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.
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.”