Television used to be an influential item that was once a big part of our life. It probably still is today, except that its influence is being challenged by internet, smartphones and other entertainment devices.
Like many others, the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) dramas, especially those from Channel 8, used to accompany me in my childhood and teenage years.
The Early Days of SBC
The eighties and a large part of the nineties were undeniably the golden periods for SBC, the predecessor of Mediacorp (and TCS). SBC, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation in full, was established in February 1980 as a statutory board, after the corporatisation of Radio and Television Singapore (RTS).
Back then, the sources of Chinese dramas were mainly from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The dramas, many of them in Cantonese and Minnan (Taiwanese Hokkien), had to be dubbed in Mandarin for Singapore audience. After its establishment, SBC decided to invest and produce Singapore’s own Chinese drama series.
In 1978, Hong Kong’s entertainment realm was hit by the collapse of Commercial Television and the change in ownership of Rediffusion Television (now Asia Television Limited). The two incidents provided opportunities for SBC to recruit some of the top talents in Hong Kong scriptwriters and producers.
The early eighties also saw the first batch of local artistes recruited through drama training classes. This lasted a decade before it was eventually replaced by the Star Search competition in 1988, which produced the likes of Zoe Tay, Aileen Tan and Chew Chor Meng. In 1982, the successful production and broadcast of “Seletar Robbery” signified the birth of local Mandarin dramas.
Channel 5, Suria and Vasantham
Malay programs found their ways to TV as early as the sixties. “Pak Awang Temberang” (Uncle Awang Tells Stories) was the first Malay-language drama series aired in 1966. The seventies were the golden era for Malay dramas; many were produced and directed by Bani Buang (1929-1996), popularly known as the father of Singapore’s modern Malay dramas.
Locally-made Tamil dramas soon followed. “Ippadiayam oru Kudumbam” (What A Family), aired in August 1980, was the first Tamil-language drama series produced in Singapore.
Ironically, Singapore did not produce its own local English dramas until the nineties, even though Channel 5 was the first TV channel debuted in April 1963. The much-criticised “Masters Of The Sea” became the first local English TV drama series aired in 1994.
20 Most Memorable SBC (Channel 8) Dramas
Between 1982 and 1990, SBC produced close to ninety Chinese drama series for Channel 8; many were forgettable, some became classic, along with their theme songs which were tailor made to suit the storylines of the dramas. Creativity was at its peak as SBC explored different types of drama genres, such as mystery, horror, comedy, science-fiction and wuxia (pugilistic/martial arts).
RemSG sorts out its list of 20 most memorable Channel 8 dramas. Which of these were your favourite ones?
1. Seletar Robbery 实里达大劫案
Period: 24 July 1982
Main Cast: Huang Wenyong (黄文永), Chin Chi Kang (钱治钢), Lim Sin Ming (林生民), Steven Woon (云昌凑)
Plot Summary: It was a police and thief game as three robbers got away with a $300,000 loot from a construction company.
Trivia: Although it had only one episode and lasted only 90 minutes, “Seletar Robbery” was considered the first locally-produced Chinese drama. It took less than a month to finish the filming of the drama.
Memorable Scene: Chin Chi Kang as the undisputed villain.
2. Army Series 新兵小传
Period: 14 March 1983 to 06 May 1983
Main Cast: Huang Wenyong, Wang Yuqing (王玉清), Lin Liyun (林丽云), Ang Puay Heng (洪培兴), He Qitang (何其糖)
Plot Summary: Everything seemed well for the much-respected officer who was getting married and was just promoted to the rank of lieutenant, before an accident at the training ground cost his life.
Trivia: “Army Series” was the first true drama series produced by SBC, with a total of six episodes. It was also the first local production depicting the NS life, long before the movies of “Army Daze” (1996) and “Ah Boys to Men” (2012) were screened in Singapore. Its theme song “A Measure of Strength” (一份力量), sang by the SAF, was used as one of the National Parade songs in the late eighties.
