SINGAPORE: Caldecott Hill has been home to local broadcasting for about 80 years, keeping Singaporeans tuned in to key moments in history as they unfolded, as well entertained with decades of variety productions.
The people on the frontline of broadcasting have put a voice and a face to all the work that is produced at the iconic broadcast centre at Andrew Road over the years. There have been many, not limited to Diana Koh, Mryna Thomas, and of course, Norman Lim.
He made his flawless diction look effortless, but Lim says it was not all plain-sailing.
"When I applied, I thought I had a good voice,” he said laughing. “But when I came in, I realised I wasn't that good in terms of diction, so it took me several months before I actually went on air, on radio."
"It was a script and they were talking about the price of tobacco going up and I think in my nervous state I read it as tapioca”: Actress and former news presenter Wee Soon Hui on one of her strongest memories of Mediacorp’s Caldecott Broadcasting Centre. We catch up with her and other old-timers such as Duncan Watt on Singapore Tonight at 10pm.Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Thursday, 24 December 2015
The former presenter’s move to television was not without challenges. “I remember when I went up for my make-up, they had a problem because I had a high forehead, and of course there was nervousness just before we came on. We had butterflies in our stomach,” he said.
Lim had been a presenter at Mediacorp for 21 years, from 1970 to 1991. It was also the newsreaders like him who broke some of the headlines that shook Singapore the most, such as when two Sentosa cable cars fell into the sea in 1983.
"Two cable cars fell into the sea between Jardine Steps and Sentosa this evening,” he announced on Aug 10, 1983. “The incident happened at around 6pm. Rescue operations are going on to rescue another eighteen people who are trapped in at least four cable cars dangling between Mount Faber and Sentosa."
Recounted Lim: "It took quite a few days to rescue those who were trapped in the cabins and there were quite a few deaths. And I think Mr Lee Hsien Loong at that time was in the army, he was colonel then. He was in charge of the rescue mission. We always feel for the person, whatever story it is."
PRESENTERS SPREAD THEIR WINGS
Many talents at Caldecott became household names. "It all started with an advert on TV – it just said ‘Newsreaders Wanted’,” said Duncan Watt, a former newsreader. “This friend dared me to apply, so I said: ‘Well, you write the letter’. And he said" ‘What should I write?’ I said: ‘Just make it short because it's a waste of time.’ I said: ‘Let's write, Dear Sir, I should like to apply for the post of part-time newsreader, yours faithfully,”’ and then I signed it, Duncan Watt."
That dare led to a near 20-year career on the Hill for Watt, who presented from 1980 to 1998.
"The newsroom, where the news was written, was an incredibly noisy place,” Watt recounted. “Clackety big typewriters and people were shouting from one end of the room, getting scripts ready. And people smoked in those days. It was a smoky room, news editors would be writing, smoking their cigarettes, putting them out, the ashtrays were full, and I used to come away with my clothes all smoky!”
A familiar face both on the news and later on in the local drama series Growing Up, former newsreader Wee Soon Hui vividly recalls the first time she read "live" on air.
"It was a script, and they were talking about the prices of tobacco going up, and I think in my nervous state, I read it as 'tapioca',” she said laughing. “And I didn't know until after I finished the telecast that I had done it wrong! It was very embarrassing. So I didn't know if the prices of tapioca went up."
Over the years the broadcaster spread its wings - branching out from news coverage - to entertainment. Variety hosts found their voices and loyal fans.
Mediacorp's Bryan Wong on set. (Photo: Yeo Kai Ting)
Bryan Wong is now one of the hosting kings of Mediacorp. And he still remembers the day he first stepped into the corridors of Caldecott.
"The reason why I chose this spot for the interview is because I remembered then the very first time I stepped into Singapore Broadcasting Corporation,” he said. “This is exactly the corridor where I was sitting. Last time it looked really different, the cabinets were not here, there was a long row of chairs and the make-up unit used to be here. Some of my fondest memories are actually in Studio 4, where I did my children's drama."
A SECOND HOME
The Caldecott studios were also familiar ground for other veteran hosts. "The place that I'll miss most about this campus is here - the TV theatre - because this is where I started real hosting,” said actress-host Kym Ng. “I joined Mediacorp in 1996 as a host but then I was doing a lot of outdoor variety shows so when I first came into the TV theatre I was like shaking, because there's an audience, and I was very nervous so this place really brings back a lot of memories."
Kym Ng in the TV theatre. (Photo: Yeo Kai Ting)
"There are some variety shows that are rather impressive and I do have fond memories of them,” added Wong. “For example Citybeat - that's where I sampled doing things out-of-the-box - and then we moved on and became more current when we went into reality shows where as the host, you have to function without a script - either you do your research before the show or it has to be something that you have already accumulated up here (in your head). That's quite a ride, quite an interesting journey!"
A life spent in front of the cameras and on the airwaves has turned this place into a second home for so many of the TV hosts and presenters that the public has invited into their living rooms and made a part of their family. It makes the move from the Caldecott Hill campus all the more bittersweet.
"Yes, this is my second home, I would say. It's like a love affair that you can't let go," said Wee.
"It is like our comfort zone, every spot is familiar,” added Wong. “I feel like I'm losing quite a huge part of me. But then again, even though we are moving, it's alright because whatever we're leaving behind is just the physical aspect of things, whatever memories, or events about how you feel about things, is forever stored up here (in our heads)."