Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fun and Entertainment in the 1960s - Brian Mitchell

The title of this blog – from a Paul Anka song - got me thinking about my time in Singapore in the early 1960s and the entertainment we had then - because the very first record I ever bought, a 45rpm single, was Paul Anka’s hit song ‘Diana’.

I bought it soon after I arrived in Singapore at a night-time market which must have been on or near the Orchard Estate where I lived for a short while. I recall the busy market stalls lit by gas or kerosene lamps and it was one of my first experiences of buying at a market – I probably had to haggle over the price which I always hated doing! Shopping in Singapore for us brits was always an adventure, in the UK you hardly ever get the chance to haggle over price.

Music was of course important to us young teenagers and I recall hanging around the jukebox in the hotel we stayed at on arrival in Singapore (called The Ambassador and near the site of what used to be Singapore’s original airport at Kallang) playing Everley Brothers, Buddy Holly and Elvis records.

The cinema was popular of course. For us ‘Brit brats’ with fathers based at the RAF Changi airbase we had outdoor films, few of which I recall except for some Elvis Presley films. My most vivid memory is of seeing ‘Ben Hur’ at a very large cinema in Singapore City, the film had its exciting moments but none more so that in the chariot race scene when the audience were all up on their feet cheering wildly! Much better than seeing the film in the UK where everyone just stays in their seat!

We had no television then (when did it start in Singapore?) and the radio was difficult to listen to in the evening with all the static from electric storms. I enjoyed the cartoons in the Straights Times (I think) which included strips from the United States including Litl’ Abner and also Dick Tracey and Mad Magazine was much looked forward to, although this featured satires on US tv programmes none of which I had even seen!

We used to visit a record shop in Changi Village, not so much to buy records as to enjoy the air conditioning and to listen to the strange sounds they played – I think now it must have been modern jazz which at the time I was completely unfamiliar with. I don’t recall going to any music gigs other than seeing Cliff Richard and The Shadows play at a large indoor stadium somewhere in Singapore City – a big moment for both the brits and local Singaporean fans of the day.

We visited the Tiger Balm gardens of course and we had what seem now as rather strange treasure hunts where families would get in their cars to follow a series of clues and drive all over the island in search of some ‘treasure’. I can’t imagine now why that was enjoyable! And there were also hill climbs, not on foot, but timed car races up a hill, maybe it was Bukit Timah hill –I doubt in these environmentally aware days that this still goes on?

Scanned postcard photo of Tiger Balm Gardens (Haw Par Villa) in the sixties. Courtesy of Memories of Singapore

Perhaps the most popular outings of all for us kids from RAF Changi were the organised boat trips to beaches on Pulau Ubin, always an exciting time, away from the gaze of our parents!


Lam Chun See said...

Brian, could the Shaw theatre you mentioned be the Lido Theatre along Tanglin Road, near C.K. Tangs/Orchard Road?

I saw Ben Hur there when I was a kid. It still is my favourite movie. For me the most memorable scene was the Sea Battle where Charlton Heston and his fellow slaves were rowing in the galley chained to the ship.

Victor said...

I think black-and-white TV transmission started in 1963, the same year when I went to Primary One class. (I believe that's the reason why my myopia progressed so quickly.) And our national newspapers was (and still is) The Straits Times. You could very well have called it Straights Times as well because their stories were always straight (and still are), haha.

Anonymous said...

Many apologies for getting the name of The Straits Times wrong - very sloppy of me! Lets hope all readers find it amusing and not insulting!

Anonymous said...

Cliff Richard, Mike Jagger & The Rolling Stones, and the Yardbirds were at the National Theater, down in River Valley Road. There was an aquarium next to the National Theater. It wasn't exactly a nice place to watch shows because it depended on the breeze. Ticket was priced at S$5 then?

I think Ben Hur was screened at the Odeon Cinema then.

The Ambassador Hotel was renamed as the Duke Hotel in the 1980s -down in Meyer Road. sadly it's an empty piece of land opposite to Katong Park.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I forgot to correct the spelling error for ST.

Brian - for you info, the night markets are still very popular in Spore and Msia. We usually refer to it by its Malay name - Pasar Malam.

