Monday, December 10, 2018

National Theatre Singapore Charity Concert 1965: Robin Chng

Robin Chng has kindly written this article to highlight a charity show staged at our famous theatre on 27 March 1965. He was the organising committee secretary. I am still wishing that more Singaporeans like him could donate music stories to this blog. . Thank you so much, Robin, for your generosity and contribution.
"273 EXCLUSIVE CHARITY CONCERT 1965" at the National Theatre.
The Gan Eng Seng School Old Students Association.
More than half a century ago when tragedy befell a member of our group of bosom buddies (former classmates in secondary school), we got together and decided to help raise funds for our unfortunate buddy who became paralyzed as a result of a swimming mishap. A fellow paralytic Johnny Ang whom older readers would probably have heard of also chipped in (National Library archived articles from The Straits Times) after learning of our buddy's plight. As mentioned in the articles, we got together to help raise funds for paralytic Tham Kok Seng to enable him to purchase a possum machine. It would have been a cinch today with crowd funding but alas this was in the sixties.
As pop bands performances were a draw in those days, we decided to organize a variety concert featuring local pop bands, a magic act, dancers and even someone who could coax music from a saw with a violin bow. After forming a committee and assigning the various roles amongst ourselves, we went about seeking sponsors, artistes/performers, emcee, choosing a date for the concert and booking the venue. The date and venue for the concert - 27 March 65 and The National Theatre - were duly chosen. Quite aptly, we named the concert "273 Exclusive" as it was to be held on 27/3/1965.
As it turned out, the concert opened to a sellout crowd much to the delight of the organizers and all participants who made the event possible. I have kept the concert's programme booklet all these years - the accompanying photos capture the programme booklet in its entirety. All the participants who are still around today are probably grand-fathers/mothers. They would be proud to show this record to their families their sincere contribution to Singapore's cultural and LQ heritage. Seniors reading this article are likely able to remember the distinguished guests, radio personality, the then Minister of Health and all the artistes who performed there that night. Younger readers may have also heard of them, perhaps from their parents.
On a side note, many of us from the pioneer/Merdeka generation are deeply saddened that our National Heritage Board wasn't able to gazette the National Theatre for conservation. Singaporeans from all walks of life had generously and proudly contributed their hard earned money to the "a-dollar-a-brick" fundraising campaign. Most notably, even trishaw riders and coolies contributed too. This despite their meagre and irregular earnings. Together with funds jointly donated by the government, our National Theatre was officially opened on 8 Aug 1963.

Throughout its 23-yr span, many famous pop stars and bands performances were held there. Regrettably, this iconic building had to be demolished due to structural problems and was torn down in Aug 1986. A crying shame I might add. Structural problems could easily have been corrected with the building technology available then. Our country's finances were sound too. Conserving the theatre was thus clearly doable.
Everyone who had heeded the call to give generously towards the building fund were thus dismayed. It was truly a "peoples" National Theatre, built in no small part through the support of the citizens and yet didn't deserve to be conserved. 

Were you at this concert with a star-studded cast of Singapore artistes? Do write in to tell us. 

This article has been written by Robin Chng. 
The article and images: Copyrights Reserved.
Read about his brother Jimmy Chng and The Decibels:


CYLIN said...

Hey Andy,
Reading Robin Chng's article makes me mad again thinking of the demolition of the National Theatre. A mini facade of it was put up nailed to the small piece of ground where River Valley Road meets Tank Road.

I happened to pass the area a month ago and didn't see the structure. Has it been removed so as not to remind us of this icon in the coming bicentennial celebrations? Wounds can be healed but scars will always be left behind.


Hi Andy,

I can't remember; wish I can recall.

I remember there was a show we performed together with the Quests and Keith Locke.
Songs we an remember, likely Cliff and Johnny Lion pieces.


A very interesting article.
Need more people like Robin to relive Singapore's music past.
Thanks, Robin.

I hope I can contribute too but unfortunately I do not have photographs to post.


Can’t remember whether I attended the star-studded school participated in the National Theatre fundraising project and I contribute my pocket money thus had to starve during recess time.

Jeannie said...

This article brings back fond memories of my time as a teenager growing up and listening to pop music. I don't remember attending this particular concert but had watched other pop stars and bands perform there. I had saved my tuckshop money to contribute to the "dollar-a-brick" fund raising campaign. If one were to flip through any photo albums of Pioneer/Merdeka generation families, I'd bet my last dollar that one would come across at least one photo with the iconic National Theatre facade in background. Its demolition is a big letdown to all who contributed towards the building fund.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi everyone,

Thanks for the early comments and fond memories of concerts at the National Theatre.

Yes, it's true. We all miss the theatre; it was iconic.

I remember too the lush surroundings which drew many audience members to wander around before and after a concert.

Let's hope the people in charge would think a million times before they pull down another building today.

Robin, this posting is a hit. It went up from Zero to number One very quickly.

Anonymous said...

It's such a great shame that the National Theatre was demolished as it was such a distinguished design and was witness to so many important events.

Meanwhile, the concert organised by Robin and his friends sounds fantastic.

Thank you to Robin for sharing the story and the historic booklet.




It's such a great shame that the National Theatre was demolished as it was such a distinguished design and was witness to so many important events.

Meanwhile, the concert organised by Robin and his friends sounds fantastic.

Thank you to Robin for sharing the story and the historical booklet.