- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2020

LE PECQ, France (AP) - Au revoir, Jean-Pierre. And merci.

After nigh on 33 years of telling the stories of deepest France, making small-screen stars of its ordinary folk, the country’s most famous and likely most adored news presenter became the story himself Friday as he anchored his 1 p.m. bulletin for the last time on channel TF1.

Jean-Pierre Pernaut came equipped with a handkerchief sent by one of his many fans - and embroidered JPP - for what proved to be an emotional farewell with the country that got to know itself better thanks to his unquenchable appetite for unearthing and showcasing its many delights.

As French as calf’s head, one of his favorite dishes, Pernaut became a monument of the country’s visual landscape via his lunchtime broadcasts that often raced through bad news to focus lovingly on the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, traditions and culture of France, for which he was a fervent ambassador. He championed the unsung, guided by the philosophy that his duties as a news anchor included giving voice to people outside Paris, showcasing their regions, talents and concerns.

On Friday, the last of the countless hundreds of thousands of words he said to his audience on TF1 since his first lunchtime broadcast on Feb. 22, 1988, were: “I love you and I will never forget you.”

True to form, his last news bulletin - like so many others - featured earthy, homely subjects. Friday’s offerings included a segment on French consumers who are buying smaller birds than normal to roast at Christmas, because the pandemic is keeping down numbers at feasts.

“Stuffed pigeons, if I can say so, are really taking off,” said a butcher quoted in the report.

And that was Pernaut’s daily bulletin in a nutshell: light, informative, cheeky, well produced and, frequently, an appetite-stimulating reminder that it was time for the “pause dejeuner” - the sacrosanct French lunch. Segments on France’s rich abundance of culinary delights were a staple of his broadcasts.

One measure of Pernaut’s stature in France was that his last bulletin competed for news space with President Emmanuel Macron’s positive test for COVID-19.

The newspaper Le Parisien on Friday put an interview with Pernaut on pages 2 and 3, relegating Macron’s diagnosis to pages 4 and 5.

The 70-year-old Pernaut told the newspaper that he and his wife, Nathalie, decided during France’s first virus lockdown in the spring that this would be his last year presenting what has been “my baby for 33 years.” .

His replacement is Marie-Sophie Lacarrau, who has big shoes to fill.

“She is sparkling and we share the same thinking about defending our regions,” Pernaut told Le Parisien. “We already know that she has more hair than me!”

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