The lost waterfront

19 09 2013

The former waterfront at Collyer Quay is certainly one place which exemplifies how Singapore has transformed over the years, discarding much of what made Singapore a Singapore which was full of character and flavour, to the sea of glass, steel and concrete Singapore has become today.

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The waterfront we inherited from our colonial masters was one of wonderfully designed buildings which might have rivaled Shanghai’s Bund. Even in 1971 after the Overseas Union Shopping Centre (see image above) did spoil some of that flavour, it still retained much of its original character. Then, the three “skyscrapers” that came up in the 1950s: the modern looking 15 storey Shell House (1959); the Bank of China Building (1954); and the Asia Insurance Building (1954) (out of picture), still dominated. It was however the grand looking edifices – several of them attributed to architecture firm Swan and MacLaren which designed many notable buildings from our past, which would have been noticed. This included the Maritime Building (former Union Building) with its tower and the HongKong Bank Chambers (1924) next to it. The Fullerton Building (1928) which housed the General Post Office also wouldn’t have been missed.

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The beginning of the end for the old waterfront came at the end of the decade with the demolition of the HongKong Bank building notable not just for its English Renaissance style design, but also for its stained glass skylight over its main banking hall and huge bronze entrance doors, in 1979. The Maritime Building, built originally for the Union Insurance Society of Canton and which once housed the Far East headquarters of the Royal Air Force, soon followed in the early 1980s. What we do see today is a towering skyline of glass and steel against which the surviving “skyscrapers” of the 1950s are now dwarfed. The buildings along old waterfront which did survive are the Fullerton Building (Fullerton Hotel), Clifford Pier (part of Fullerton Bay Hotel), Bank of China Building, Customs House, and the Asia Insurance Building (Ascott Raffles Place).

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Getting a piece of the Pye (television and the history of television in Singapore)

27 12 2010

Television is one of those things we seem to take for granted these days, along with the many conveniences of life that we see and use. Television runs for 24 hours a day now, and now offers a vast array of entertaining programmes from the popular Korean dramas, documentaries, children’s programmes, reality shows and live sports broadcasts all in crystal clarity through means such as cable and satelite – a far cry from what it was like in its early years when it offered a few hours of evening entertainment in warm and fuzzy black and white. By the time I came along, television had taken root in Singapore, preceding my own arrival by about a year and a half, and by the time I began to appreciate television, the likes of one of the first ever soaps, Peyton Place had taken Singapore by storm, as well as popular series such as Combat! which I never failed to catch an episode of, were names that we associated television with. The evening’s news and the newsreels that followed were also popular with viewers as was Sesame Street, which was first screened in the year I started school, 1971, as well as the many movies, including the Pontianak and P. Ramlee ones that helped entertain my maternal grandmother. There were also some of the other programmes that somehow caught my imagination, among was one that featured the energetic Jack LaLanne, and another which had the amusing Soupy Sales making an appearance in “What’s My Line”.

Peyton Place – one of the original Soaps, took Singapore by storm.

Combat! was one that I never missed an episode of!

I suppose television back in those days can be said to have had a similar impact on society and on children of my generation as much as the internet and other forms of the modern media are having on the children of today. It certainly played a part in shaping my life and interests that I had in life. Besides the programmes that we got each day, one of my deepest impressions of black and white television as it was in my formative years, was seeing the newsreel of Mankind’s first landing on the moon. By the time I had gotten to watch that, my parents had already moved on to their second television set, a 21 inch locally produced Setron set, which I remember gave excellent service right up to the days just before the Christmas of 1973. That was the year just before colour television was introduced in Singapore and why I remember that was how we had the television tube replaced on Christmas eve and it being Christmas eve, my parents invited the repairman to stay for some refreshments, during which time the newly replaced tube imploded, leaving us with a television-less Christmas.

The Jack LaLanne Show!

Soupy Sales in ‘What’s My Line’

During a recent chat about the early days of television with my parents, the subject of their experience with their very first television set came up. It was in the early days of television in Singapore that they had bought that set, one selected based on the best picture quality out of a row of sets displayed at a shop, which my mother remembered as a 14 inch table top Pye (up to that point – I had not even heard of the brand) – one which my mother said gave no end of problems. It cost them what might have been considered to be a large sum of money in days when there often wasn’t much spare cash to go around to enable one to indulge in the simple luxuries in life. That was when they were still renting a house in the former Kampong Chia Heng, off Moulmein Rise and being the first ones with a television in the kampung, by the time they sat down to watch their first programme on television, news had spread across the kampung and they had the company of people that they did not even know in the living room of the rented house!

What my parents’ first television might have looked like – a Pye 17″ Television from the 1960s.

Reading up a little on the introduction of television in Singapore, I was able to find out that television, Television Singapura, was launched to the masses at 6 pm on the 15th of February 1963 by the then Minister of Culture, the late S. Rajaratnam. The first evening’s programme schedule was to have lasted an hour and forty minutes, and included a short film on Singapore, a cartoon, the news, a half an hour feature, and a variety show, ending transmission. For the pilot service, transmission was scheduled for an hour or so each day for six weeks, before a four hour regular service was launched by the then President, Yusof Ishak on the 2nd of April that year before being extended to six hours a day later in the year which also saw a second channel being launched. At the introduction of television, some 2400 television sets had been sold. To reach out to the masses, television units were also installed in public areas such as Community Centres. The television brands that were on sale at that time included household names which I was familiar with from the 1970s including Grundig, Normende, Telefunken and Sierra, which we don’t really hear of these days and the sets had cost between S$350 to $1200, with screen sizes ranging from 14 inches to 23 inches. Colour television was introduced to Singapore in 1974, with a pilot service being run from 1st August of that year, with two hours of colour programmes shown each weekday and four hours each weekend. 1974 was also the first year in which the final of football’s World Cup Finals, held in West Germany that year was telecast live, and football fans actually got the additional treat of watching in full and vivid colour the marauding orange shirts of Holland take on the white shirts of hosts West Germany in a pulsating match on 7th July 1974 (prior to the actual launch of the pilot service). It was reported that within the three days prior to the finals, 1000 colour television sets had been sold – and my father was among those who bought one just to be able to catch the finals in colour.

The finals of the 1974 Football World Cup was the first live World Cup .