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Sunday, June 06, 2010
Naturally BBC: English Gentleman Without The Stiff Upper Lip - Larry Lai Interview - (Part II)
"You speak and behave like an English gentleman. All you need is a bowler hat, an umbrella with a whangee handle and polished leather shoes. Like John Steed in The Avengers?" That was the truth about this celebrity broadcaster because he did not have a phoney accent and spoke as naturally as the announcers on BBC. And according to him, "The BBC was where I learnt my trade... yes... listening to the station daily... from home." So as we started on our Katong laksa, Larry Lai, who never liked to talk about himself, reluctantly related in impeccable Queen's English his 18 year relationship with Rediffusion.
He came with his family from Shanghai, China, had his education at Pearl's Hill Primary and studied commercial subjects at Outram Secondary. He started as a Rediffusion announcer in 1960 with Tan Swee Leong. They had replaced Tan Hock Lye and Steven Lee who left for Radio Singapore. Being a broadcaster was challenging but he loved his profession at the station, working with the Rediffusion family until he retired as manager and producer in 1978.
Straits Times Advertisement 29th September, 1966.
Larry remembered how difficult the job could be. Besides doing the routines where he had to broadcast, make announcements, play music requests, prepare scripts, etc. in the studio, Larry had also to carry out extra curricular activities outside.
When his boss Len Thorne phoned him in December, 1961 to interview U.S. crooner Frank Sinatra at Singapore Airport, he lugged his heavy, bulky tape recorder and sped all the way to the tarmac hoping to get a scoop. He was excited when Sinatra finally emerged from the plane but before he could approach "Ol' Blue Eyes", the singer made an about turn and disappeared. Larry was so upset, he refused to play Sinatra records on air for a week!
On another occasion, he and Tan Swee Leong climbed a tree, risking broken bones, to catch a glimpse of 60s Calypso singer Harry Belafonte at the Raffles Hotel. When the singer saw them perching precariously beneath the pale moon and fearing their safety, he quickly agreed to the interview. It was an exclusive for Rediffusion and a pat on the back for the "terrible twins" (Lai & Tan).
But then there were other moments of joy too when Larry compered game shows with beautiful, perfume scented ladies. Like when he hosted and interviewed Philippino songbird Teresa Carpio, Hong Kong superstar Jennie Tseng (sidebar image), Cathay Pacific's ambassador, Frances Yip (above image) and other glamorous celebrities during live shows at the National and Victoria theatres, cinemas, shopping malls and the Rediffusion auditorium.
At this point of the interview I interrupted him and asked, "And the lady in your life, Larry. Tell us about your very pretty wife. We've been introduced, so perhaps you'd like to recall how you met her the first time? "
"Oh," he said, "that's with Saloma and Ahmad Daud... at the Lido Cinema. And she was with this gentleman. But it's another story... "
Image: Larry Lai Collection: (The lady next to Frances Yip is Katherine Kan from an earlier metamorphosis of Media Corp, possibly RTS. It was backstage at the National Theatre during an end-of-year show in the early 80s.)