Friday, September 07, 2007

Days of Black and White Television in Singapore

Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity. A solemn voice reads out these words as a hand writes the symbols on a blackboard. This was the iconic introduction of every episode of the medical drama series, Ben Casey (which you can now see on YouTube here), a very popular programme shown over RTS, or Radio and Television Singapore in the early days of black and white television. And it was one of my favourites. Its rival was Doctor Kildare, which starred the dashing Richard Chamberlain.

Television made its debut in Singapore in 1963, the same year we merged with Malaya to form Malaysia. Initially, there were only two channels – Channels 5 and 8. At that time, in our kampong, there was only one family which had a television set. The owner, a Mr Low Thiam Aik would place his television outside his house for all the neighbours to watch. Transmission hours were from around 6 pm to midnight. Some of us even brought along stools to sit down in front of his courtyard to watch television right until the time when they played the Majullah Singapura.

Photo of our neighbour, Mr Low's house courtesy of his grandson, Lau Eng Leong

Subsequently, more households began to own their own TV sets. When our 7th Uncle who lived nearby to us, bought one, we switched to his home. Not much later, we too acquired our first TV set. Like my uncle’s, ours was a Siera.

In those days, transmission breakdowns were a common occurrence, and we frequently saw a graphic with these words: “We apologise for this breakdown. Normal service will resume as soon as possible.”
Photo of me (in singlet), my parents and my younger brother in front of our first TV set

Let’ see now. What are the some of the favourite programmes that I can recall from those days.

 I think the most popular programmes with us boys would be the cowboy Westerns. The two most popular series were Bonanza and The Big Valley. These two shows had some similarities. Both centred around families with 3 brothers and good-looking male stars. Lee Majors was the heart throb from Big Valley whilst Bonanza had their Michael Landon. Bonanza had its patriarch in the person of Lorne Greene whilst The Big Valley had its matriarch, Barbara Stanwyck. Other cowboy shows I enjoyed were Have Gun Will Travel, Maverick and Gunsmoke.

The children’s favourites were cartoons and animal shows. We loved those cartoon characters like Tom and Jerry, Daffy Duck, Woody Woodpecker, Huckleberry Hound, Bugs Bunny and so on. Of course there was also the Walt Disney show. When my children were small, I used to buy some VCDs of these old cartoons for them to watch. Somehow, I felt they were more wholesome compared to the modern cartoons. As for the animal shows, I can remember three. They are Flipper, Lassie and Rin Tin Tin.

Then of course there were the detective/crime series. The earliest ones I can recall were Everglades and Sea Hunt which starred Lloyd Bridges. Later ones included Starsky and Hutch, Streets of San Francisco which starred Michael Douglas. The most popular one was Hawaii Five-O, which starred Jack Lord. It had a very catchy title tune played by the Ventures. Like the tune from Bonanza, it became a big hit in the pop music charts.
Speaking of detective/crime TV shows, there is one from the black and white era that I think even the teenagers of today might know. It starred the legendary Bruce Lee in the supporting role of martial arts experts Kato. The show of course was The Green Hornet. Although in each episode, our real hero of the show only got to display his lightning-fast moves for hardly one minute, it was the highlight for us. I remember one particular episode where he got to fight a karate expert. In their first encounter, the bad guy sneaked up on him, bashed him up and slammed him into a huge dust bin. His ego was thoroughly bruised. But of course, at the end of the show we got to savour their showdown where he had his chance to vindicate himself.

We even had a spy series called The Man from U.N.C.L.E. starring Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and the handsome-as-devil David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin. There was another one that I think many of you younger readers will know. Can you guess the title? I give you a hint. Not longer ago it was made into a successful movie starring Tom Cruise. Yes, it’s Mission Impossible.

But, not all the good shows were from U.S. The British gave us the ever popular The Saint starring the debonair Roger Moore as Simon Templar.

