In May 2007, I watched a play by a local drama company (Toy Factory) called “Big Fool Lee”. I was pleasantly surprised by the impact that my grandfather had on the local population and the role he played in early Singapore.
The programme on the local production reads:
“He built a stage ‘on air’.
He used his voice as strength.
He captured the hearts of many with ethnic stories.
He lit up the lights of knowledge.
He was a true culture not only to Singaporeans but also beyond.
He is Big Fool Lee!”
But I remember turning on the Radio (Rediffusion) and hearing his program.
He told stories about the “Monkey God” and other Chinese traditional folk stories….(Frankly, most of the time, I did not really understand the program, as it was in Cantonese)…but his voice was mesmerizing even for a 5 yr old boy.
My mum who is his daughter, tells me that when he used to tell his stories in Chinatown, many would charge for his stories.
With his animated gestures, you will get to hear him tell his stories for the duration of a joss stick. When the joss stick stopped burning…that was how much your payment was worth.
According to my research from the National Library Achieves (Not bad right…they actually recorded him as a national icon), he was born Lee Dai Sor (b. 1913 – d. 22 March 1989, Singapore), or Lee Dai Soh, or Li Da Sha
He was a renowned Cantonese storyteller and especially popular among radio listeners in the 1950s and ’60s.
Lee was born Lee Fook Hung in Telok Blangah. In his first month, he was struck by a strange illness and lost his voice. Thinking that he was dying, his mother abandoned him at a rubbish dump, but he was discovered and returned by a beggar. Subsequently he recovered from the illness and regained his voice.
His career as a storyteller started in 1938 when he joined RTM and hosted a Cantonese programme,
Lee’s career expanded when Rediffusion started in Singapore in 1949. This provided him an additional platform for his storytelling. His storytelling struck a chord among the radio listeners and he became a household name among the listeners during the 1950s and ’60s.
At the height of his career, in 1963, he was hosting up to 20 programmes weekly for Rediffusion as well as for local and Malaysian radio stations. In the early ’60s, he was also invited to star in Hong Kong movies but he declined due to his busy schedule. However, he did oblige with guest appearances in a handful of movies.
The launch of the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979 marked the end of Lee’s broadcasting career, as the local radio stations and Rediffusion were made to cease all dialect programmes by the end of 1982 (Actually, i vaguely remember these posters…with a dress and bell bottoms like that…I don’t think I can actually forget!).
He went on to produce more albums and by end of 1983, he had 12 albums, and the last album consisting eight volumes. Rediffusion ceased its dialect programmes on 30 December 1982 and Lee left the broadcasting scene. However, his storytelling continued through performances at community centres and clan associations. Lee passed away on 22 March 1989 at the age of 76.
Frankly, I did not really get to know my grandfather. In fact, I found out more about my family through the drama, as the researches dug out more thing about my family than I knew.
But my grandpa’s name seems to work wonders whenever I visit the elderly.
I tell them that I am his grandson, and you can see the smile on their faces…
But that is also where the embarrassing part begins…When they start conversing to me in Cantonese, and to their astonishment, they realize that I can hardly muster a reply in my broken Cantonese.
Haha…The ironies of Modern Singapore!