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Lino Cassar

Laurence Grech writes:

I first got to know Lino Cassar, by then an established film critic, in the late 1960s through the late Sunday Times film critic and filmmaker Cecil Satariano, who used to take me along to the previews organised by the MUFC (later KRS), the local film distributors, at their screening room in Valletta.

I got to know Lino better in 1969, when we joined a press party on a three-day trip to London organised by British European Airways to mark the introduction of a new Boeing aircraft on the Malta route.

A lifelong staunch Labourite, Lino was by then the very well-known editor of the satirical weekly Ix-Xewka, whose barbs were directed mostly at members of the Nationalist administration then in office, led by Dr George Borg Olivier.

I found Lino to be a constant source of humour, a good part of it bluish to be sure, but always fun. He even joked about his stammer, which in time he managed to largely control. Lino was indeed an authority on the cinema, and particularly on his favourites Laurel and Hardy. He could reel off names of cast, directors and other details, which came in handy when he started to compile, after Satariano’s death, the weekly Films on TV column for The Sunday Times.

It was an appointment he kept until recently, and supplemented it with anniversary features on actors and films from time to time. When his former idol and mentor Dom Mintoff came to power in 1971, Lino was made chairman of the board of film censors, which became much more tolerant of sex scenes and nudity in films, even if this coincided with the lowering of the legal adult age from 21 to 18.

Lino was also involved in the running of the Mediterranean Film Studios and was responsible for attracting a number of film productions to Malta. He amassed a collection of reference books, biographies and other publications on films and film stars, making him one of Malta’s most knowledgeable people on the cinema. But he also had another hobby – collecting issues of Beano, Dandy and other comics since he was a boy.

Despite our political differences, our friendship lasted till the very end. He was deeply saddened at the burning down of The Times building in 1979 by “a few stupid Labour supporters” (his words). He would not fail to visit me in hospital when I underwent a couple of operations, especially after my first one for a detached retina, because he was always worried about his poor eyesight.

When, some years ago, it was his turn to be hospitalised after a fall at home, he was so pleased to see me. He was never to return home for good, being moved first to Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital and then to the state-run home for the elderly in Mosta, where I used to visit him occasionally and where, incredibly, despite his virtual immobility, he continued to turn out his weekly column for The Sunday Times and for It-Torċa, using his battered typewriter, up to some months before his death.

Although we regularly kept in touch on the phone, it had been some time since I actually visited him. Last Thursday afternoon I resolved to go and visit him this weekend, so imagine my shock when I learned of his death late in the evening. He was 77.

To his wife and family go my deepest condolences.

Mr Grech, who joined Allied Newspapers in January 1963, was editor of The Sunday Times from 1991 to 2007.

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