TV is incomplete without comedies and sitcoms. I Love Lucy, The Jack Benny Show, The Flying Nun which starred the evergreen Sally Field, Mr Ed the Talking Horse, Green Acres, Bewitched were some of the familiar titles. There was an interesting time travel series called It’s About Time. But my favourite was Get Smart. And then of course there were the hilarious Three Stooges and Little Rascals.

I have always enjoyed legal dramas. Back then the most famous lawyer was Perry Mason. Others included The Defenders and Owen Marshall. I liked Owen Marshall because the stories usually involved controversial issues. For example, there was one episode where the court had to decide whether or not to force a mentally-retarded girl who had been raped to undergo an abortion. Such dramas helped me in my General Paper.

We also had Scifi. You must have heard of Star Trek. The original series was shown in black and white and the main character, Captain James Kirk was played by William Shatner. Two other famous ones which were partly Scifi and partly supernatural, psychological thrillers were The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone.

There were lots more; and I have not even talked about the Chinese programmes on Channel 8. Heard of Wang Sar and Yeh Fong? But I must mention The Samurai which was popular not only in Asia but in the west as well. The hero was one Shintaro. Try to picture him doing battle with ninjas and their deadly star-shaped darts.

So if you young readers think that your parents’ days were ‘dullsville’, think again. Even though we did not have pc, or internet, there were lots of good TV shows to keep us entertained. And I should add that ‘parental guidance’ was not necessary then because most of the shows were far less violent and sexual in content.


pinto said...

Ah... some of the shows I know by name. Some, I have watched re-runs.

Get Smart, I have watched as they used to show it on Channel 5. There will be a movie version soon, starring the lead from Evan Almighty.

Anonymous said...

I believe there was an episode of Hawaii Five-O that was shot in Singapore. I remembered the cable car scene.

It was quite a big news then.

Victor said...

Sea Hunt was a detective/crime series? I thought it was a nature documentary like Jacques Cousteau? Oh dearie me, my memory must be failing.

And for comedies, you forgot to mention My Three Sons, Laurel & Hardy and the army show which starred a very funny "Gomer Pyle". (Can't remember the name of the show. Can someone help me out here?)

Of course, Lassie (name of the dog star) was one of my favourite shows which also deserves a mention.

Anonymous said...

Some I remember:
1. The Everglades; a Florida police patrol on a riverboat with a ban turbo fan behind
2. Alfred Hitchcock
3. WWF Wrestling - every Saturday night at 7.15pm
4. Bat Masterson - cowboy
5. M.A.S.H
6. The Man From U.N.C.L.E starring David Macallum (as Illya Kuriyakin, a Russian spy) and one name I forgot.
Seahunt was a 30 mins show (no TV advertisements interruption the action) about this man who goes diving for a living. Mainly about crime. very little on passion. Gomer Pyle is correct title for the show.
7. In the 70s TV got a bit steamy because of "Wonder Woman" (not sure or not th real thing) and Charlie's Angesl (Fara Fawcet Majors as one of the actresses. I like her smile and flashing teeh)

8. Our "Rado Show" with Tan Hock Peng (fat man) and "Citizen Watch Show" in 1972 (Larry Lai)

9. Ah the Talentime series including the finals was beamed "live" from the National Theater. I remebered one contestant who could make music from bending his saw (yes saw to saw the wood), The Bambinos, Sugiman Jahuri (who sang "Woman, Woman") and TF Tan the fish monger I believe.

When TV started transmission, 4 announcers would come up in sequence for the 4 different languages. Then we all laugh because one of them we thot was very funny: "Verakam....saydinehyam....."

Lam Chun See said...

Victor. How can you mistake Sea Hunt for documentary? Practically every episode has an underwater fight scene where somebody's oxygen tube gets severed and he has to surface for air.

Speaking of documentaries those of the old days were no match for what we see in Nat Geog and Discovery etc. nowadays. But I remember seeing a lot of 2nd World War documentaries including The World At War.

Anonymous said...

