As the preface tells us, Caldecott was the home of Singapore’s national broadcaster for 82 years before they shift to Mediapolis at One North. While the Andrew road site has been sold for $280 million for a proposed redevelopment into premium bungalows, stories and history will always remain in the hearts of many who helped built up the broadcasting centre from scratch.
On Air: Untold Stories from Caldecott Hill is a collection of stories compiled by a group of six-minded former broadcasting staff. For a place that churned out countless fictional and non-fictional stories over six decades, this 528 pages book in turn is a testament to the colourful history and numerous untold stories behind the iconic storyteller.
Full of recollections, memories and filled with never-before-seen archival photographs, the initial chapters takes readers through the early years. From the Japanese occupation era to the launch of Radio and Television Singapore (RTS), people liked Vernon Palmer talks about the early days of radio, Singapore’s first ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, Cheng Tong Fatt shares how he set up the Chinese drama division when he was the GM of SBC and Permanent Secretary Moses Lee recounts his task in privatising SBC (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation) which explains why it was renamed as TCS subsequently.
For TV buffs who grew up watching old-school Channel 8 dramas (long before the days of Netflix, YouTube), executive producer Chua Swan talks about his role in producing Chinese dramas with the help of foreign expertise from Hong Kong. Daisy Irani from Under One Roof fame shares about her experiences in making the renowned local sitcom and her ever-expanding role in the industry working first as an actress to a writer to VP of content.
Then there is Michael Chiang (yes that Michael Chiang who is also the playwright of Army Daze) who was placed in charge to revamp a magazine and that turned out to be the ultra-successful 8 Days. Undeniably, the Channel NewsAsia story by Woon Tai Ho is another must-read chapter and also the intense media competition between Mediacorp and Mediaworks by Anthony Chia. Producer and filmmaker Daniel Yun talks about how he runs the now defunct Raintree Pictures which you might recalled releases hits such as 881, The Maid and The Eye while veteran journalist P N Balji recounts the starting of one of Singapore’s free papers, TODAY to the surprise of SPH.
Despite the fascinating and sometimes whimsical accounts, some readers might find the entire reading experience somewhat “scattered” or jarring. Do note that the chronological of events might not be in sequence as the book is divided into chapters from radio to current affairs to TV shows etc instead of by years or decade. At some point, the book even feel more liked “text-book” based.
Still, On Air: Untold Stories from Caldecott Hill is an insightful read for those keen on our very own broadcasting history. In fact, the title should be included in the must read list of Singapore history. Coincidentally, Marshall Cavendish International behind it is the publisher of local textbooks and probably MOE should incorporate this to all local secondary schools as part of their history curriculum.
Review by Linus Tee
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