Friday, 16 July 2010

Coffee with Constance Haslam

FOR most of us over a certain age, our growing up years would have been touched by the dulcet tones of Constance Haslam; cheerful and chirpy while delivering request programmes, professional and informative when delivering the news, and warm and friendly during chat shows.

Hers was the voice you’d like to wake up to or have as a soothing companion during the dai battle with the traffic to work. I remember Constance well from those Bakat TV years and enjoyed, and envied her tremendously as she was so versatile and talented.

Like thousands of her listeners, I felt I knew her as she was in my living room, morning and night. And so, when a few years ago I met her in Paris, it was without any hesitation that I walked up to her to continue a friendship which started with her Good Morning programme. She was my “Good Morning” girl!

Constance Haslam, or now Constance Behr, has made France her home for the past 10 years. Having left the world of broadcasting, Constance, better known as Connie, is enjoying life and doing things she never had the chance of doing when she was working.

“I’ve done a lot of things that I never had a chance of doing when I was in Malaysia. I’ve joined the Women’s International Club in Paris, learnt French and German, played tennis and bridge and do porcelain painting,” says Connie when we met again recently in Versailles where she and husband Erwin Behr have made their home.

Over coffee and croissant at a quaint French cafe, to her apartment and later over lunch at Chateau Versailles, Connie reflected on her broadcasting days in RTM, the move to Singapore with her husband and later to France.

“I opted out of government service in 1990 and then joined Redifussion for two years working in the PR division. I opted out at the age of 45 after 26 years of service,” she said of the career that started in programme operations. It was only when the English service was short of people that Connie was asked to get behind the microphone where she began reaching out to a lot of people in both Malay and English.

She was the voice among other well-known voices such as Patrick Teoh, Alan Zachariah and Yahya Long Chik, Razali Hussein and Connie Ee — the Forces’ favourite.

“Broadcasting in those days was interesting. I always found radio more challenging than TV because I could express myself in my voice. My love of debate, elocution contests and concerts helped although we did have people from the BBC who came to train us at RTM.

“When TV started, I became the first non-Malay compere, in fact the first female compere for Bakat TV. That was the time when I actually felt like a film star. There were cameras everywhere and, for the first time too, people put the name to the face and with a name like Haslam, I suppose I became interesting. It sounded like a Malay name but I didn’t speak like a Malay,” she said with a laugh.

Connie was a Jane of all trades, but admitted that her favourite was the morning show.

“I had to get up at 4.30am and never knew what breakfast was. But I psyched myself up, did exercises and had a cup of coffee before driving through the quiet roads of Damansara through Petaling Jaya to get to the office.”

Once in the cubicle, Connie spoke to the whole of Malaysia.

“Initially, we always had somebody opposite us, and we’d instruct that person what songs to play, but later we had to learn to play the records at exactly the point we want the music to start,” explained Connie who had interviewed Gloria Estafan, Dionne Warwick, Jose Feliciano, Bjorn Borg, the Bee Gees and even Omar Sharif.

The fact that Connie became a household name and a well-known face was not without its disadvantages. She had many fans but one took to stalking her at the office.

“I was contacted by the reception who told me that someone was there to see me. I went down and saw this guy whom I didn’t know. I asked him who he was and he was angry that I didn’t recognise him,” she recalled.

“He said, ‘You don’t recognise me? But whenever you read the news, you always wink at me!’. He was instantly removed.”

Connie can now remember those episodes with a smile. In the little town that Connie calls The Noisy King in Versailles, Connie and her husband take regular walks and travel a lot, attend cultural shows and exhibitions. She looks forward to a visit by her only granddaughter on whom she dotes, and visits her mother in Malaysia twice a year.

Connie is leading a full life in retirement, enjoying everything that she had missed during the years she had dedicated her time to work.

“Living in the countryside, yet not too far away from a city is something I now enjoy and the thought that I have made time for myself to do other things in life is a great fulfillment.

“I was very prepared for retirement and that is why I didn’t miss doing what I did. I learnt a lot of new things and learnt what I didn’t know I could do like porcelain painting.”