I left Singapore the year before television started there and despite being a bit of a tv fanatic before I arrived in 1960 and afterwards when I got back to the UK I did not miss it at all! But your long list of programmes Chun See is very evocative, yes I saw most of those and I will say a particular word for The Defenders which seemed to be a much more serious drama than most and unlike Perry Mason they sometimes lost the case! I was a great admirer of that programme but in the 1960s we in the UK had quite a few good home grown shows like Z Cars (a police drama set near Liverpool) which were our highspots.

Chun See that photo of you and the family with the tv is a very evocative one indeed!

Lam Chun See said...

Brian, your comment reminds me of another British production; Avengers with Diana Rigg. The male lead always wore a (what you call that type of) hat and carried a cane. And World At War was a Thames production.

I liked the British pop shows. Des O'Conner (Every time he sings, the dog howls) and Val Doonigan and Roger Whitaker - fantastic whistler.

There's another legal drama starring James Whitmore (last seen in Green Mile) but I cannot recall the title.

Lam Chun See said...

Sorry. Shawshank Redemption, not Green Mile.

Anonymous said...

First impression is always unforgetable. When TV made its first appearance, everyone young or old made a bee-line for the goggle boxs and would reschedule their time accordingly for their favourite shows, which were of remarkably high quality - the story-line, production and the talented actors and actresses. One day while washing my hands in our office, I usually took much time for such undertaking. My sikh colleague remarked: "Lam - you wash your hands like Dr Ben Casey!".

Anonymous said...

Chun See
The Avengers is now a big cult show and still shown on one of the 'cultural' channels, the other cult programme is The Prisoner with Patric McGoohan - not sure if that was shown widely around the world though. I was never a big fan of The Avengers, it was very jokey and what we call 'camp' and for me the joking rather got in the way of the story! I am probably now old enough to properly appreciate it for what it is!

Anonymous said...

I think it must have been 1967 when education via TV was introduced to lower secondary students. It was called "ETV". I was looking forward to those documentaries thinking that they came from the likes of National Geographic. Cramped into one small room above the principal's office, we watched the 21" screen. Then the whole class went to sleep wehn the lights went out. It was such a boring documentary made by the Ministry of Education of Singapore and covered subjects like Generela Science and Elementary Mathematics.

Victor said...

Chun See - The Avenger's male lead wore a bowler hat.

Peter - I remember the ETV in 1969/1970. Unlike you and your classmates, I was always wide awake during these programs. I was so impressed by these 3 lines uttered in a program on fallacy under E Maths (I think) that I can recall it till this day:

No elephant has one leg.
Every elephant has 4 legs more than no elephant.
Therefore every elephant has 5 legs.


JollyGreenP said...

Chun See the hat worn by Steed in the Avengers was a bowler hat.

Lam Chun See said...

Bowler hat .. yes. Thanks.

Ah yes, ETV. It was after my time, but we could still watch it over normal tv. I do recall that the Chinese language lessons were quite good; you know with the Chinese stories/fables behind the idioms and so on.

Once I followed my wife to the MOE's Instructional Media Library at Bt Timah campus. They had a lot of good stuff there; but sadly under-utilised. Later transferred to the former RI campus at Grange Rd.

Anonymous said...

To think that I nag at my kids about watching too much TV, now I remember I watched a lot of TV too when I was a kid. I remember:
Hawaii five O
Charlie's Angels
6 Million Dollar Man
Bionic Woman
Wonder Woman
LIttle House on the Prairie
And there was this Beatles cartoon with sing-a-long segments kinda like a karaoke.

Anonymous said...

There was the war series, Combat. A section minus, led by a sergeant, with a PC who showed up once in a while. I still remember the radio callsigns; Checkmate King2 and WhiteRook.

Anonymous said...

Hogan's Heroes was my favorite: Col Klink and the POWS of Stalagluft 13 prison.

Think there was one Nature documentary called "Zoorama".

When TV first came to Singapore, the box was just a box. When colour TV was introduced in 1971, the box expanded in size and became a piece of furniture.

