He’s got a very pleasant voice. His speech flows calmly, measured like in a good old educational programme.
At the age of 80 his physical form could easily be an object of envy for some forty year old ones, if they see him hurrying past on his Honda motorcycle in the helmet of the Second World War style.
Radiating confidence and dignity, this person gives the impression of someone who is capable to help you out with an efficient advice in a difficult situation.
I’d like to introduce to you Armand Petit, one of the legends of French television, who travelled the whole world in search of fascinating reportages.
After graduating from the school of journalism in Paris in 1960, he joined RTF, the only television channel at the time, as a cameraman. А year and a half later, he asked for a transfer to his native Marseille, where the regional channel was getting ready to emerge.
For 20 years that followed, due to the camera of Mr. Petit, French and foreign TV viewers were able to monitor the events in the south of France and in different parts of the planet.
In particular, he was part of the crew of the first information television magazine, Cinq colonnes à la une, which is still considered the trendsetter and the indispensable benchmark of the genre.
He spent a few months filming the famous boat “Calypso” of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, notably making underwater shooting.
While teaching at the school of journalism in Marseille, he’s got the chance to take a next career move and change the job of a reporter-cameraman to an editor by accepting the offer of a fellow-lecturer to join him in New Caledonia during the extraordinary events of 1985.
After this business trip, which lasted more than a year, Armand Petit returned to his channel already in the position of editor-in-chief and remained so until his retirement.
Why did you choose journalism as profession?
At the call of the heart. I was keen on travelling, learning new things, meeting new people, visiting new countries.
Throughout my career I have been doing what I loved: shooting reportages. In my opinion, the picture is very important. The image doesn’t lie, and the comments could differ to the extremes. As they say in our profession:
“Les faits sont sacres, les commentaires sont libres“.
What was the most difficult thing in your work?
There are no strict working hours in journalism.
You are responsible for the reportage which you pass on the air, there’s no boss behind your back. The job can take two, three, ten hours or two days – you’re the one to decide when it’s done.
I was lucky to enjoy le pain blanc of television when the reporters were maestros. Today the situation has changed. There is a tight agenda; with flight schedules, notions of profitability and high competition between channels … We didn’t have such pressure.
There was nothing particularly difficult. You just had to get used to the fact that you have to be away from home quite often, in hotels, in other countries, sometimes during holidays or weekends.
It was more complicated for my family than for me. You need to find the way to share quality time with them, relax together, and not be all the time away.
But of course, there were advantages as well.
How many languages do you speak?
I used to speak a bit of German that I learned in school in Switzerland, but, of course, it all fell to oblivion. I also can summon some words in English, sufficient not to be lost in the country where it is spoken.
We always had translators, so speaking foreign languages was not as important as it is today.
Is there a project which you are particularly proud of and why?
I wouldn’t say for sure how many thousands of hours of footage I’ve done, and certainly, I do not remember all of them, but I’m proud of my work.
Some projects marked more than others. For example, the collapse of the Malpasset dam in 1959 in Frejus, where, unfortunately, hundreds of people died. Since I was nearby, in Marseille, I was the first to film the consequences of this catastrophe, and my images were broadcast on Eurovision.
Or the terrorist attack at the Saint Charles railway station on new years’ eve of 1984. I received a call just when my wife and I were about to pass to the festive dinner table. I took off immediately and returned only the next morning.
One of the projects, dear to my heart, is our partnership with my friend Albert Falco, captain of Calypso, that I realized once retired. We signed a contract for the co-production of films about the sea. With the help of Films du Soleil, a Marseille movie production company, in the 1990s we made 8 films, but they did not get a great commercial success.
Did you feel like writing the history?
When I left television, I wrote a book that I never published. It was about my years of work as a reporter. Once I re-read it, I realized that it could be of interest only for some very special people. And today I regret not to find this document any more. It’s a pity…
Nowadays, there are so many reporters and all kinds of filming … I was one of the first to make underwater footage, but now, how many of those who shoot underwater?
By the way, Cousteau offered me a job, but we didn’t have a tremendous rapport. If I were single, maybe I would be able to become part of the team to live this adventure, but I was married, I already had a daughter. And on the television the pay was better.
The cameraman who replaced me, his name was Henri Deloire, shot all the famous films about Cousteau’s travels that we saw on TV. Well, so it was, I didn’t take the job.
I’m really proud that I did what I did. Even if it’s not that much, I made my contribution. I’m especially proud of the fact that I’ve been living my passion. While today, it’s hard for the young. I got ahead because it was the moment for the people like me and I did not miss my chance.
In your opinion, how has journalism changed over the years?
I knew the golden times of television; it has changed a lot ever since.
You have to make it back before you leave; there is absolutely no time for anything. Like air hostesses who, say, in old times used to spend a day or two in Hong Kong before boarding on the next flight, today take off immediately on the return journey. Do you see what I mean? It’s not the same profession anymore.
The current journalism isn’t good for me. Basically, it’s the journalism of digging in the mud, trying to discover what’s going wrong. And we scarcely talk about what going right; nevertheless there are such things as well.
Now there are round-tables discussions, where opponents butt heads. It’s far from being the television for me – more likely the radio being filmed.