Memorable Scene: Huang Wenyong, as the caring officer, was killed in the blast while saving his nervous recruit in a grenade-throwing training exercise.
3. Flying Fish 小飞鱼
Period: 12 August 1983 to 30 September 1983
Main Cast: Wang Yuqing, Maggie Teng (邓妙华), Chen Bifeng (陈碧凤), Wang Xiangqing (王相钦)
Plot Summary: A teenager who aspired to become one of the best swimmers, but was pressured by his father to abandon his interest and instead study hard for the examinations.
Trivia: “Flying Fish” was introduced shortly after the 1983 National Day. Dubbed as Singapore’s first idol drama, it catapulted Wang Yuqing to stardom. The production also invited Singapore swimmer and SEA Games gold medalist Ang Peng Siong to guide the actors and actresses in their swimming styles.
4. The Awakening 雾锁南洋
Year: 06 February 1983 to 07 May 1983 (Part 1), 06 August 1984 to 12 October 1984 (Part 2)
Episodes: 27 (Part 1), 26 (Part 2)
Main Cast: Huang Wenyong, Xiang Yun (向云), Chen Shucheng (陈澍承), Huang Peiru (黄佩如), Wang Yuqing, Chen Bifeng, He Jie (何洁), Chen Tiansong (陈天送), Chen Tianwen (陈天文), Huang Yuling (黄毓玲), Liu Qiulian (刘秋莲), Ke Shafei (柯莎菲), Li Huiyan (黎惠燕), Chin Chi Kang
Plot Summary: “The Awakening” came in two parts and four major stories; the arrival of the early Chinese migrants at the start of the 20th century, the Japanese Occupation, the independence of Singapore and the country’s rapid economic development in the seventies and eighties.
Trivia: The first local blockbuster drama cost a total of $500,000 in production fees, and involved more than 200 artistes and calefares. It managed to gain 800,000 in viewership, helping Huang Wenyong and Xiang Yun in cementing their statuses as the leading actor and actress in SBC. “The Awakening” also became the first SBC drama to be bought by TV companies overseas.
Memorable Scene: The Chinese migrants who arrived at Singapore in an overcrowded junk.
5. Men From The Past 大侠吴三奇
Period: 08 February 1985 to 03 March 1985
Genre: Pugilistic/Martial Arts/Fantasy
Main Cast: Chen Tianwen, He Jie, Liu Qiulian, Xia Chuan (夏川), Lina Yeo (杨丽娜), Yan Bingliang (严丙量)
Plot Summary: One of the earliest “time travel”-themed dramas in Asia, “Men From The Past” featured an ancient martial arts expert and his nemesis who brought their feuds to the modern society after travelling through time.
Trivia: “Men From The Past” was the first SBC production that had travelled overseas for some of their filming scenes. It was also the first SBC production that, instead of using voice dubbing, recorded the actual dialogues between the actors and actresses during the filming. This, however, received criticisms from the public that the acting crews’ pronunciations were not up to standard.
6. Son of Pulau Tekong 亚答籽
Period: 13 June 1985 to 26 July 1985
Main Cast: Huang Wenyong, Lin Mingzhe (林明哲), Chen Bifeng, Chen Xiuhuan (陈秀环), Huang Peiru, Liu Qiulian, Chen Guohua (陈国华)
Plot Summary: Two young men, leaving behind their innocent and carefree days at Pulau Tekong, struggled for their respective new life on mainland Singapore.
Trivia: The 26-episode drama “Son of Tekong” was well-remembered due to its locally-flavoured name (which literally means “attap seed”), beautiful theme songs and a storyline that struck a resonance with the previous generation who had experienced the resettlement from kampongs to HDB flats. The drama also showcased the rustic lifestyle of Pulau Tekong before it was converted into a militarized zone.
Memorable Scene: The RPL (Ramp Powered Lighter) that ferried the islanders and their belongings.