Lam Chun See said...

Oh yes, Combat. I think the star Vic Morrow was killed in a helicopter accident when filming Twilight Zone the movie.

Lam Chun See said...

Looks like quite a no. of the tv series from B&W era have been made into movies. Let's see now.

1) Batman
2) Starky & Hutch
3) Mission Impossible
4) Twilight Zone
5) The Saint
6) Avengers
7) Fugitive
8) Star Trek??

In the case of Man From UNCLE, it was the other way around.

Hey I just recalled another comedy .. The Munsters and also Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Tom said...

Tom said...
Any one remember Laramie,The
invisible man, Detectives starring Robert Taylor,and my favorit Top

Anonymous said...

I remember "Combat" very well. Starring Vic Morrow as Sgt Saunders, and Rick Jason as Lta Hanley. There was Cpl Kirby.
We used to go to the only family, in the block (Block A near Keppel Harbour, at the foot of Mt. Faber, within walking distance from Jardin Steps or Gate 9, now the dock to Sentosa), with a TV.
There was the Chinese Variety Show, or was it "Zai Ge, Zai Wu"?
Colonel (unable to recall username and password).

Lam Chun See said...

Yes I remember Laramie. There are others actually but cannot recall. There's also Geronimo. (starring Chuck Conners?)

Usually those with a special opening scene and catchy song is easiest to remember. For example, Bonanza begins with a map showing the Ponderosa ranch. Then it burns away and you see the main actors riders riding up to face the camera.

Have Gun Will Travel begins with a name card with a picture of a knight (chess piece). The song begins with something like "Have gun will travel with the card of a man" and ends with "Paladin, Paladin where do you roam? Paladin, Paladin far far from home."

Anonymous said...

"Jack Benny Show" was another comedy I recalled. Screened on TV on Saturdays. Because our school principal, Philip Liau, had similar mannerism, he got that label.

Unknown said...

Don't forget "Man in a suitcase" from the same era.

Tom said...

Tom said ...
what about Chapion the wounder horse, any one know the song? and a kids prog.from the late 60s Land
of the giants.

Victor said...

Does anyone remember the song Click Go The Shears being played quite often as filler then together with a clip of men shearing sheep? Of course, at that time our National Day songs have not been written yet. Otherwise, I believe the Australian folk song would never have gotten an airing.

Anonymous said...

I think it was sung by a male Aussie singer; bearded, frizzy hairdo and wearing glasses.

Lam Chun See said...

Sorry, I don't remember Man in Suitcase or Tom's 2 items. But I certainly remember that lovely song Click Goes The Shears. All of us could sing along with it. Isn't it nice, how some of these memories come trickling back.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. I think you are refering to Rolf Harris, who liked to sing and paint with a huge brush and bucket at the same time. It was later, during the colour tv era.

The Click Goes the Shear chap was younger and the clip was from the B&W era.

Anonymous said...

Oh I loved watching top-cat, the wise spark always lecturing his lesser fellow cats, especially on the art of survival (from dogs?). If I can remember, his cosy home was the dust-bin with TV antenna and all. My office partner was a cartoon addict and his favourites were yogi bear and the lion named(stagger puss?). The big cat favourite quotation when facing danger: "exit, turn left" in doubly fast time.

Anonymous said...

was this the same cat that said: "heavens to megatroy"?

I like the cartoon the one with the skunk who loves kssing a female cat (his fav words: Baby......(said in french) but she runs away from him. What's the name of that show?

uncle gilbert said...

Hi you guys sure got a heck of a memory. Those were like 30 years ago and yet you guys can recall them. It must had a big impression on your lives.


Lam Chun See said...

Welcome Uncle Gilbert. Nice surprise to see you here. You 退出江湖 so long, I thot your Block 13 kena 'en-blog' liao.

Victor said...

