Monday, March 8, 2010

Remembering A Friend

On Friday 26 March 2010 I lost a good friend and the country lost a familiar face on the national TV who use to be the front man of TV1 news at one time, with the passing of Dato’ Hashim Embee in Manjong, Perak. Hashim retired at the mandatory age of 55 and was enjoying his well earned pension.

When asked about his background I am happy to relate that I was the person who launched him over the air way back in the 1960s. He was then serving in the lowest rank Programme post of Radio Malaysia as Broadcasting Grade IV (BA4) when I was transferred to Penang as the Northern Region Malay Programme Organiser (MPO). As the set-up was small then, we get to know each other immediately. When I arrived the Malay broadcast specifically for Penang and the Northern Region was non-existence. In fact there was no station in Perak, Kedah and Perlis at that time. Our job entails us to produce a couple of programmes a week to be broadcast over the Malay Network. We were to contribute local fares to the producers in KL for their magazine programmes. We were to cover important events in the North to be despatch to our head office in KL via the telecom’s wire network.

I only had a couple of staff with the rank of BA3 under my charge to assist me in performing the above, the versatile late Ismail Long and the beauty of the time then Nur Hashimah Ismail. Both were locals and easy to get along. We had a couple of part-time casual workers to help us. One of them was Mokhtar Yaakub who rose to be a TV producer later.

After sometime in Penang I received instruction from the head office to be prepared to start our own broadcast for the region for three hours daily between 3 and 6 pm. We were to look for broadcasting talents. Staff in the office with presentable voice could be rope in to assist. BA4s who assisted us in the studio operation as record players were encouraged and should be the main target as this was their stepping stone to higher posts later. It was some sort of career development for them. So I did the voice and written tests on all of them in the Programme Operation Service and the Record and Tape Library with the blessing of their bosses, Zainal Samad and the late Daud Dalal respectively.

I was pleased with the result of the tests as majority of them have presentable voices to be on the air but there were three who stood out among the crowd. Hashim was one of them. The other two were Hazna Adam Beh and Azmi Raif Noor. I left it to Ismail Long to coach them as Hashimah was assigned to look after most of the production proper in the studio; being newly wedded she has to do some travelling over the weekends and public holidays to be with her husband Khalid who was posted at the Custom Department Headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

After gauging their abilities I proposed to KL a new semi entertainment programme laced with some literary work in the form of “pantun” to be aired over the national network. I chose Hashim and Hazna to be the compeers of “Dahulu dan Sekarang” (the past and the present). It was a hit among the younger sets. Hashim’s husky voice was sought after by events’ organisers as Master of Ceremony (MC). Being a new hand in the business he prefers to concentrate in his career in the office. We received plenty of letters from all over the country contributing their pantun prowess in the form of questions or seeking information. As the producer and script writer it was my responsibility to reciprocate. I like to sharpen my mind, wits and writing skill. That was the reason I took on the job.

When I left Penang in 1972 the programme had to take a simpler form as no one was able to take the responsibility of writing the script it died a natural death. Later the head office in KL produced similar variation of popular programme with fresh voices by the title “Masam-masam Manis” (Sweet and Sour). Hashim left his mark and made an impression at the head office in KL. Arrangement was made for him to be transfer to KL upon his elevation to the post of BA3. He was placed at the Agriculture and Developement Service.

In Kuala Lumpur I didn’t see much of or got close to him except at the canteen and the passages in the office building as our work culture and the location of our office took us apart. Later I heard him reading the news over radio after I left the pitch and much later he appeared as RTM’s TV newsreader as I was phasing out my TV appearance as programme presenter. I was told he was placed in the News Service and became one of the permanent newsreaders. At the same time he was given responsibility of charting the newsreaders’ schedule.

We chanced to appear together in the same programme on TV once. It was the live broadcast of the 1984 General Election result being handled by the newsroom who wanted their staff to be the anchorman and presenters. After the audition Hashim was one of those expected to anchor the show. TV3 was already in existence and RTM expected a stiff competition from them in areas where their transmissions were received. The Minister Dato’ Mohd Rahmat was worried about the stiff competition from TV3 as it was computer savvy while RTM was a greenhorn. He called for a review of the list himself and I was told he struck down all the names as he felt they were not ready for the big event which required adlibbing with impromptu and spontaneous reaction on the air.

I was surprise when my boss wanted me to be present for the “dry run” at the P.Ramlee Auditorium where the action took place two days before the real day. I thought nothing of it but the usual fare where we were there to observe, pass comments and forward constructive suggestions. I thought someone was joking when told that I had to sit in the anchor chair as I was unprepared and not in tune for the role. I just laugh it all until Tok Mat appeared and asked me why I was not at my place. I pleaded by informing him I didn’t go through the audition and I have not handle a programme for nearly two years. He had none of that and sternly said if I could handle a difficult live sports telecast I should be the right person to handle the show. I knew I have no other choice but to follow order.

I also knew I was not a favourite choice in the newsroom set-up with that decision and expected the subtle. I had a quick look at the prepared script and said I was ready for action. After sometime my nervousness worn off and went into stride but was unhappy being a “bidan terjun” (emergency midwife). I was disgusted and didn’t join the entourage until called. Tok Mat passed some comments with suggestions. He meant well.

