Pessa covered the Nazi bombings, was a producer and a radio announcer and was part of the RTP boards already after his retiring age. Fernando Pessa, a voice that accompanied generations and that was immortalized as one of the great figures of Portuguese journalism
Fernando Pessa wanted to be a military.
Born on April 15th of 1902, his childhood was lived between Aveiro and Coimbra.
After high school, he tried to enter the military career as a Cavalry official. Given the abundance of officials as a result of the First World War, Pessa wasn’t accepted.
He started to work in an insurance company, a job that took him to Brazil in 1934.
In the same year, he runs for the boards of the recent Emissora Nacional (EN), qualifying in second place. He became the first announcer of Estado Novo’s radio station.
In EN’s first times, the station was lacking in recorded noises and sounds for mood recreations, having all to be done live.
Pessa, who received a turkey in the days before Christmas, tried to make the animal reproduce its characteristic sound in the middle of the emission.
The newspaper Jornal Rádio Semanal went to photograph Pessa and the turkey in the radiophonic environment, and the picture reached the publication’s first page.
What wasn’t known was the failure of this stunt that forced the announcer to resort to a friend expert in imitations.
Fernando Pessa remained in Emissora Nacional until 1938, the year when he was invited to work in BBC’s Portuguese section, in London.
Journalist in times of war
He started his path in the British radio, with an accent, in the Brazilian section, moving to the Portuguese section in 1940.
Here he would witness the German bombings, professionalizing as a war correspondent during the Second World War. The irony that filled his news reports became one of his most enduring characteristics.
BBC’s Portuguese transmission earned popularity, especially due to the show Retiro da Blitz, where Pessa interpreted fados written by him, ridiculing Hitler’s figure and his attacks against London.
In 1947, in his return to Portugal, he married Simone Alice Ruffier, whom he had met at BBC in London.
Returning to his country of origin, the journalist wasn’t allowed to go back to EN. The restricted access was due to political reasons. Pessa, by supporting the Allies during the war, was no longer in the good graces of Salazar’s regime.
Without journalism, he could count with his radiophonic voice: he dedicated to the sound recording of documentaries, highly exhibited in movie theaters, once television in Portugal was almost inexistent.
Manuel de Oliveira’s documentaries Os Últimos Temporais, Cheias do Tejo (1937) and Portugal Já Faz Automóveis (1938), are some of which Fernando Pessa gave voice to.
In 1959, Pessa was hired to work in the aid plan to Europe after the Second World War, the Plan Marshall. Besides his deputy role, he narrated the materials produced by the Mission and by NATO.
The notoriety that the journalist reached as war reporter in the British radio station guaranteed him the honors in the first live emission of RTP, from Lisbon’s popular fair, on March 7th of 1957.
In 1976, at the age of 74, far beyond the usual age of retirement, he would enter the boards of RTP.
The television persona
It was during those street reports that Fernando Pessoa stood out with the famous phrase "E esta, hein?" ["What about this, huh?"]. In these emissions, the reporter disclosed the most unpleasant situations of the day-to-day, sending messages to the main responsible, all for the public’s sake. He would quickly become the journalist of unforgettable fait-divers of the Portuguese TV of the 20th century.
In November of 1974, at Feira da Golegã, Pessa prepares a story for RTP that had as sketch the trip from Lisbon to Golegã on a helicopter.
The experienced pilot considered that the report would be more spectacular if the landing and the take-off were done from the access patio to Studio 1 in RTP. Due to a leak of air of the well constituted by the walls of the surrounding buildings, the equipment, as it landed, fell with a bang, being completely destroyed. The journalistic piece would be cancelled, while Fernando Pessa accompanied the pilot to the hospital.
The reporter received several awards and honors. In 1959, he was given the Order of the British Empire, given by Queen Elizabeth II, for his services as war correspondent in BBC.
In 1981, he was distinguished with Comenda da Ordem do Infante D. Henrique, by the presidente of the Republic Ramalho Eanes. Ten years later, Mário Soares gave him the title of Grande-Oficial da Ordem do Mérito.
Only in 1995, at the age of 93, Fernando Pessa retired.
On April 29th of 2002, Fernando Pessa passed away at Curry Cabral Hospital, in Lisbon, two weeks after reaching the age of 100.
Of a desired military career that never came to happen, Fernando Pessa became a journalist without knowing when he applied, just for the sake of it, to Emissora Nacional.
His incursion in journalism would end up to be the best thing that happened to Portuguese television.
Pessa, always known for his distinct and elegant presence, was even mistaken for a diplomat for the general-manager of BBC. What about this, huh?