In the early sixties, when television was not yet widely available because of the high cost of owning a tv set as well as the short transmission hours, our main form of news and entertainment was the radio. Unlike my friend Victor who lived in town, we did not have rediffusion in our kampong. Our favourite programme was the wuxia (Chinese pugilistic) stories told by the late story-teller Lee Dai Soh. But did you know that besides such stories, we also had radio dramas. These were usually in Cantonese and broadcast in the afternoon at around 2 pm, whilst Lee Dai Soh’s programme came on at around 6 pm. My siblings and followed these mini-series faithfully.
It’s been a quarter century, and of course I am not able to remember most of the stories that we heard, but a few titles remain fresh in my mind. The first one goes by the title of Yat Sat Chook (pronounced in Cantonese) or “一失足“。 This is actually derived from the Chinese idiom, 一失足成千古恨，回头已是百年身。Roughly this says that one wrong step can lead to a life time of regret. The reason why I could remember this title was because we gave it a nickname of our own. At the start of the programme, there was this announcer who read out the title in a solemn drawl - Yat …Sat … Chook. We thought it was rather comical and promptly changed the title to Yat Putt Chook which, in Cantonese, says, one scoop of porridge.
There were some stories which were actually adaptations of famous English classics. I seem to recall that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre was one of them. Do you know what was Jane Eyre in Chinese? It’s 简爱. I also vaguely recall that Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights was another. It’s Chinese title was 魂归离恨天. Yet another one could be Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But I have to admit that my memory could be playing tricks on me. It could be that I actually saw the Cantonese movies of these stories in the South Country Theatre in Kampong San Teng and got things mixed up. Anyway, I hope some of my older Cantonese readers like Zen or Frannxis can help me out.
But one title I am quite sure about was Lei Pik Wah (李碧华). Do you know what was the original title in English? It’s Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier; which incidentally was a wonderful love story with a bit of mystery. My siblings and I enjoyed this story tremendously.
I think my love for reading English classics could be attributed in some way to these radio dramas. Anyway, I hope my young readers have gained a bit of knowledge of Singapore’s history today. I bet your history teachers never taught you this in school.
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