My bosses in Paris were real working pros: Pierre Lazareff, Pierre Desgraupes, Pierre Dumayet. These people started by the basics of the profession, they began their careers as simple journalists and eventually became the channel’s leaders. You could not talk nonsense to them, they perfectly understood the functioning of the camera, they knew the whole routine from the inside.
It might sound bitter, but now the heads of the channels, especially in public media, are appointed by the political power, whatever it is. These people do not know our profession; you won’t be able to talk business to them. These are managers who perfectly understand that they’ve come for a certain period of time, that one day they will leave. They fasten their security belt to their chair and would not listen to your demands. They simply would not understand what you’re talking about.
There were many professions that you could dream of. I dreamed about being a reporter, but I’m not sure if today I would have been into this affair.
In other words, do you prefer to watch less TV?
I watch only news – by professional habit – and sports channels. In sport there’s no politics, athletes from all over the world understand each other perfectly, even if they compete, say, at the Olympic Games, or world championships. I love sports. At the time I used to participate in tennis tournaments and do mountain skiing. Today I sometimes get on a bicycle, although I understand that I’m getting old, as in the evening I would imagine cycling for tomorrow, and in the morning I don’t have the slightest desire.
What are the most important things in your life?
Health. It’s crucial.
When you’re healthy, you don’t notice it, and only when diseases appear, you understand that health is the most important thing in life. Particularly with advancing age.
If today I find myself on the street without anything, however in good health, I won’t be lost. And if I wake up as a millionaire, yet sick, then nothing would help.
And of course, my family – my wife, my children and grandchildren. My granddaughter means a lot to me, I am more patient with her than I used to be with her mother. I’m a better grandfather than a father.
And also, the feeling of freedom is priceless for me. Today I prefer to ride a motorcycle; it provides me the degree of freedom that the cars deprive us of. I used to have a boat; I loved sailing in the calanques, wandering the small coves and enjoing this feeling. When no one’s controlling.
Freedom is a great pleasure.
Do you have rituals that set the tempo of your day?
Nothing in particular. I try to start every day with a cup of coffee in the company of friends in the cafe nearby.
In which circumstances could you exclaim “La vie est belle! “?
When I see my whole family happy, when everyone is doing well, everybody’s in good health.
And when the weather is fine, I’m very sensitive in this respect, you know. As a true Marseillais I need the sun. Moreover, I am a Scorpio, and they seem to be quite dependent on the weather. I’m sad when it rains, and the wind makes me nervous.
So, when everything’s fine, when there are no special concerns, then life is beautiful.
What is the most useful thing you learned from your parents?
That’s pretty hard for me to answer this question.
I left my parental home quite early. It was wartime, my father was wanted by the Germans, and I was sent to Switzerland. At the beginning I spent 8 months in Megeve, in a holiday camp, and when it was not longer a free zone, we were accommodated by the Swiss families who cooperated with the Red Cross. I stayed in Switzerland for 3 years, from 9 to 12 years old, went to school there, and picked up some German language.
When I returned home, my sister was born and I found myself on my own enjoying complete independence.
At the age of 20 I went to war in Algeria, where I spent two and a half years in the army.
My father was a very kind person, he worked in the tax office, but I didn’t have close relationship with him. I spent more time with my mother.
My mother is now 104 years old, and she’s doing well. Her head works perfectly and she keeps all her memory. She always accepted me as I was, even when I was misbehaving, she was on my side.
I often visited her parents who lived in the countryside near Marseille, and maybe that’s why me too, after retirement, wanted to settle in the village, here in Auriol. We are better here, aren’t we?
What would have been your recommendations to yourself, twenty-years-old?
Go for the things you love, as I did. I would have chosen the same profession, I would have become a journalist once again.
Nothing special comes to mind right away, but there are a lot of things that I would not have done, many foolish things. For sure, I would have committed other mistakes, but not the same.
If I were a ladder climber I would have stayed working in Paris, but I always preferred the quality of living to a career. I love sun, sea, mountains, and all of this you could find in Marseille.
Did I get it right that you have no regrets?
I have none. Of course, I am nostalgic for the past, but no regrets. Today I’m 80 years old, I’m pretty aware that I live mostly of memories, and I’ve got a lot to remember.
Television is the sphere where you’re forgotten the next day after you leave. You have to accept it.
What do you consider the best way to keep the flame in love?
Making mutual concessions.
This is my second marriage and it’s lasting for 45 years already. Getting older together and continue to keep loving is not an easy thing because, over the time, living with someone becomes a habit. The habits of one shouldn’t annoy the other. This is the harmony of the couple.
Today, many couples break up, not least because women have become more self-sufficient; they no longer lead a life different from that of working husbands, they don’t want to tolerate things. If something goes wrong, the couple separates quickly, because both are more independent, financially as well.
I love Provencal cuisine, especially those meals rich with garlic (some don’t seem to digest it) and olive oil. I love fish as well.
If we’re talking about a particular dish, my favourite is stuffed vegetables. You need to know to cook it. When you get it fresh out of the oven, it’s just delicious. Last week we took it with my wife in a restaurant, here in Auriol, and we enjoyed a lot.
 Literally translated from French: “Five columns on the front page”. The name of the TV programme refers to the expression accepted in the printed press. Typically, newspaper text was distributed on a page in five vertical columns. The header of the main article was printed in the width of all the columns on the title page, striking its importance.
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