- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

FRATTAMAGGIORE, Italy — A “school for soubrettes” that teaches young Italian women the not-so-subtle skills needed to become television game show hostesses and showgirls has opened near Naples, backed by generous funding from the European Union.

The program at the First Tel School has prompted a political storm over the European Union’s willingness to put $1.66 million into what critics say is a “course for bimbos.”

There has been no shortage of interest from potential pupils, however, given that Italy’s television networks are awash with shows featuring scantily clad female assistants. About 1,200 women — and a handful of young men — applied for the 97 places on the eight-month course when it was advertised in the summer.

Under the terms of the EU grant, students must be at least 18, unemployed and come from the Campania region — renowned throughout Italy for the beauty of its women. They will be taught diction, show presenting, makeup, singing, dancing, acting and the history of cinema and theater.

Dino Giordano, one of the school’s founders, said it was aimed at equipping students for a wider career than that pursued by mere bimbos. “They are being thrown in the deep end, but it will give them a head start in show business,” he said last week.

Some pupils, though, seem to have less ambitious objectives.

“I want to be famous, rich and marry a footballer,” declared Simona Toto, a diminutive blonde.

The school, in Frattamaggiore near Naples, attracted “structural funding” from Brussels — channeled through the local, left-wing regional council — because it is in one of the European Union’s most economically backward areas. Unemployment among young people is 50 percent.

Some of the EU funding will go directly to the students, who will receive $2.44 for each class they attend, yet the grant has come under attack from local media and members of Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative-led ruling coalition.

“It is totally incomprehensible the way the region is blowing European funds that are meant for training schemes to help develop the area and so create jobs,” said Antonio Pezzella, the member of parliament for Frattamaggiore.

He questioned why show business was being given priority in an area where there was greater need for more traditional skills, such as tailoring.

“Instead of creating a serious labor policy [the council] is merely putting on a show,” he said.

Pietro Vittorelli, a co-founder of the school, said it had already built a studio set and made a dummy program of Quiz Lotto, a typical Italian game show that it was trying to sell to television. “It’s not just a school, it’s an industry.”

“It’s a fantastic opportunity, and I hope I enjoy myself, while to be able to get a job at the end of it would be ideal,” said Antonella Sacchettino, 19, who is taking time off from studying at a local university to attend the school.

“I’m going to put everything I have into this. I don’t want to be a velina [bimbo]. I’m interested in the world of show business — although I still don’t know where in it I want to belong.”

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