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.
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.
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.
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.