The television was the centrepiece in the rather bare living room. A box made from laminated wood encased the cathode ray tube. The box was supported by four legs about the height of a coffee table. The convex screen provided many hours of entertainment in black and white. There were only two channels – RTM1 and RTM2. The dial pointed at the “2” position all the time. That was the channel with more entertainment programmes. Households that owned televisions or radios needed to get a license from the government. This was renewable annually and can be applied through the post office. The framed license hung on the wall next to the set.
That was the time before the VHS video casette recorder was invented. It was either watching shows in the cinemas or on televison. P. Ramlee movies ruled the silver screens and airwaves. One of the most popular sitcoms on television was Empat Sekawan also known as Li Kor Bo Wa Kor (Your Hardship Does Not Compare To My Hardship) in Chinese. It featured four friends conversing in four different Chinese dialects. There was Lai Meng, Wong Ah Hor, Hon Ying and the other actor whose name escapes my memory at the moment. They were hilarious on screen. We would gather and watch everytime the show came on.
Chinese movies were usually from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The few Hong Kong artistes whose name stuck with me till now are Liu Kei, Leong Sing Por, Lee Heong Kam and Tze Yin. The plots were usually run-of-the-mill: good guys versus the bad guys, lots of tears from the fair maidens mistreated, lots of scheming by the bad guys and evil stepmothers, rain, thunder and finally good triumphing over evil.
I was in primary school then. My school was one of those few that was in the afternoon sessions. During school holidays, apart from playing with the neighbourhood kids, I would be glued to the television screen. The stations started broadcasting at 3.00 pm. The national anthem come on first. The Jack Lalanne Show was next with his signature jumping jacks and a series of other exercises for the audience to follow. Jack Lalanne would be in a track bottom and tight cap sleeved shirt that showed off his muscular arms and chest.
Commercial advertisements were usually slotted before and after shows. There were very little interruptions in between. Cigarette advertisements were rampant. Dunhill and Benson & Hedges were the two more prominent brands. Dunhill cigarettes were packed in glossy maroon coloured boxes with gold on the edges. Benson & Hedges was unmistakeable with its gold coloured boxes. Dad smoked Benson & Hedges. He usually bought the 20 sticks per box packing.
Of all the commercials on television, I remember one particularly well. Nearing the end, three pretty ladies were walking away from an aircraft parked at the tarmac. They were dressed in smart cabin crew uniforms. They were cheerful with their million dollar smiles. At the end, the jingle went like this: Lady lembut, Lady selesa, Lady selamat, with the word “selamat” trailing till the end of the clip.