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A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Jun 17, 2012

Ways Done in the Past - TV Broadcasting

 Thousands of people gathered at the opening of Television Singapura at Victoria Memorial Hall on 15 February, 1963.

 Inside the Victoria Theatre on 15 Feb, 1963

Minister for Finance Dr Goh Keng Swee (centre) was among the guests at the opening of Television Singapura held at the Victoria Memorial Hall.

Two boys looking at one of the television sets placed at the Victoria Theatre (photo below).  There were 17 other sets of television ouside the hall and along Queen Elizabeth Walk where thousands gathered to watch.

At the opening of Television Singapura at Victoria Theatre on 15 February, 1963 at 6.00 pm sharp, a picture of the national flag fluttering in the breeze for the first time on the television sets throughout Singapore.


The idea to start television broadcasting in Singapore was debated as early as 1956 by the Legislative Assembly. The decision to introduce television though did not come about until 1961 when it was decided that Television Singapura should run on two or more channels, broadcasting programmes in the four official languages. Television Singapura should also be incorporated into Radio Singapura which was then broadcasting its service under the Ministry of Culture.

Inauguration and expansion

Television Singapura was launched as a pilot monochrome service on 15 February 1963.  On that day, Singaporeans gathered at the Victoria Memorial Hall and witnessed (at 5: 30 pm sharp) the first pictures and sounds from Television Singapura bursting onto 17 television sets that were placed at the Hall before 500 VIPs.  Thousands others captured the first one hour and 45 minutes of the broadcast along Queen Elizabeth Walk and at 52 community centres. 2,400 families who owned sets also enjoyed the ground-breaking moments from the comfort of their homes. Among the guests at the Victoria Memorial Hall were the Minister of Culture, Mr S. Rajaratnam, and the Minister of Finance, Dr Goh Kweng Swee.

Television arrived in Singapore on 15 Feb 1963. Television Singapura was inaugurated as a pilot monochrome service at the Victoria Memorial Hall where 500 VIPs had gathered to witness the momentous occasion.

The first one hour and 45 minute broadcast was viewed by 2,400 families - who owned TV sets - in the comfort of their homes, as well as crowds at 52 community centres across the island. Then, one in every 12 homes owned a TV set.

The first programme televised in Singapore was a 15-minute documentary produced by Television Singapura called TV Looks At Singapore. This programme introduced to viewers the world of TV broadcasting and the role it would play in the lives of Singaporeans.

The programme immediately following was a cartoon featuring Heckle and Jeckle, two mischievous blackjacks, and Dicky Duck. News In English accompanied by a five-minute newsreel came next, then Hancock's Half Hour.

On 2 Apr 1963, regular broadcasts began with four hours of programming on one channel - Channel 5.

Colour TV test transmissions started in May 1974 with daily half-hour slots at 11.05am and 2.05pm until 31 July 1974. One television set distributor announced a selling price of S$1,600!

The first phase of the colour service began smoothly on 1 Aug 1974, and on 11 Nov 1974, the second phase was launched. The newsreel was televised in colour and programmes increased from two hours to four hours on weekdays and from four to six hours on weekends.

By 1987, 526,677 households or one in 1.2 households here had colour TV sets.

Source: On Television In Singapore - A book published by Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC)

Radio, television and the newspaper are the three most important mass media in Singapore.

As a compact urban society in a process of rapid social change, Singapore is   characterised by a well-developed communication system which has played a vital role in nation-building and social development.

The range of mass media found in Singapore is comparable to that in any large city of the world, but the situation here is complicated further by the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual nature of the population. Generally speaking, the population of Singapore is highly exposed to various types of mass media which are available in four official languages.

Television was first introduced in Singapore in 1963, and the colour service began in 1974. There are two channels, 5 and 8, in Singapore which provide an average of 66 and 41 weekly transmission hours respectively. Both channels are operated by Radio Television Singapore (RTS).

Programmes in all four languages – English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil – are transmitted. To cater for its multilingual audience, TV Singapore makes frequent use of subtitles.

Television programmes are transmitted in all the four official languages and several Chinese dialects, mainly Cantonese and Hokkien. Radio, television and the newspaper are the three most important mass media in Singapore.