Before the news came on, there was always a plain white image of a large analogue clock counting down the last 10 seconds to the hour. Then the signature tune of the news sounded followed by the news itself. I think Singapore's first TV newsreader was the late Steven Lee who always wore his trademark specs with thick black plastic frame. Later came people like Susan Ng. (Is she still hosting radio shows?)

Newsreel (video footages of news) was separate from the news and came immediately after it.

Advertisement slots were always preceded by a 3-second splash screen, usually of white flower pattern that expanded like a firework.

Unknown said...

Since you brought up "Click Go The Shears", do you remember Patsy Ann Noble singing a song or two during intervals at around the same time?
I remember the tropical fish swimming aound for the most boring interval wallpaper, and a film of a speedboat on what looked like a Swiss lake hurtling along to the tune of "Wunderbar". Although this is back in the 60s, I still recall some of the stuff which was on Singapore TV then. "Apa Kabar" was one which started whilst I was there at RAF Changi. I also recall Ahmad Daud singing, and the most beautiful Chinese newsreader, whose name I can't remember, but whose doll-like face I will never forget!

Anonymous said...

My aunty was a TV newsletter during Steven Lee's time. She now lectures at NIE. Vernon Palmer, father of one PAP MP Palmer was around that time.

Now the only fmailiar face is my old classmate Maimoon Mukti who reads the Malay news.

Anonymous said...

Peter - You are right the phrase rings a bell in my head. This witty cat was affectionally referred to as TC by his obedient followers and his favourite snack was fish. After finishing his meals, he would throw out the bones unabashly from his dustbin bome. His sermons were usually delivered from an elevated place like on top of a fence with his followers listening attentively.

Tom said...

Tom said...
Zen, Peter,Do you remember in Top Cat, the police officer dibble
who all ways wants to throw the cats out of the alley, the memebers
of the gang were, Fancy Fancy,
Spook, Benny,Brian, and Choo Choo.
may be some of the older guys like my self, do you remember a
cat called Felix the cat.

Anonymous said...

Great lord Tom, you recall the names of all the cats. Yup Tom Cat was my favorite cartoon show.

Now which cat said this: "Heavens to Megatroy, what's happening?"

There was Road Runner and his "Meek! Meek!" Who was that that shouted "Ariba. Arabiba...." in Mexican?

Anonymous said...

sorry should have been "ARIBA (3)....."

Victor said...

Malc - Sorry, I can't recall Patsy Ann Noble.

Peter - Ariba x 3 = Speedy Gonzales.

All - Remember Casper, the friendly ghost? It was one of my favourite cartoons besides Woody Woodpecker, Popeye, Mr McGoo and Merrie Melodies.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone remember 'The Jack Lalane Show'? I think it is the only fitness show I remembered in the 70's. As a kid I tried to keep up with the exercise by the host, but it's not easy. I still remember a particular exercise which is a modest version of the 'Star Jump' but not as siong... I still does it once a while and that's how I remember this show.

Unknown said...

I believe it was actually Snagglepuss who said "Heavens to MURGATROYD". ;)

Anonymous said...

Tom - Thanks for reconnecting me back to the cartoon shows of yester-years.
For me the story line of TC and that of the other cartoons have become hazy through the passage of time(better take more gingko biloba).

Tom said...

Tom said...
Victor,Patsy ann Noble,she was a
Australian she was a singer. and
actress in the 60s or 70s, and I thing she change her name. Zen you made me laugh when you said you will have to take more (Gingko Bilobo )haha.

Anonymous said...

Great article brings back memories. By the way would you know which TV ad was the first televised? A hint: it was a consumer product.

Anonymous said...

How did TV programs influenced me?

1. Popeye - spinanch. You know Chinese peopkle never like this but when I saw what it could do I asked my mother to buy more from the market. Outcome: Nothing happened. No girls were attracted to me

2. Jack Lalane: Must say I admire his biceps. So I went crazy over body-building. Invested in this device called "Bull-Worker" which I found in the Straits Times ST Box. Dam siong to push the ends together. Pulling the wires apart was easy. The advertisement said got good results to show after 7 days. Nothing happened, then wait another two weeks also nothing happened. Gave up. Sitting in my store room for the last 40 years. Next move tried Super 90 tablets - also never work except my belly grew faster than my trousers. Then I now see my son pumping irons, consuming those low carb nutrients, muscles-repair proteins n special-diet like chicken, how to compare to my time. He got 6-pack now and then I got fats to show. Even tried drinking "Guinness Stout" still no biceps to show.