The subtlelity expected came about in the form of lack of prepared information and background of the candidates. I had to rely on my memory of most prominent politicians, some of those who I knew personally and those I came across in line of duty and read in the papers. I was told that carried the day for RTM as TV3 was struggling sourcing the materials. The other failure was they were didn’t prepare the regular analysis, but the main disappointment was that there was no final summing prepared by the newsroom as when the programme was handle by the Programme Division previously. I guess the man responsible must have gone home to catch up with his sleep before the programme. So I had to do a direct on air summing up on behalf of RTM.

Hashim was one of those presenters handling the results of hundreds of Federal and States constituencies. They had an easy time reading the prepared lists. I had to sit at the anchor seat throughout the night foming my own anlysis without replacement except the respite which I used to answer nature’s call and to quench my thirst when the presenters were on air. My main companion was the Assistant Producer from my Service assigned to the anchorman at my request who understood my needs under chaotic circumstances. I had the impression that I was facing competitions from two fronts, TV3 on the external front and the newsroom in the internal. Luckily my experience carried the day.

To my surprise, despite doing well in the newsroom Hashim was made the Director of RTM Pahang based in the state capital Kuantan. He went on promotion, of course. Normally whenever I was in Kuantan or passing through I never stopped at the out of the way RTM’s office. With Hashim there I made it a point to divert my journey to look him up and always ended up having lunch of my favourite “gulai tempoyak”, Pahang culinary speciality and reminisce the good old leasurely days in Penang comparing with the hectic life at the main office in Angkasapuri, Kuala Lumpur.

Hashim got on well with people. His good nature and pleasant demeanour put him in good stead. He found it difficult to say no and always resolved to find the best solution to a sticky situation. I have never seen him involved in altercation with colleagues although some situations entail it. He was always calm and cool. His look says so.

He was the right choice to be the Director of the Pahang office at the expense of the Newsroom. He got on well with the state government and the Istana. The Sultan is fond of well known personalities. Hashim fell into that category and he was requested to be Master of Ceremony at the Istana’s functions or for that matter most functions that the Sultan attended. When Kuantan was expanding with developments senior officials in the state was offered minimal rate residential plot land at Aspa Cottage, way out on the outskirt of the city, near the newly built thoroughfare to Kuala Trengganu that by-pass Kuantan. Hashim was one of those accorded the privilege. The construction of his spacious house was completed before his retirement. Upon retirement he moved out of his departmental quarters in the office compound to his new resident.

What surprised me most was his choice of retirement abode. He did not conform to the normal rule where most prefer to return to their place of origin or around the federal capital where they already have a house surrounded by the presence of their children. I expected him to be one of those as he has a comfortable house in Shah Alam that he rented out at a handsome rate while serving in Kuantan. Hashim was originally from Kedah who was brought up in Penang. I assume he may also return to either of these places. As I said his good nature rules the day.

The Sultan of Pahang recognised his services to the Istana and the state. Upon his retirement Hashim was accorded a personal Datukship by the Sultan on his next birthday. That’s a rare achievement in the anal of RTM. Again Hashim didn’t conform to the rule as he was the only former state Director of Broadcasting who was decorated a Datukship immediately upon retirement. That may have been the reason he decided to remain in Pahang after retirement.

I visited his newly built house twice on my journey to Trengganu and Kelantan by car. The last time was more than three years ago where he entertained the wedding entourage I was heading to a sumptuous lunch of local as well as northern fares prepared by his wife, a former school teacher, who is an excellent cook.

Suddenly not long after that I was informed that he was admitted to the Ampang Putri Hospital with heart complication. I went to visit him immediately and found him cheerful as ever. I asked him what made him over-looked the government hospital where he would be accorded a pensioner treatment. He said he couldn’t bear the pain and the government hospitals were having long waiting lists. Then he underwent a by-pass surgery. He made quick recovery and went back to Kuantan.

Much later I was informed Hashim was back at the Kuantan Hospital and later at the Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) for complete check-up on bone cancer. I didn’t visit him at HKL as I wasn’t well myself as well as avoiding the hassle of finding a parking space at the overcrowded Hospital. The mobile phone was a convenient alternative. Hashim later went to Hospital Selayang (HS) for more specialist examinations which confirm the original diagnosis. He was wheelchair bound and on strict medication.

His routine after that was visiting hospitals either HKL or SH. He seldom went home to Kuantan as the journey was tiring for him. I visited him in Selayang, the last time with Tengku Mohd Ali Bustaman and Mahady Ibrahim who specially made a special trip from Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Mahady and Hashim were colleagues in the Developement Service and were close then.

Later he informed us he would be staying with his daughter in Manjung, Perak as there was no helping hand in Kuantan. He was also making use of the latest facilities at the Hospital Manjung. Being a rural hospital Manjung had to refer to Hospitals with bigger facilities in Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur.

Hashim was on life support at Hospital Manjung and was taken to his daughter’s house where he passed away peacefully. He was buried in Manjung, Perak.

Semoga Allah SWT menempatkan rohnya dikalangan orang-orang beriman dan yang soleh.


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