Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Lee Kwan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, died yesterday aged 91. He was an incredible person whose legacy can and will never be forgotten. I never met him but he knew me.   Here's the story .....

Back in the 1960s and 70s The British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) ran a string of radio and TV stations around the world catering for service personnel and their dependents.   BFBS Singapore operating on 88.9 FM was one of those stations.  It had its studios in Tanglin.      In the mid 1970s I was seconded to the organisation as a continuity announcer working Thursday nights under the watchful eye of Roger Hudson, the station's senior announcer, who cut his teeth working for the old NZ Broadcasting Corporation in Wanganui.

In addition to continuity work I read the New Zealand news and had a regular timeslot programme 'Sounds in the Night' which I promoted as music to go to bed to ..... I digress.    In 1975 the British withdrew from Singapore and the station closed down (although the frequency is still utilized to relay BBC World Service programmes).     We operated on very strict protocols so as to not upset the Singaporeans; no jokes, no live talk back, it was as if Lord Reith was sitting in the studio with us.

However on the last night of broadcasting up until we went officially off-air on the stroke of 12 midnight we decided to defy convention and let it rip.   Actually the last 12 hours 'live' was one big party awash with alcohol from the ex-pat community much of which made its way into the broadcast studio with sometimes interesting results ... no matter.    I was scheduled for the 6 pm to 8 pm slot but when I arrived at the station from our home in Nee Soon I found I had left my pipe and tobacco behind.     We didn't have a telephone at home so the only thing left to me was to appraise Pam of my plight 'on air' and ask her to bring the pipe and tobacco with her when she left to join the party after I had vacated the mic for the last time.  

About 45 minutes later Hudson comes into the studio and said "WTF have you been doing .... there's a Singapore Government car parked at the entrance to the building and a very fierce looking Sikh asking for you, go and sort it out".     So, downstairs I went and introduced myself to a very impressive looking Sikh officer with bits of braid all over him.    He said he was Prime Minister's Aide-de-Camp and that Lee Kwan Yew had been listening to BFBS and that he was instructed to give me this ... handed me a gift wrapped box, saluted and departed.   Took it back upstairs into the studio where we unwrapped it ... it was a English Estate Dunhill Root Briar pipe and a packet of Dunhill tobacco.

What a gift, what a man.


Cedric said...

Fantastic story! What a memoir!

The Veteran said...

I posted the story on the two NZ Vietnam Veteran nets. I received this in response from a highly regarded Borneo/Vietnam veteran who glories in the ndp 'Whitefox'.


Today at 1:56 AM

Magic Man Indeed.

Ray Txxxxx and I were having a quiet beer in the Cold Storage in Singapore one afternoon - I had just come down on leave from the Jungle Warfare School and Ray I think had either just come off, or was in his words "dodging" a Hercules Flight despatched to Vietnam to pick up Embassy Staff who were in a hurry to get out of the country. I somehow think it was more likely to have been the former given a description he later mentioned of the Ambassador's vehicle loaded on board as well.

There were three of us in the bar plus the barman. The third gentlemen in the bar was obviously a bit older than us and on his own so we invited him to join us. At one point during that quiet afternoon he asked us what we thought of Singapore.

Without hesitation we told him we loved the place and that New Zealand could learn a lesson or two from Lee Kuan Yew and his team about how to run a country with no real resources except the skills and abilities of its people.

All in All it was a good afternoon in nice quiet surroundings without the inevitable juke box pounding away in the background.

Anyway after about an hour he left. Ray and I stayed on in the bar but when we tried to pay for our beer we were told in no uncertain terms that the drinks were on the house for us and for as long as we decided to stay in the bar. When we asked who was picking up the bill, the barman said:

".... the old man who was with you, his name is Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore..."

Needless to say both Ray and I stayed on in the bar.

Magic. And yes I did feel sad to hear about his passing. I think Singaporeans owe him a lot regardless of the fact that he had to make hard decisions at times.

Enjoy the Pipe and the Tobacco is what Lee Kuan Yew would be saying to you now.

Thanks for the memories