Franco Cozzo, the retail icon of Melbourne, died earlier this week at the age of 88.

A post-war immigrant to Melbourne in the 1950s, Italian-born Cozzo built a successful chain of stores focusing on European-style furniture to appeal to Melbourne’s growing multicultural demographic.

As The Age commented, it was Cozzo’s low-cost commercials in the 1980s that played on high-rotation, particularly on afternoon television, that stood out in stark contrast to the glossy aesthetic of 1980s advertising still fixated on mainstream white Australia. The commercials usually featured little more than Cozzo speaking to camera in multiple languages (“Grand Sale!”, “Grande Svendita!”, “Μεγάλο ξεπούλημα!”) and his heavily accented pronunciation of Melbourne suburbs (‘Bruns-a-wick”, “North-a-Melbourne” and “Foot-is-cray”), accompanied by images of his shops’ wares.

But while Cozzo’s commercials made him into a cultural icon as much as a retail one, they were far from his first venture into the medium of television.

YouTube: anthony78977

As far back as 1967, the budding retailer was a pioneer in multicultural television years before anyone had even phrased the term. It was in December of that year that Cozzo produced and sponsored a Sunday afternoon Italian variety show from ATV0 Carosello.

YouTube: Franco Cozzo

The half-hour show, hosted by Colin McEwan, featured its own house band and Italian musical performances, continuing through to June 1968. Two months later, it made a shift to HSV7, with John D’Arcy replacing McEwen as host. The show came to an end in April 1969.

ATV0 filled the gap left by Carosello with two Sunday afternoon shows — variety show Sortino’s Rendezvous (named from a rival furniture outlet) with McEwan, and magazine show Italian Panorama with Barry McQueen.

These shows became a precursor to a small band of multicultural television programs during the 1970s and early 1980s — including Variety Italian Style, Grecian Scene, Greek Variety Show and the educational series You Say The Word — mostly played in off-peak weekend timeslots but largely became redundant with the rollout of SBS’ multicultural television service in the early 1980s and the advent of community television in the 1990s.

Source: ABC, The Age. TV Times, 29 May 1968, 21 August 1968. The Age, 22 August 1968, 17 April 1969.

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