Friends, the moral of the story: dont believe in advertisement. Hope our ladies who are reading this take note n not follow those Slimfit programs; throwing $$$ but no results to show.

Anonymous said...

One musical show I remember on Sunday afternoon slot was "The Monkees"...Hey, hey we'r the Monkees.... After this show was Simon Templer,
The SAint" at 3pm slot.

Tom said...

Tom said...
the first Ad. on and white TV,was Gibbs Toothpaste, it was a small round tin with a pink
colour powder in it. what was the first AD. on Singapore TV. any one know.

Lam Chun See said...

Pls lah Alex. Consumer product is so broad. And it's been more than 40 years leh. Can we have more hints or not?

BTW, I saw an article in papers today about a biz man who donated $1,000 to give this mentally unstable guy medical treatment. That reminds me of a show from the B&W days about this guy who mysteriously gives out $1 million to strangers. Can anyone remember the title of that show.

Lam Chun See said...

Chuck, Jack Lalane is still at it at > 80 years old. I saw him on tv recently advertising a juicer.

Anonymous said...

During my kampong days I noticed that kids who were poor, most deprived, eating meat only during CNY, were the most healthy. They hardly visited the doctors. When I went to Cameron Highland then, the guide told us that the clinic at Tanah Rata had few patients. The local kids were seen playing bare-bodied while we adults wrapped ourselves in jackets. Generally speaking good life-style practices, together with social and environmental influence have great impact over people's health

Anonymous said...

Poor Jack Lalane... > 80 years and he still got to work.

Anonymous said...

chuck - It is sometime work that get a chap going. The other day while travelling in a bus at AMK, I saw a sickly man (likely suffered from stroke) aided by a walking stick, with his wife propping him up at the side, alighting precariously from the bus. A middle-age lady watching the fore-going at a distance made a remark to her friend nearby: "you know if his wife doesn't bring him out, he probably won't last long". I tend to agree with her observation.

Tom said...

Tom said ...
sorry guys I have to make amendment
about the first AD. on uk. tv.It
was a Tube of Gibbs, not a tin , but they did sell powder tooth paste.

Anonymous said...

was it FAB washing detergent?
was it Milk Maid condensed milk?

Anonymous said...

OK Guys, sorry for the hint is too difficult to direct to the product.

It was an ad for tea, and it was for BOH. The ad was a man in a boat relex and enjoying the scene. Then came a croc and opened the jaws about to eat him up. The man took a branck and stick it into the opened jaw. He is safe, and he took up a cup of tea and continue to enjoy the scene. He was derinking BOH needless to say.

Ring a bell?

Please correct me if my recollection was wrong..


Anonymous said...

I thot BOH advert shown lady plucking tea leaves from the hills of Cameron Highlands?

Anonymous said...

A joke here to lighten things up. A friend asked veteran commedian Bob Hope why he returned to work after retiring to pursue his favourite hobby fishing. Bob replied: "The trouble is fishes don't applause!"'

Anonymous said...

Tom - No laughing matter, one day my old pal, like me 60 plus, related that he nearly forgotten how to get back home from a market nearby. Another incident, a smartly dressed elderly man asked a groccer (ground floor), how to get back to his house unit at the upper floor. His daughter was contacted and came to rescue him. I thought President Reagan forgot the names of everyone, except his wife Nancy.

lim said...

Mention should be made of the very popular Malay series "Pontianak". Those HK feel good tearjerker movies, and swordfighting sagas very popular too. And of course, Tarzan every Saturday afternoon. Talentimes and the Rado Show.

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