7. The Coffee Shop 咖啡乌
Period: 16 December 1985 to 04 February 1986
Main Cast: Lin Mingzhe, Chin Chi Kang, Xiang Yun (向云), Huang Yiliang (黄奕良), Hong Huifang (洪慧芳), Hong Peixin (洪培兴), Ke Shafei, Li Huiyan, Dai Peng (戴鹏), Wu Weiqiang (邬伟强), Steven Woon
Plot Summary: A particularly “grassroot” drama, “The Coffee Shop” talked about the incidents and people around the kopitiam, and the everyday life of the families living in the nearby housing estate, including the braggart stallholder and his four younger sisters, the gossip aunty and the hardworking coffee shop assistant.
Trivia: The drama’s theme song “Connection of Emotions” (情感联络站), sang by Eric Moo with the familiar phrase “kopi O kopi O“, became an instant hit overnight. “The Coffee Shop” was the first local drama to hit one million average viewership.
Memorable Scene: The clash between the “red” (wedding) and the “white” (wake) at the void deck.
8. The Happy Trio 青春123
Year: 06 February 1986 to 11 March 1986
Main Cast: Chen Bifeng, Yang Libing (杨莉冰), Huang Wenyong, Hu Shuxian (胡淑贤), Wang Yuqing, Chen Shucheng (陈澍承), Huang Peiru, Zhu Houren (朱厚任), Anna Tan (陈安娜), Jin Jugong (金举拱)
Plot Summary: “The Happy Trio” touched on the life and difficulties faced by three teenage girls, such as family, love, friendship and studies.
Trivia: The drama’s catchy opening theme song was sang by then-upcoming xinyao singer Yan Liming (颜黎明).
9. Men of Valour 盗日英雄传
Year: 13 March 1986 to 02 May 1986
Genre: Pugilistic/Martial Arts/History
Main Cast: Hugo Ng (吴瑰岸), Xiang Yun, Lin Mingzhe, Chen Liping (陈莉萍), Lin Meijiao (林梅娇), Huang Yiliang, Huang Shinan (黄世南), Li Huiyan (黎惠燕), Xia Chuan, Chen Tianwen
Plot Summary: It was a chaotic era during the early South Song Dynasty. Famous Song general Yue Fei led his army to resist the invasion from the barbaric Jin troops, with the help of several righteous swordsmen.
Trivia: A major attempt by SBC to produce a drama series with a storyline that derived from China history. One of its filming locations took place at the Chinese Garden. Taiwanese diva Feng Feifei was invited to sing the drama’s theme songs.
Memorable Scene: The massive battle between the Song city defenders and the Jin invaders.
10. The Samsui Women 红头巾
Year: 05 May 1986 to 13 June 1986
Main Cast: Zeng Huifen (曾慧芬), Hong Huifang, Huang Wenyong, Li Yinzhu (李茵珠), Li Wenhai (李文海)
Plot Summary: Another locally-flavoured drama series produced by SBC after “Son of Tekong” and “The Coffee Shop”, “The Samsui Women” described the life and difficulties of three samsui women working in Singapore after the war.
Trivia: The opening theme song, sang by Taiwanese songbird Sarah Chen, became a classic hit. The drama also brought fame to its leading actresses Zeng Huifeng and Hong Huifang.
11. Neighbours 芝麻绿豆
Year: 07 July 1986 to 03 October 1988
Main Cast: Cai Pingkai (蔡平开), Chen Guohua (陈国华), Duan Weiming (段伟明), Lina Yeo, Fang Hui (方辉), He Jie, Zhou Shiqiang (周世强), Jin Yinji (金银姬)
Plot Summary: Like “The Coffee Shop”, “Neighbours” was a “grassroot” drama series that had a day-to-day storyline revolving around a kopitam and its stallholders of different characters.
