They’ll walk 20 miles to watch TV quiz shows 

10 October 2018

From the TVTimes Midlands edition for 23-29 September 1956

ONE surprising thing about RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana) is how easy it is to see anybody at local TV headquarters without an appointment.

If you’re in Rome in a heat wave, you simply walk into a cool, marble-floored building in the Via del Babuino and remark to a Reception Desk that “the sun outside is hot.”

Guessing you’re English, the Desk whisks you up to a foreign relations department where every door is ajar for air — and you enter the one open widest.

“Appointments,” an official neatly explained to me, “are confusing. One forgets them!”

Three programmes head the Italian TV popularity poll: Double Your Money, The Animal Lover and the talent-spotting First Applause.

By far the most popular is Double Your Money, a weekly knowledge quiz not unlike ITV’s intelligence quizzes.

Main difference: In the final test, the contestant can bring an “expert” in his chosen subject into the soundproof booth to help him. But when I watched the show, this didn’t happen.

Young Claudio Moraldi (subject, Impressionist Art) waited anxiously in the Milan studios to go on for the final 5,000,000 lire (roughly £3,000 [£75,000 in 2018 allowing for inflation]) test. Any moment he expected his “expert,” an art dealer, by plane from Rome. Instead — a telegram.

The art dealer, busy preparing a forthcoming Rome exhibition of Winston Churchill’s paintings had been warned to expect a phone call from Sir Winston’s “London residence.” Regretfully he’d cancelled his trip to Milan.

No matter. Signor Moraldi, unaided, won his £3,000.

The success of this knowledge quiz in Italy is phenomenal. To watch it, an entire village will board a special bus for the nearest town receiving TV. Shepherds leave their flocks, walk 10 to 20 miles over the hills, see the 50-minute programme, trudge back again.

Mike Bongiorno, 32-year-old question-master, American of Italian descent, is the most popular man in Italy. “It’s not safe for him to go out at nights alone,” a pleased RAI official told me. “Teenagers mob him.”

One pretty girl contestant (subject cycling) reached the 2½ million lire prize, but dared not risk trying to double it. Bursting into tears, she explained that sum was needed too badly for her mother, ill in a sanatorium.

Next morning, keen viewer ex-King Farouk was on the phone to RAI: “I, too, love a gamble. I sympathise.” He sent the girl a cheque for what she might have won.

Here’s one programme the Italians don’t care for:

Most large cafe-bars in Rome have a TV set in the inner room which is usually crowded. (7d. for an “Espresso” is cheap viewing.) [3p in decimal, 75p now allowing for inflation]

One evening I thought all the customers of one had died of heat stroke. Not a soul was in that cafe except one perspiring old waiter, and he kept glancing with horrified incredulity at the screen.

It was soon clear that the hero of this TV drama, having killed a few people, was now reciting his own funeral oration.

I settled down to enjoy my view—until the waiter came up to me.

Would I please mind if he switched it off, it was keeping the customers away. (It was a Greek tragedy.)

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