Category Archives: Malta

Mintoff and Burgess: a pig-headed, recalcitrant pair

Dom Mintoff has died aged 96. During Anthony Burgess’s time in Malta, Mintoff was leader of the Labour party and from 1971 back in office as prime minister. An obituary in the UK newspaper the Financial Times says that Mintoff

too often felt obliged to assert himself by quarrelsome behaviour. This made him many enemies.

That is rather like Burgess, in fact — not to mention his wife Lynne. The couple were notorious for their bolshiness, especially in Brunei, for instance during the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh. And in Kuala Kangsar, Burgess quarrelled with the headmaster of the Malay College, the rugger enthusiast Jimmy Howell. As we know also, Burgess conducted himself deplorably as a soldier on Gibraltar.

Burgess conducted a kind of vendetta against the authorities in Valletta. He stormed into government buildings to raise hell about censored copies of books sent to him for review. His house was temporarily confiscated, but he soon got it back.

Did their truculence do Burgess and Mintoff any harm? I think not.

Burgess fabulism (instance no. 144)

I was interested to read this letter to the Times of Malta from Paul Xuereb, librarian at the Royal University of Malta (as it then was) at the time, about Burgess’s lecture, delivered in the science lecture theatre of the university. (Many thanks to Matthew Asprey, author of the ‘Honey for the Bears’ Burgess-related blog, for the link.)

Burgess says: ‘I threw my lecture…into a large silence.’ He claims the lecture was greeted with hostility: ‘Any questions? There were no questions, but a fat Franciscan made a throat-cutting gesture.’ (from You’ve Had Your Time)

Mr Asprey politely describes this as ‘a moment of…Burgessian…hyperbole’. For as Mr Xuereb points out, ‘Mr Burgess’s lecture was heard by the vast majority to the end and was applauded….Mr Burgess was in good humour and afterwards joined members of the Malta Library Association committee [sponsors of the talk] for drinks in a Sliema hotel.’

Burgess was much irritated by censorship during his time in Malta. Here is another letter-to-the-editor from Mr Xuereb. (‘Though there are others who react to any mention of censorship reform by predicting an era of widespread depravity and debauchery in the country, it cannot fail to puzzle me why our Government continues to adopt a phlegmatic attitude…’) This one, which appears in the Andrew Sciberras blog, is dated 15 November 1970.