The Malayan Broadcasting Corporation - a Bit of Forgotten History
I have been asked to convert my Looking for Mrs. Peel 'play' into narrative prose form,
but I didn't. Not only because I am lazy but because RADIO is a character in this play.
It starts in 1967, when English Radio was BIG in Montreal among teenagers.
And it's about the Double Tenth Incident at Changi in WWII, a torture incident, all started when
internees set up stations to get the new BBC radio broadcasts intended to boast morale
and perhaps pass on info. My grandmother was involved. (Read the play to learn how.
Was she a spy like Mrs. Peel... probably.) Here is a bit I researched about the
Malayan Broadcasting Corporation in preparation for this play:
In 1940, the British-Malayan Broadcasting Corporation, a private entity, was taken over
by the Malayan Broadcasting Corporation, which is described in places as an arm of
the British Information Ministry or a quasi-government group
This aspect of my grandmother's story is probably 'the smoking gun.'
If she was indeed engaged in any spy activity, it would be because she had
worked here during the siege.
Most of the info about MBC in this play comes from my grandmother's memoirs
and Singapore Goes Off the Air by Giles Playfair, a book that oft mentions my grandmother.
This book was published in 1943, so even if Playfair, Head of Entertainment,
knew anything about extra curricular goings on at MBC he could hardly write about it.
There are a couple of other books and at least one cache of letters at the
Imperial War Museum I would like to consult to better figure out this part of the story.
In Playfair's book my grandmother says she is staying in Singapore to be with
her husband, my grandfather, Robert. But she wasn't exactly crazy about him.
She had another boyfriend.
And she is the only European at MBC to stay behind, along with the Directors.
Letters to the Editor of the Straits Times in 1940 and 1941 suggest that the MBC
was only a slight improvement on the BMBC. But of course, with such a multicultural
audience, in a very shaky time of war and potential invastion, it was very very
hard to please everyone and citizens liked to take out their frustrations on the
Radio Station, it seems to me.
From Sept 24, 1941, just a few months before invasion: Last night after dinner
I went to sit and listen for half an hour to the wireless for entertainment and
tuned into London and was greeted by "You will now here the saddest thing of all."......
Another letter around the same time: "Can you tell me what's the idea of the
Singapore Station starting to play a record, and then cutting out for talk and
then starting another record?"
Another letter: I have no bouquets to hurl at 'said diffuser of things vocal over the ether."
Another: "Racial Riot in the Making:"I notice that the MBC is looking for an
assistant announcer who must speak English...Another: Might you tell the announcer
at 6 that sanguinary is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable..."
And yet another, "About the change in time for the Malay broadcast, I hear roars
and crumbles from the Malay audience. The old time was much appreciated as it
did not interfere with our prayers." AND SO ON AND SO FORTH..
The Straits Times Archives of the time say that the Director of the MBC went
to London in September 1941, just before Pearl Harbour and the Invasion of
Malaya by the Japanese. HMMM.
From what I can glean from reading from these letters to the editor, the BMBC was
not making money and not able to create the complicated and expensive
programming this multicultural society needed. Indeed, it dropped Hindustani programming
apparently in 1939, due to lack of subscribers. Remember, with each purchase
of a set the listener had to pay a licence fee of 12 dollars. Some wanted this
fee dropped to 5 dollars.(It was in 1940 in order to encourage more local listeners!)
I am going to take a very safe guess and say the Malayan Broadcasting Corporation
was set up due to the war. The British knew they would need to reach the many
different cultural groups so that they would remain loyal during the war.
Some other headlines: "Heading into War: A suggestion that 15 readings should be
given by MBC was made by Richard Sydney in a talk called "Books and Wartime"
at the Rotary Club...May 6, 1941. The preliminary staff of experts from the BBC
to the new Malaya Broadcasting Corporation has been completed with the arrival
of two women, Ruth Bratt and ME Myers as assistants to the CE)...August 1941.
Important new developments in radio broadcasting affecting the whole Far East region
are likely very shortly as Singapore becomes the site of a powerful new station....
March 1940... extra programmes in Cantonese, Hokkein, and Hindustani.....
As it happens, the Japanese and siege happened all too quickly and the MBC was
not at all prepared to give instructions and guidance during those last desperate
hours.It didn't help that the British Powers That Be in Singapore and Malaya
were not prepared for the cagey Japanese attack despite having 3 times more
men, I believe, so they didn't provide BC with coherent instructions.
Read Giles Playfair's Singapore Goes Off the Air for more about MBC during the siege.
(He has a very nice modern style.)Noel Barber's Sinister Twilight is the definitive account.
And if you want a first hand account, Thomas Kitching's Changi Diary. Some of Kitching's
diary was used by Barber.