Although Connie has left her broadcasting days, she still remembers her theme tune — I Am What I Am by Gloria Gaynor.

“A friend Dr (now Datuk) Ridzwan Bakar brought back from England a 45rmp single. He said the song describes me. I then used it for my programme.”


ilene said...

Oh, Constance Haslam, my mum's favourite DJ along with Alan Z who plays all my mum's favourite oldies and Patrick Teoh who's always arguing over the air! I never forget them either as I grew up listening to them.

P/s: My mum even taped Alan's show!

Pak Zawi said...

Kak Teh,
Thank you for bringing back Constance to us. People of my age definitely remember her.

kay_leeda said...

Kak Teh...I think she was with then the Blue network in RTM and at times on Saturday she'd come on air doing dedications. Used to sit by the radio waiting to listen to her program. Those days mana ada mp3 or ipod segala kan...nak dengar lagu, haa...duduk je ler depan radio tu!

Wan Sharif said...

Nostalgic juga entry Kak Teh sekali ni.. educational to those who are about to retire and perhaps for those who has already retired..
Other than pick up/learning new hobbies.. picking up those things that we have left when we were very small such as belajar tajwid etc might be a way to enhance the quality of life as retiree.. other than blogging dan yang sewaktu dengannya..bien sur..he,he

Pi Bani said...

Oh yes, Constance Haslam is definitely a name I remember very well. Been wondering what happened to her...

Zendra-Maria said...

She was the icon of radio those days - good to know she's doing fine :)

D said...

I remember that name but that's as far as it goes.. LOL!!

mekyam said...

yes, i too remember constance haslam! she had what i thought was a classy malay accent. :D

those were the days when msian broadcasters really knew how speak, be it in english or malay. nowadays, intonation pun entah apa2...

Al-Manar said...

“Broadcasting in those days was interesting"
How true that statement is to the older generation. We put our ears close to the box trying hard to enjoy the voice of Soekarno and his fiery and hair-raisng speeches. The voice, without face, spurred the young ones like us towards 'merdeka!". Today we see the colours,the shapes, the lines and outlines, the shakes, the giggles - who cares for the voice?
We said "that voice belongs to Saloma" or "P Ramlee". We did not say "that face looks like Siti".

Kama At-Tarawis said...

I first made my acquaintance with Connie in 1973 when, as a rookie reporter, I was assigned to the RTM beat (it was around this time too that I got to know Pok Ku). Sometimes we would hv coffee together, joined by other notable broadcasters of the day, at the RTM canteen. Such beautiful memories... tq Kak Teh for taking me down memory lane.

Pak Zawi said...

Kak teh,
LAISI is now at
Thank you.

Big Boys Oven said...

wow this is an awesome story, I grew up during her time! lovely!

Fiona1 said...

Wow you know Connie Haslam! I used to sit in the car on the way to primary school and listen to "I Am What I Am'

Mecki said...

Hello, Kak Teh,

we are from Germany and have been many times to KL.
There we often listened 'Connie's
Sometimes we met 'Connie' in the house of friends in Petaling Jaya (KL).
We are surprised to read that she now lives in France.
We know her, but have not seen her for a very long time. It would be nice to get in contact with her, because on the 21th of May it will be her birthday and we would like to send gratulations to her.

Perhaps somebody knows her adress or telefonnumber and would be so kind to give us an information, thank You?

Michael & Luise from Germany

Kak Teh said...

thank you - i will let Constance know that you are trying to get in touch with her. I think she is in malaysia now for a holiday.

Kak Teh said...

Hi, i have been in touch with Connie and here is her email address:
She will be in Malaysia soon. Have fun together.

Mecki said...

Dear Kak Teh,

thank You very much for Your great help.
We are looking forward to get in contact with Connie after this long time and hope she will be surprised and pleased to hear from us.

Greetings and once again thanks,

Michael & Luise

Kak Teh said...

Have fun walking down memory lane!! Am glad you'll be meeting up soon.