Thursday, September 3, 2009

My famous Grandfather – Lee Dai Soh

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!”

I never really knew my grandfather, as he had two wives, and he was too traditional to really “hang out” with his grandchildren.

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.

Early Life
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!


tingting said...

wow! hes your grandfather! had the chance to translate the script a few months back but didnt take it. lol. cool!

Klessis said...

OMG, he's super famous!!!!

kailin said...

Wow! Impressive! I still have a Redifusion at my house!

Anonymous said...


jotoh said...

You sure inherited some of his genes by being an animated & interesting communicator!!! :)

San said...

WOW!!! Impressive!

(eh I have never heard of him personally, cos ya know, my Cantonese is simply out of this world *blush* but judging by his works and the comments... haha! He IS famous! :P)

Anonymous said...

wah! so interesting! You are the grandson of a celebrity! I actually heard of him before too!

Anonymous said...

wah! so interesting! You are the grandson of a celebrity! I actually heard of him before too!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Def not my era but it's indeed cool to know that you have a famous grandad! (:

Ed or Edmund Tay said...

ED- thanks guys!

Kailin - u still have a Redifusion at home?!?

What for?

kailin said...

My mom loves to listen to it when she does her housework and cooking. But lately, it seems like the connection is real bad, she decided to cancel the service. But it is still hanging on my kitchen wall. A classic!

Denise and Debbie said...

Wow! I remember him! An icon indeed...:)

Hann Hann said...


I remember Redifusion. my parents had it in their shop and my grandfather had it in his too.

I dont' really know Lee Dai Sor though.

all I can say is Singapore's Speak Mandarin Campaign is too successful.

Hann Hann said...

not hann but Hann's mummy said... oops.. that was hann's mummy speaking. not Hann. Hann's parents dont' have Redifusion nor a shop. ha.

Mei said...

wow, so interesting!! =)

voon said...

PK Chan

I am 62 years and grew up listening to yr grandfather's stories over Redufussion. I listened to him since a toddler in Chinatown in the early 50s and over the years until the 70s when I was working. Not only myself but my parents, brothers and sisters, my Cantonese classmates and contemporaries.

Throughout the years yr grandfather's stories captivated us and a source of stability. Come exams, inevitable problems of all sorts, we were sustained by the presence of yr grandfather's voice - he was always there providing stories of such a wide genre that defies definition here.

Yes, I went to watch the play of his life at the NL auditorium in 2007 and revived old memories. My sister told me that yr mom (or yr aunt) was her classmate in Fairfield Methodist School.

Your grandad is not only great but is very much respected... I would even use the word "loved" by listeners of my generation. May God bless him. He was unique.

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