Trivia: The daily half-hour “Neighbours” was the longest running drama series produced by SBC, with a total of 510 episodes and lasted more than two years. It brought fame to veteran actress Cai Pingkai, as her character “Er Gu” (Second Aunt) became a household name. The opening theme song “Voices From The Heart” (小人物的心声) was included in the Ministry of Communications and Information’s “Sing Singapore” booklet in 1988.
12. Five Foot Way 五脚基
Year: 16 March 1987 to 24 April 1987
Main Cast: Huang Wenyong, Wang Yuqing, Ye Sumei (叶素梅), Huang Peiru, Huang Shinan, Bai Yan (白言), Liang Tian (梁田), Tang Hu (唐琥), Chen Meiguang (陈美光), Li Yinzhu, Wang Xiuyun (王秀云)
Plot Summary: Sharing a common space, the different families living at the row of shophouses showed their cooperative and helpful nature for one another. The story spanned over more than two decades, from the late fifties to the early eighties.
Trivia: Many veteran SBC artistes were involved in the production of “Five Foot Way”, which brought back many old familiar memories of Singapore such as tikam, chap ji kee and firecrackers. Its popular theme song “My Life Is Here” (我的生活在这里) was also recorded in Sing Singapore 1988.
13. Strange Encounters 奇缘
Year: 26 October 1987 to 27 November 1987 (Part 1), 19 December 1988 to 27 January 1989 (Part 2)
Episodes: 25 (Part 1), 30 (Part 2)
Main Cast: Wang Yuqing, Chen Bifeng, Zheng Wanling (郑宛玲), Jin Jugong, Li Wenhai, Chen Shucheng, Huang Peiru, Lin Mingzhe, Desmond Sim (沈金兴), Ye Sumei, Lina Yeo, Anna Tan, Huang Shinan, Lin Meijiao, Chen Huihui (陈慧慧), Huang Wenyong, Huang Yiliang, Chen Xiuhuan, Liu Qiulian, Zoe Tay (郑惠玉), Chen Hanwei (陈汉玮)
Plot Summary: “Strange Encounters” was made up of several short stories (seven in Part 1 and nine in Part 2) in paranormal, strange tales and Chinese legends.
Trivia: There was also a Part 3 of the drama series. It was produced by TCS and telecast in 1995.
14. On The Fringe 边缘少年
Year: 18 April 1988 to 20 May 1988
Main Cast: Li Nanxing (李南星), Yang Libing, Chen Bifeng, Zheng Wanling, Duan Weiming, Zheng Guoping (郑国平), Huang Yiliang, Lin Meijiao
Plot Summary: A group of rebellious youths gradually fell into the dark side of the society after losing their directions in life.
Trivia: In 2011, Mediacorp produced a 20-episode “remake” of “On The Fringe” (边缘父子), also starring Li Nanxing. It was Channel 8’s first PG (Parental Guidance) drama series.
15. Mystery 迷离夜
Year: 29 August 1988 to 07 October 1988
Main Cast: Madeline Chu (朱乐玲), Zeng Huifen, Lin Mingzhe, Chen Xiuhuan, Yang Libing, Wang Yuqing, Li Wenhai, Pan Lingling (潘玲玲), Zheng Wanling, Chen Shucheng, Huang Wenyong, Xiang Yun, Tang Miaoling (汤妙玲), Angela Ang (洪昭容), Edmund Chen (陈之财), Zhu Houren, Huang Shinan, Chen Meiguang, Cai Pingkai, Tang Hu
Plot Summary: “Mystery” was made up of eight short mysterious stories, namely “Butterfly” 蝶, “Piano” 琴, “Infant” 婴, “Beauty” 美, “Dream” 梦, “Caution” 戒, “Soul” 魂 and “Puzzle” 迷.
Trivia: A Part 2 was produced and telecast in 1992.
Memorable Scene: Madeline Chu, in the first story “Butterfly”, aged rapidly after bitten by a butterfly.
