temperament, two qualities which allowed him to rise through the ranks, until becoming editor-in-chief of Le Figaro littéraire. And it is, once again, a twist of fate which will give his career an unexpected turn. In 1974, he was fired by Jean d'Ormesson, then general director of Le Figaro. He appreciates the journalist but hardly likes the very active leader of the Society of Editors (he took the vice-president, succeeding Sénard) who led the revolt in 1969.

Le Figaro will offer him compensation, with which Pivot will build a swimming pool in his house in Beaujolais... “To be precise, Jean d'Ormesson did not fire me from Le Figaro, I left because of him - or thanks to him, rather,” he affirmed, with a mischievous smile, presenting his version of the facts: “Jean Prouvost, the owner of the Figaro press group, wanted to entrust me with everything that was cultural. Jean d'Ormesson, the new director, had initially accepted, before noticing that it was complicated to offer a young man so much responsibility, overcoming bosses who were pampered and protected, by Malraux, For example. He had to back out and, as a result, I asked for my compensation. »

This incident should have separated the two men. He brought them together: they esteemed and admired each other. Later, d’Ormesson would become (along with Max Gallo and Philippe Labro) the record holder for guests on “ Apostrophes”. Their success will owe a lot to that of the show.

After leaving Le Figaro littéraire, Pivot branched off. His friend from Lyon, Guy Frély, who one day gave him a dollar as a sign of good luck, opened the doors to the booming audiovisual media for him: first it was Europe 1. From 1975, he founded and directed a magazine dedicated to books and publishing, Lire.

Certainly, this year is to be marked with a white stone; on January 10, 1975, what would be the affair of his life was born, the literary program “ Apostrophes”. This was broadcast for the first time on Antenne 2. Even today, more than a quarter of a century after the last one, the name Pivot is indelibly linked to it. Although he may have hosted other programs - "Ouvrez les guillemets", "Bouillon de culture", "Double je", "Les Dicos d'or", all successes - it is "Apostrophes" which remains "the » reference in terms of culture on television. Today it is part of the collective memory. Its sociological and cultural importance gave rise to interviews with the historian Pierre Nora (Le Métier de lire) and a publication in the magazine Le Débat which made him proud.

The idea and launch of “Apostrophes” were incredibly simple: “After the breakup of the ORTF at the end of 1974, he recounted, the publisher Marcel Jullian became president of Antenne 2 in January 1975 . His advisor was Jacques Chancel, who said to me: “Would you like to join us on our channel?” I had hosted “Ouvrez les quotation marks” for a year and a half. I was already thinking about “Apostrophes” and I knew what needed to be done to create a good show around books. My project was on one sheet of paper. Jullian read it and said, “It’s very good.” »

A few personalities around a coffee table, some books, an affable and passionate host… very quickly, the show established itself against “At the theater tonight” on the front page. She sold novels by the millions, revealed writers and made Pivot immensely popular. The meetings with Duras, Simenon, Albert Cohen have remained famous. Like the incidents caused by Bukowski, Gainsbourg or Nabe.

Pivot recalled his television memories with relish, like that of this program produced on the eve of Yourcenar's reception at the Academy. He had invited the novelist and Jean d'Ormesson, his “great voter”: “The coldest show I have ever done,” he admitted. The admiration that d'Ormesson had for Yourcenar did not mean that there was sympathy between them. »

Also read 1958: Bernard Pivot's first article in Le Figaro littéraire

And Solzhenitsyn, visited several times, invited several times: “In 1983, in Vermont, I asked him what his dream was, and he answered: to see my country again. In 1998, I went to see him near Moscow: he didn't know what to answer to the same question. His dream was realized. »

The set was always carefully composed: François Mitterrand came to the fifth broadcast. Also invited were Marcel Carné, Françoise Sagan, Jean-Edern Hallier, Patrick Modiano. The philosopher Michel Serres spoke with the chocolatier Bernachon. Pivot invited Paul-Loup Sulitzer with another writer who was none other than his “negro”, and revealed the pot of roses of their collaboration.

John le Carré agreed to come after a meeting in Capri, where the two men hit it off. Clezio also agreed to deviate from his legendary discretion. But not Char, nor Gracq or Cioran, resistant to media appearances. Sartre and Beauvoir refused to go on the show, because of a cruel article by Pivot in Le Figaro against a novel by the latter. Régis Debray made a thunderous declaration against the dictatorship exercised by the host in literary matters.

To help the novelist William Boyd, whose French is hesitant, on the set, he announced outright that he would reimburse readers who, having purchased his novel, were disappointed. It is not known that he received any letters of request.

Pivot did not abuse the dominant position that the prestige of his show had given him: “I have never been a man of power, but a man of influence. » Close friend of Robert Sabatier or the publisher Jean-Claude Lattès, he ensured that neither the writer nor the publisher were privileged or disadvantaged at “ Apostrophes”. In 1981, he refused to present the television news that Pierre Desgraupes offered him: reading a teleprompter, very little for him.

On the other hand, he accepted the seat – or rather the cover, gastronome oblige – offered to him by the Goncourt academy (2004). He will be the first non-writer to join the most prestigious institution of the republic of letters. He already had a friend there: Jorge Semprun. He made others.

Elected in 2005 to place number 1, that of Léon Daudet, Colette and Jean Giono, among others, he will take over as president of the Goncourt jury in 2014, replacing Edmonde Charles-Roux. He quickly left his mark on it, notably the eclecticism of his tastes, which reflected on the prize list: what do Alexis Jenni, Mathias Enard, Pierre Lemaitre, Leïla Slimani and Éric Vuillard have in common?

As he gave up on “ Apostrophes” out of weariness, in 2019 he resigned from the jury, quietly explaining that he wanted to devote his last years to enjoying life and those he loved: over the years, jurorship Goncourt had become overwhelming, notably forcing its president to work all summer.

He was not a writer and knew it – “an old wound, deep, camouflaged,” he admitted to Pierre Nora. Bernard Pivot still authored around thirty works. He tried his hand at the novel for his first title, L'Amour en vogue, in 1959, without considering the experience very conclusive: "a pleasant youthful error". Most of his books instead give pride of place to words and language (his dictations achieved immense popular success, his witty tweets were widely followed).

His last book is an essay, Amis, cher amis, a wave addressed to all those he loved: Lattès, Raymond Lévy, Pierre Boncenne, Robert Sabatier. He had the religion of friendship. It earned him immense popularity.

Also read: Bernard Pivot: “I didn’t have power, but influence”

Even when he went on stage for literary shows (Help! the words ate me, Memory does as it pleases), his audience was there: for the French, he was the one who , for years, had brought them writers, books, happiness at home.

1935 Born in Lyon, childhood in Beaujolais. 1958 Enters the literary Figaro. He became head of department.1975 Co-founded the show Apostrophes.2005 Joined the Goncourt jury.2006 Published The Wine Lovers' Dictionary.2013 Appointed president of the Goncourt academy.

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