Anonymous said...

I can't remember much about the concert venue - other than it seemed to be an old building, lots of girders. Neither can I recall the name of the Ben Hur Cinema other than its huge size.

Yes Peter is right on the details of the Ambassador Hotel, I remember my first walk in the Katang Park (which then surely fronted the sea but is now behind an expressway) and being addressed as 'Johnny' which I think John Harper has also mentioned (and at least his name is John!). I also recall that in the few weeks I stayed at the Ambassador that it went bankrupt and fans were being removed, along with other equipment, from the dining room!

Lam Chun See said...

I found a bit of history about the Ambassador Hotel at Singapore Infopedia.

"Katong Park Hotel, now closed, was one of Singapore's oldest hotel. It used to be located along Meyer Road. Owned by several people since it was built in the early 1960s, the hotel was known by two other names, Ambassador Hotel and Duke Hotel, before getting its latest name, Katong Park Hotel, in 1992. It was sold to make way for a residential project in the late 1990s."

As for Katong Park, those days it had a reputation of being a lovers' haunt.

Anonymous said...

Cliff Richard & the Shadows played at the Singapore Badminton Hall (along Guillemard Road) in 1961. The other pop bands appeared at the National Theater.

Ambassador's first name in the 1950s was The Embassy Hotel, according to my father. It was a famous accomodation for HK film stars. Further up the road at where Casa Meyfort condo is now used to be the Malaya Hotel.

There is a child care center at Katong Park, the building is actually an old building of the 1960s that was renovated. Still remember during the Indonesian Confrontation a bomb exploded at the same carpark on the side of Katong Park.

Anonymous said...

If I am not mistaken, I saw the rolling stones performed at the Badminton Stadium. The recent performance by Cliff Richard at the the Singapore Indoor Stadium, in which Cliff lamented that he should have come more often, not only after 41 yrs, after being impressed by the great response of the crowd, old and young. He also said that before he entered show business, he idolised Elvis, mentioning that the King still holds the record after his demise.

Anonymous said...

The Badminton Stadium as the venue for Cliff Richard (how amazing he is still visiting!) sounds right as the venue, I remember it as a big barn of a place.

I am sure Cliff did idolise Elvis, before he established his own profile he was one of several Elvis type singers that emerged in the UK inspired by Elvis.

On the Ambassador Hotel, we were there in January/Feburary 1960 and perhaps it was the Embassy before that as I did not think it was newly built.

Anonymous said...

My memories of Cliff Richard were in his songs like "The Young Ones". I think there was also a movie of the same title. Then in 1968 he came up with "Celebration" which won the Eurovision Award that year. There was "Movie News" publictaion (forerunner of "8 Days"
magazine) that did many write-ups of foreign stars visiting Singapore such as the Beatles and Hermans Hermit.

Somehow I rememebered people in the late 50s and early 60s prefer to imitate Elvis rather than Cliff such as the "curry puff" hairstyle. MY uncle used to spot this haristyle and had a comb in his rear trouser pocket.

Anonymous said...

Peter, was it Congratulations or Celebration. Anyway I am no big fan of CR. But I like "When the girl in your arms ..." I also have a CD of his Christian songs.

Anonymous said...

Chun See
You are right Congratulations was the song title.

Brian - the 1960 races were down South Buona Vista Road -called "The Gap"

Anonymous said...

I was newly led into the pop music scene in the early sixties by attending a live show featuring a new singer (Dutch descent?) named Johnny Lion with his lively band. I think the show was staged in an unusual location, a cinema (Odeon?). Because it was staged in an enclosed area, coupled with good singing and acoustics, the show was indeed electrifying, a complete success.

Anonymous said...

Peter - thanks the name 'The Gap' rings a strong bell related to those races.


Des said...

What a great site! My father was in the RAF and we lived in Changi in the mid-sixties. We lived on the Opera Estate and would walk to the ahma's night market - where might that have been?


Lam Chun See said...

Hi Denise. Thanks for dropping by. Be sure to click on the link, Labelled: John Harper and other UK Friends and read the Spore stories of your countrymen.