16. Teahouse In Chinatown 牛车水人家
Year: 10 October 1988 to 18 November 1988
Main Cast: Li Nanxing, Chen Liping, Lin Meijiao, Zhu Houren, Fu Shuiyu (傅水玉), Zhang Shuifa (张水发), Liu Quilian, Tracy Wong (王裕香), Sean Say (成建辉), Chen Tianwen, Steven Lim, Wu Weiqiang, Jin Yinji
Plot Summary: “Teahouse In Chinatown” described an ordinary family; an aging couple who was constantly worrying about their five children, each with a different character.
Trivia: The drama’s opening theme song was sang by Eric Moo.
17. The Last Applause 舞榭歌台
Year: 25 July 1988 to 16 August 1988
Main Cast: Zeng Huifen, Lin Mingzhe, Xiang Yun, Huang Wenyong, Chen Tianwen, Li Wenhai, Liu Qiulian, Lin Meijiao, Huang Peiru, Lina Yeo, Edmund Chen, Jin Jugong
Plot Summary: One of the blockbusters produced by SBC in the late eighties, “The Last Applause” talked about the life of different getai (stage) singers who faced numerous challenges and discrimination. Many years later, an aspired singer became famous and popular, leading to a misunderstanding with her lover.
Trivia: The drama’s popular theme songs “When The Curtains Falls” (落幕的心情) and “Gentle Night” (温柔的夜) were sang by local singer Maggie Teng.
18. Good Morning, Sir! 早安老师
Year: 22 May 1989 to 16 June 1989
Main Cast: Li Nanxing, Chen Liping, Madeline Chu, Aileen Tan (陈丽贞), Zhu Houren, Hong Huifang, Hong Peixin, Lin Tianlong (林天龙)
Plot Summary: A young passionate lady took up a teaching role at a local kampong school in the sixties, inspiring her students with new teaching methods. She later fell in love with a Chinese physician in the village.
Trivia: Along with its catchy opening theme song, “Good Morning, Sir!” was a big hit, as Li Nanxing and Chen Liping emerged as SBC’s new leading actor and actress. “Aiyoyo” also became Chen Liping’s nickname.
Memorable Scene: The kampongs and farming areas in Singapore that still existed in the eighties.
19. A Mother’s Love 亲心唤我心
Main Cast: Wang Xiuyun, Li Nanxing, Wang Yuqing, Zoe Tay, Zeng Huifen, Zheng Guoping, Fu Shuiyu, Xie Shaoguang (谢韶光), Ye Shipin (叶世品), Chen Fengling (陈凤凌)
Plot Summary: A mother got separated from her five young children after she was sentenced to prison. The siblings were eventually reunited with their aging mother many years later, after a series of hardships, conflicts and misunderstandings.
Trivia: “A Mother’s Love” was popularly regarded as one of the most touching SBC dramas in the late eighties. The drama also saw the debut of Xie Shaoguang.
20. The Finishing Line 出人头地
Main Cast: Li Nanxing, Zoe Tay, Edmund Chen, Aileen Tan, Liang Weidong (梁维东), Tracy Wong, Hu Shuxian
Plot Summary: “The Finishing Line” described the life and friendship of three good friends in Singapore in the eighties. Growing up together in a kampong at Sembawang, each of them had chosen a different career after their National Service.
Trivia: The drama catapulted Edmund Chen to stardom.
Memorable Scenes: A glimpse of Singapore’s thriving financial centre at Shenton Way in the late eighties.
Other Notable Dramas
Other memorable SBC Channel 8 drama series of the eighties also include “Takeover” 人在旅途 (1985), “The Bond” 天涯同命鸟 (1986), “Paint A Rainbow” 调色板 (1987), “Painted Faces” 戏班 (1987), “Moving On” 变迁 (1987), “Star Maiden” 飞越银河 (1988) (SBC’s first ever science-fiction drama), “Turn of the Tide” 浮沉 (1989) and “Two Different Lifes” 金兰结 (1989).
Published: 10 March 2014
Updated: 20 September 2020