Claude Villers, journalist and radio man, is dead

Emblematic voice of France Inter for forty years, journalist Claude Villers, formidable travel storyteller, host of numerous shows, including the famous “Tribunal des flagrant delires” is dead, announced Sunday December 17 the director of France Inter, Adèle Van Reeth

Claude Villers, journalist and radio man, is dead

Emblematic voice of France Inter for forty years, journalist Claude Villers, formidable travel storyteller, host of numerous shows, including the famous “Tribunal des flagrant delires” is dead, announced Sunday December 17 the director of France Inter, Adèle Van Reeth . To the eternal question “Can we laugh at everything? », he replied to Le Monde, in April 1991: “Yes, but with humanity. » Thus bringing a nuance to the response of his friend Pierre Desproges (“Yes, but not with everyone”), the host showed a modesty and benevolence characteristic of his personality, however rebellious and caustic.

Born on July 22, 1944 in Everly (Seine-et-Marne), Claude Villers grew up in Barly, near Arras (Pas-de-Calais) in a working-class environment. With his school certificate in hand, he began his professional life at the age of 14. The teenager has different jobs: bank employee, waiter, nightclub bouncer, but also a fairground wrestler. His build (he already weighs more than 100 kg) leads him to embody the thick brutes knocked out by those lighter than him at the end of the fights, for show.

Journalist at 17

After several years of odd jobs, he became the youngest professional journalist in France, at 17. He writes in particular in Radio Magazine. On the radio, he made his debut at Europe n° 1 by collaborating on “L’Equipe n° 1”, produced by Gérard Sire and hosted by Jean Yanne and Jacques Martin. He follows the latter on RTL after the separation of the duo.

In 1964, he joined France Inter, where Roland Dhordain had just been appointed director. The young journalist joins the team of “Open Table”, a daily newspaper hosted by Michel de Villers and José Artur. Seventeen years her senior, the latter first became her master, then one of her closest friends. It was also at this time that he met Monique Desbarbat, who would become his most faithful accomplice, directing and co-producing all of his shows for thirty years.

At the start of the 1965 school year, José Artur's "Pop Club", a cult program, was born, in which Claude Villers participated permanently. He spoke for the first time on the microphone in live reports and occasionally replaced “the boss”. “With José Artur, I learned freedom,” he said in his autobiography Parole de rêveur (Editions le Pré aux Clercs-France Inter, 2004).

The cold shower

After standing on his own two feet for a summer in his first show, he saw the start of the 1967 school year take a turn for the worse. Not a psychologist (and above all not a visionary!), an advisor to the station management told him in a corridor: “I regret to tell you, but you will never do a microphone. You don't know how to express yourself, you don't know how to breathe... You talk through your nose... You have no place on the air. » Laminated, Claude Villers decided to take off and moved to the United States with his partner at the time.

In New York, he first reconnected with the written press, covering the bustling cultural and musical scene of the time for French magazines, from Bob Dylan to the Grateful Dead. Then, he was hired in the New York office of the ORTF, under the direction of Jacques Sallebert. He traveled across North America for three years, recounting the first student revolts in 1968, the assassination of Martin Luther King, the Woodstock festival in 1969...

He returned to France in 1971. Quickly overcome by boredom in his new role as advisor to the management of France Inter, he returned to the microphone in the summer of the same year by presenting “A plus d'un title” , a show in which he first talks about the United States, then other continents, through different themes linked to current events. For two years, he performed alone at the microphone for an hour every day, without guests. A considerable amount of work, a real feat indeed.

From there, and thanks to the support of Pierre Wiehn (director of France Inter), Claude Villers continued broadcasting, exploring all registers: satire and caricature (“Don’t panic”), reporting across the regions ( “Walk or dream”) or the heart of nightlife (“As we sleep through the night, we go to bed”), and travel stories, always. Since his stay in America, he has become passionate about trains, liners, and capes, the focal points of several of his expeditions.

Unlike his friends José Artur and Jacques Chancel, whose respective shows "Le Pop Club" and "Radioscopie", immovable, have broken longevity records in the program schedule, Claude Villers makes a point of regularly offering new show ideas.

In 1980, he created “Le Tribunal des flagrants délires”, a legendary talk show with Pierre Desproges, Luis Rego, Eva Darlan… Despite a difficult start, the humor show recorded in public then enjoyed great success. The program will last two seasons, separated by a one-year interlude during which Claude Villers ventures alongside Jean-Claude Héberlé to manage RMC.

Returning to France Inter at the start of the 1982 school year, the outspoken host left public radio again in June 1983, failing to reach an agreement with Jean-Noël Jeanneney, then boss of Radio France, and finding little support from Jean Garretto, director of France Inter.

Create your own radio station

He then participated in various projects alongside Jean-Marie Cavada on television. He produces, directs and lends his voice to documentaries, hosts shows, writes screenplays, plays small roles in TV films. In the midst of the boom in “free radios”, he created his own station: Pacific FM, which he left when it was sold to NRJ.

After the arrival of new management at Radio France, he returned to public service at the beginning of 1988, but not France Inter, where he refused to return. “This business is a very small world. We meet up one day or another, not necessarily to settle scores, but for the satisfaction of being able to say no,” said this seasoned and lucid media man. It will therefore be France Culture (“Elementary, dear little man”). Just appointed to the management of France Inter, Eve Ruggieri convinced him in August 1988 to return to his historic station. He again produces satire talk shows (“Welcome to paradise”; “The real fake newspaper”), and still story shows (“Méchant d'histoires”; “Je vous writes à vous de m'distant de mes rêvers”). ").

Suffering from heart problems and the victim of several health accidents in the late 1990s, Claude Villers gradually scaled back before retiring in 2004, at age 60. “It’s also that I thought that we had to leave room for others, for renewal,” said the man who set the pace for many reporters, columnists and presenters.

Installed with his wife Colette in Pessac-sur-Dordogne, the land of Montaigne, the journalist who loved good food continued to write, travel and led an active life both on an associative and personal level.