Enzo Tortora (Genoa, November 30, 1928 – Milan, May 18, 1988), was a popular TV host on national RAI television, who was falsely accused of being a member of the Camorra and drug trafficking. He became an icon of injustice and a reminder of one of the gravest miscarriages of justice of the Italian judiciary system.
After taking a degree in journalism in Genoa, he worked in theatre with Paolo Villaggio before joining the RAI – Italy's state radio and television corporation – as a radio announcer. In 1956, he first appeared on television and presented popular programmes such as Domenica Sportiva and Giochi senza frontiere. In 1969, he was fired by RAI when he described in an interview, the company's managers as a group of boy scouts trying to pilot a supersonic jet plane unsuccessfully. Subsequently, he worked for several private TV stations and various newspapers, before returning to RAI in 1977.
In 1977, Tortora started to present a groundbreaking transmission called Portobello, which attracted an audience of up to 26 million people every Friday night, far outperforming any other programme. Named after the famous Portobello Road market in London, the show allowed the audience, via telephone from home, to buy or sell things, present ideas or inventions, or look for a partner or someone they had not seen for years. The challenge for those participating in the studio was to get Portobello, the green parrot and mascot of the show, to say his name. He rarely did.
Arrest and conviction
In June 1983, he was arrested and held in jail for months after trumped up charges by several pentiti of the Nuova Camorra Organizzata, such as Pasquale Barra, Giovanni Pandico and Giovanni Melluso, and other people already known for perjury. It was soon noted that this was most likely a wrong identification with a man bearing the same surname (meaning "turtledove"), but the pentiti kept on accusing Tortora of the gravest offences related to cocaine dealing.
He was sentenced to ten years in jail in his first trial held in 1985, being spared further incarceration only thanks to the providential intervention of the Radical Party who offered him a candidacy to the European Parliament, which Tortora won in a landslide as the country divided between those who held him guilty and those who held him innocent.
In September 1986, the Court of Appeal of Naples fully acquitted Tortora. In 1987 the Supreme Court definitively affirmed Tortora's total innocence, and he started an action against those magistrates who had unjustly tried and sentenced him.
After four long years, he returned to his work in TV, to a moving comeback in his popular Portobello show in February 1987. Tortora, a profoundly changed man, simply said "Well then, where did we leave off?" He developed cancer and died in May 1988, some say because of the emotional stress of his imprisonment. He became an icon of injustice and a perpetual reminder of one of the gravest public blunders of the Italian judiciary system.