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 .





Have we knocked the Pedestrian Crossing Rules down?

26 05 2010

In deciding where to cross the road these days, we have become so used to seeing a sign placed some 50 metres away from a pedestrian crossing that tells us where we should really be crossing that most us us choose to ignore it, unless of course, there are physical barriers or where traffic conditions make it a necessity to use a pedestrian crossing. It is fairly common to see pedestrians dashing across the road under underutilised overhead bridges, roads where underpasses are provided like along the stretch just in front of Lucky Plaza, and even sometimes even where traffic conditions make it highly dangerous to do so. For many of us motorists, it has become somewhat of a nuisance and even a danger to us, as we don’t just run the risk of knocking some foolhardy pedestrian down, but of injuring ourselves should we, in braking suddenly, be rammed from the back by an impatient driver that is all too common in Singapore. There have been some enforcement along Orchard Road – which may have reduced the problem without eliminating it altogether and whether in the longer term, the enforcement is effective, is a good question.

Why you should use a pedestrian crossing?

This brings me some thirty-five years or so back in time to the 1970s when there was a huge effort to eliminate the problem, starting with a pilot scheme in 1974 as part of a “Keep Singapore Accident-Free” campaign to educate the public on the dangers of jaywalking as a prelude to the introduction of an anti-jaywalking law. The first we saw of the signs, which were circular, featured a red band across the silhouette of a man with one foot on the road (as they do now), was when I had turned ten, at a historic pedestrian crossing, Singapore’s first overhead bridge at Collyer Quay near Clifford Pier (which was installed in 1964). Four signs were erected, 50 metres away on either side of the bridge, and on both sides of the road. With this, the road immediately below the bridge was made a no-crossing zone.

Singapore's first overhead bridge was installed across Collyer Quay in 1964 (source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

It was however only on 1 July 1977, that the Pedestrian Crossing Rules that were being mulled over in the 1970s, came into effect, and during a two month campaign that followed to introduce the new law making it an offence to jaywalk, a large number of pedestrians were booked by traffic police officers manning many of the pedestrian crossings in the city centre, and issued with a warning. It was the year when I started going to school at Bras Basah Road, and I remember seeing the blue uniformed officers standing with a clipboard at the four crossing points at the junction of Bras Basah Road and Waterloo Street, where I myself had a close shave crossing the road, on almost a daily basis. During the initial ten day period, close to 32,000 warnings were issued. After the two-month honeymoon period, full enforcement was carried out from 1 September 1977 and jaywalkers were liable to be fined up to $50, and it was common to read about hundreds of people being booked and fined each day, and we frequently saw people who were booked arguing with the traffic officers. This went on for a few months before the enforcement was reduced and while it may have been effective in the short term, and perhaps can be seen to have helped in reducing the problem greatly, it didn’t eliminate the problem of jaywalking completely. Over the years, we have seen less enforcement being carried out, to the extent that many of us have forgotten that it is actually an offence to jaywalk.