Television at the Community Centres

I did not have a television set until 1965, a gift from my elder brother.  It was a Rediffusion Toshiba black and white 17" television model.

When I was living at Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, I used to watch television programmes in the evening at Ganges-Delta Community Centre in 1963.  The facilities available at the community centre were the basic recreation stuff for the residents. Local newspapers in the four languages, a table-tennis table, a carrom board, simple chess board and other card games for children.

Ganges-Delta Community Centre (rural-type building structure in the 1960s).
The rural-type community centres in the 1960s  were unsophisticated buildings with simple designs, unlike the modern community centres we see today.

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the opening of first rural type community centre at Kampong Hock Choon in Sungei Kadut on 19 November, 1962,

One of the television sets provided at the 52 community centres for the residents to watch the inauguration of Television Singapore on 15 February, 1963. (Photos below).

Please watch the video on YouTube here

The late Wang Sa (real name was Heng Kim Ching) (1924 - 1998) and Ye Fong (real name was Xiao Tian Cai) (1932 - 1995) were well known comedians on local TV in the 1960s and 1970s with their mix of dialect and Mandarin jokes。 Chinese Variety Shows such as 「Sharp Night 声宝之夜」 were produced by Television Singapura。In their heyday,Wang Sa and Ye Fong were always good for a barrel of laughs with their cross-talk routine。They were the local version of Laurel and Hardy - the grand old men of Singapore comedy,affectionately known as Ah Pui and Ah San (The Fat and Skinny Ones)。

They met in the 1960s on 「Xin Sheng Ge Tai 新生歌台 」or live theatre and never looked back。They performed in theatres as well as on national TV programmes。The two also recorded some songs in dialect,which sold very well then。Their unique mix of Teochew, Hokkien,pasar Malay,mumbo-jumbo Cantonese and pidgin English,never failed to raise a laugh in the 1960s and 1970s。Many youngsters today may not understand their then catch phrase:「Tee ah,agak-agak chiu ho?」 (Brother, take it easy!)。

They worked together from the 1960s till 1972 and then split to try their luck at movie-making in Hongkong。Ye Fong and Wang Sa went to Hongkong in the 1980s and appeared in several Cantonese movies there。The two are Singapore's only Asian movie stars。The huge box-office success of their 1974 Hongkong debut「The Crazy Bumpkins 阿牛入城記」 spawned three sequels。Ye Fong was the most outstanding comedian in the 20th Asian Film Festival。 A black and white footage of comedy skit performed by Singapore's iconic comedians Wang Sa and Ye Fong in English and dialects (mainly Teochew) at the Singapore's 10th National Day Celebrations in 1975。 In 1979,in a bid to simplify the language environment and improve communication amongst the different dialect groups within the Chinese community,the Speak Mandarin Campaign was launched by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew。The present Chinese community of today is mostly bilingual in English and Mandarin。It is a treat for baby-boomers and for Singaporeans who understand Hokkien (福建人) ,Teochew (潮州人) and Cantonese (广东人) dialects。Singapore baby boomers are those born between 1947 and 1964 are more affluent,better educated than their predecessors。

How to learn news in Singapore before the advent of television?

The traditional Chinese translators and story-tellers in Singapore in the 1950s.  Most elder Singaporeans were migrated from China , non-literate and depended on news from home in China.  The story-teller stalls were located at various parts of Chinatown.

With compulsory education and increased number of schools in Singapore in the 1960s, the immigrants in the past could keep their children and the younger generations of Singaporeans through the mass media and communication through newspapers, radio, television and now the Internet.

The ways done in the past to link Singapore to transform "a little red dot" on the map to a Global City in  five decades.

Singapore on Discovery Channel

On this related post, my young nostalgia blogger friend, Jerome Lim, at: "Getting a piece of the Pye" to share an interesting blog on television and the history of television in Singapore.

Note:  The archived photos with "For online reference viewing only" watermark from National Archives of Singapore (NAS) with credit, acknowledgement and thanks to share on this blog.

The "YouTube" video clips by the respective contributors are acknowledged with appreciation and gratitude for sharing and benefit of  the "YouTube" viewers.  Thank you.



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