France's beloved TV anchor forced off air by virus

Paris (AFP) –


As France when into strict lockdown Tuesday, its most reassuring face on television was forced off the screen by the coronavirus.

Jean-Pierre Pernaut, who has presented the lunchtime news on its biggest commercial channel, TF1, for nearly 32 years, thought it wiser to stay at home and hunker down against the virus.

The folksy star -- who will be 70 in a few weeks -- is revered as a comforting uncle figure to millions of French people, and his bulletin is the most watched on TV.

"Take care of yourselves, and go out as little as possible," Pernaut told viewers Tuesday in a live link from his home, saying a slightly younger man would be stepping into his shoes while the crisis lasted.

The legend, whose programme likes to portray an eternal France of cheery rural rustics and horny-handed artisans, set tongues wagging last week when he had a fit of coughing while presenting a report on the virus.

He had also taken a shot at the French government on air, saying lots of people were wearing face masks in Italy and China while the authorities in France said they were useless against the virus.

"Maybe it is because we don't have any," said the anchor, who is known by his initials, "JPP".

While many sent their best wishes to JPP on social media, one or two accused him of abandoning them in their hour of need, and of fleeing Paris to "infect" his beloved countryside.

But Pernaut, who beat prostrate cancer in 2018, appeared hale, hearty and suntanned at his home, assuring viewers that he would help keep them informed from his office at home.

"I have invented the home telly," he declared, in a pun on the French word for working from home, "le teletravail".