Norman Hamilton is one of the nation’s broadcasting institutions, active in radio and television broadcasting since the sixties. Today he presents one of the most followed family programmes on Super One TV, Bla Agenda, a discussion programme that brings guests from all walks of life on Hamilton’s sofa.
What has been the highlight of your career as a broadcaster?
I have now been in broadcasting since 1961 when mine was the first Maltese voice (speaking in the English language) on B.F.B.S. Radio – the British Forces Broadcasting Service which used to broadcast on the FM Network from studios at St. Francis Ravelin in Floriana. I suppose the main highlights in my career were the new style of DJing which I introduced in Malta on Rediffusion when I started Malta’s first ever live breakfast show on Rediffusion, as well as being the first Maltese to broadcast on wireless radio twice – in 1961 on B.F.B.S and again in 1973 when Radio Malta was launched on the Maltese airwaves – and placing third out of 21 international disc-jockeys in a competition organised by Capital Radio in London.
You were one of the first Maltese broadcasters to work in the UK. What did that experience give you?
It gave me just that experience! And of course a style of my own and naturally, professionalism in broadcasting.
What do you think of the quality of Maltese television today – are you pleased with most of it?
Yes and No. On the plus side we have pluralism which is a very good thing – but on the negative side everybody thinks they have a God-given right to appear on TV and (sic) entertain and enlighten the local viewers. Many are lacking in experience and unfortunately it shows and sticks out like a sore thumb. This happens mainly because many programmes are farmed out, which means if you pay money to the station then you automatically have your own programme, show and serial on Maltese TV irrespective of how good, bad or indifferent you are! Also the money cake has to be shared between several networks which is the main reason why a few of our TV stations are now in precarious dire straits. PBS, Super 1, Net and Smash have to share the advertisers’ budget, while, rather unfairly, the National Station, PBS, also keeps all the money you and I pay for a TV broadcasting licence all to itself. This is terribly unfair. Government has to urgently take a decision to share the TV licence money paid by the local taxpayer with all the private stations.
What is your ideal day off when not on TV or at your travel agency?
Unfortunately these days are too few. In my line of business there are no Saturdays, Sundays or public holidays – there are no fixed working hours. However I love both my jobs although now the roles are reversed from a few years back. My principal full-time job is in the travel industry while my broadcasting is limited to one weekly programme on Saturday nights Bla Agenda, which I love doing, but which is purely my hobby. When I’m not taken up with one or the other of my jobs, I love spending time with my family, reading, relaxing in Gozo and watching football – Milan and Arsenal matches especially.
Do you feel comfortable with the overwhelming presence of the political parties in broadcasting?
It is evident that the TV medium has been hijacked by the establishment. This is bad for democracy. In the democratic countries of the west it has been the tradition with journalists to fill the role of guardians of public morals, focusing mainly on the performance of the government of the day. This role has been the duty and the privilege of the press since the French Revolution. In totalitarian countries a free press was an oxymoron. In Malta today we are witnessing the gagging of the free press with a massive exercise in covert manipulation. We have TV programmes masquerading as a vox-pop contribution to the national debate. We have subtle propaganda underlying a whole array of seemingly innocent programming. I am happy to say I am no party to such a parody of democracy and democratic freedom of the press. I produce and present a TV programme which lives up to its name – Bla Agenda. It is a programme that definitely has no hidden agenda or agendas. I am equally glad that the station which beams the programme has never intimated a wish that would go contrary to my idea of what a family programme should be. I would like to see others taking my example. It would certainly help to reduce what you correctly call “the overwhelming presence” of politics in broadcasting.
You were a St Aloysius boarder – how did that affect you especially with the horrible condition that you could not speak Maltese?
As you said the Jesuits had this horrible condition about the Maltese language with us boarders at St Aloysius College. We had this little bit of metal called ‘accipe’ which was passed round from one student to another if we were caught talking Maltese. The one in possession of the ‘accipe’ at the end of the day used to receive a punishment – usually not being allowed home at the end of the month. The Jesuits also used the ‘furlas’ as a means of corporal punishment. This consisted of a bit of leather filled with lead about a foot long with which we used to be hit six times on the palm of the hand. Ouch! But it instilled a sense of discipline in us, I suppose. Speaking Maltese however was no problem as my grandparents and my dad used to speak in Maltese at home – even if my mother always used to prefer to speak in English, probably due to the fact that her father was Scottish and she lived in the UK for around fifteen years.
You were an understudy to Terry Wogan for the Radio One breakfast shows, when you had to step in to replace Wogan – how was that experience?
In 1968, Rediffusion (Malta) sent me on an extended disc-jockeying course attached to BBC in London. My tutor was the infamous Terry Wogan, who I had to understudy. He is Irish and has an amazing sense of humour – wicked and tongue in cheek but a great joker and a real joy to work with. We used to have breakfast together at the BBC canteen every morning after his show ended and from our conversations I learnt what a wonderful person and great family man he was. He always had this great hate (or was it love?) – anyway let’s say it was what he loved to hate most, and this was the “Eurovision Song Contest”. Anyway after presenting it for all these years I believe he’s mellowed towards and even grown to love it in his own sarcastic and ironic way. Sitting in for him on BBC Radio was my baptism of fire! Terrifying and awesome is how I would describe it, but exciting and satisfying at the same time.
What about Wogan himself – any kind words?
I think I’ve described Wogan in my answer to the question above. To end, in Terry’s own brand of humour – God have mercy should he ever swallow his tongue as I fear he would come down with a severe case of food poisoning! Oh and by the way it’s Sir Terry Wogan now that he has been knighted.