Shaw Cinemas, Post War, Singapore (1945-1970)
"On the return of the British to Singapore and Malaya, we started afresh and business became prosperous because the public hungered for the opportunity to see British and American films. Theatres were crowded especially during the first few months with the main draw being war movies. With such overwhelming response, we had to plan for expansion."
- Tan Sri Runme Shaw, private interview, Shaw Archives, 1981
After the war, the Shaw exhibition circuit picked up again.
Financing the new growth was all the gold, jewelery and cash into which the Shaws had converted their assets prior to the war and literally buried away.
Running the head office with the Shaw brothers were various key staff -
some of whom had worked for the Shaws before the war and who had returned to service.
Notible players in the immediate post war decade were Mr Jack A. Sharp (General Manager); Mr Lee Tun Koo (Company Secretary); Mr Tan Beng Geok (Assistant Company Secretary); Mr J.S. Vine, Mr W. Tame and later, W.E. Myors (Chief, Accounting Department).
Mr Liok Sek Yu (Head, Equipment Department); Mr Chia Poh Seng (Head, Booking Department); Mr Shaw Vee Ngok (Head, MFP Studio); Mr S Y Hsu (Supervisor, MFP Studio); Ms Ashley Cooper and later, Mr John Foo (Theatre Supervisor)
Mr James Lawler (Head, Publicity and Advertising Department); Mr Jimmy Liang (Head, Art Department);
State Theatre, Singapore
Mr Chua Boon Hean (Head, Chinese Department); Mr Jaffar Abdullah (Head, Malay Department); Mr I R Menen and Mr I S Menen (Head, Indian Department)
Shaw Vee Tzan (Manager, Great World Amusement Park) and; Mr N. Rangabashyam (Chief, Shaw Printing Works).
John Foo and T K Lee
Jack Sharp with Shaw Borneo stars Luli and her father 1957
n 1957, Mr Sharp retired and Mr Lee Tun Koo assumed most of his tasks in addition to his own work as Company Secretary. Two years later, Lee was transferred to MFP studio and his role as Company secretary went to his assistant, Mr Tan Beng Geok. Mr S.Y. Liok, who was then in charge of cinema equipment was made General Manager.
In 1958, Mr Shaw Vee Meng, the eldest son of Run Run, joined the company as an executive. Around the same time, two Eurasians were engaged by Shaw at the executive level.
Mr Albert Odell took top post as head of Aquisitions and Mr Bill Goodwyn became head of Publicity and Advertising.
From the start, the Shaw team executed their plans with pure determination - to rebuild and expand the Shaw circuit throughout the region in the shortest time possible.
In Singapore, the next two decades saw the emergence of cinemas like the Capitol (bought from the Namaze Brothers in 1946) on Stamford Road and Rex on McKenzie Road.
There was also Globe , Atlantic , Sky and Canton in Great World Park (Canton and Atlantic were wooden buildings). Pacific, State, Grand and the wooden Sun in New World Park.
Other cinemas owned by the Shaws were Naval Base and Canberra in Sembawang, Empire in Hougang, Royal on North Bridge Road, Oriental on New Bridge Road, Queens in Geylang , Ciros on Keppel Road, Lido on Orchard Road, Roxy on East Coast Road, and Hoover in Balestier. Prior to the Lido, Shaw had the Pavilion on Orchard Road.
By 1965, Shaw owned halls in Singapore totalled 19. The independent halls in Singapore which were contracted to play only Shaw distributed films numbered 30. With cinemas scattered throughout the island, the Shaws had the widest exhibition circuit in Singapore.
For over four decades after the war, product from the major Hollywood studios - Universal International Pictures, Warners and United Artists exhibited exclusively through the circuit controlled by Shaw.
MGM, Paramount, Fox and Disney played through Cathay. Columbia's product, however, was split between the two rival circuits.
The Hollywood studio films were distributed through their local head offices in Singapore.
To handle the increasing number of independent films acquired by Shaw (prior to the establishment of the major film markets) from producers in the United States, England, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Philippines and Mexico, an acquisition department was operated out of Shaw Chambers.
This was headed by Mr Albert Odell for a period of three years from 1957. Assisting him in acquiring product were the various foreign agents which were engaged by the department.
This was headed by Mr Albert Odell for a period of three years from 1957. Assisting him in acquiring product were the various foreign agents which were engaged by the department. With Odell's departure in 1960, Mr Noni Sen, an ex-Columbia manager for Singapore took over acquisitions for Shaw. He operated out of an office in London and later, Paris and Cannes. Mr Sen acquired product from all over Europe and the United States, attending screenings in Rome, Munich and Los Angeles.
Lido Cinema under construction, 1958
For almost a decade after the war, booking films for Shaw controlled theatres in Singapore and Malaysia and distribution of Shaw product into Independent theatres came under the control of Mr P.S. Chia. In fact, Chia had worked for the Shaws in similar capacity shortly before the war.
The film bookers decided on where, when and how long a film would play throughout the Shaw circuit. They also negotiated with Hollywood distributors on the terms of exhibition.
The decision whether to continue playing a film depended not only on the film rental terms but also on an agreed mid week and weekend breakeven box office figure - achieve that figure, and it was likely your print will continue playing in a cinema; drop short of that figure, and your film may end its run abruply. This, however, did not apply to blockbusters which played according to an agreed exhibition period and a sliding scale for terms.
When Mr Shaw Vee Kong, the third son of Runje joined the company in the early 1950s, he was put in charge of servicing film orders and keeping stock at Robinson Road. By 1958, the film storage facility was transferred to Zion road where a new distribution office was set up as well. Vee Kong was now put in charge of storage, shipping and also distribution of Shaw product to independent theatres in Singapore, Malaysia, Borneo and Brunei.
Run Run entertains Milton Rackmil, president of Universal International, 1963
Odell with Ralph Bromhead of Lion International Film Ltd, 1959
With the withdrawal of Singapore from the Federation in 1965, a separate distribution office and store had to be established for Malaysia. This office would not only service film stock for all Shaw Federation cinemas but also distribute Shaw product to Independent halls there. At first, Vee Kong set up the Malaysian distribution office in Jalan Wong Ah Fook in Johore Bahru.
Later, it was moved to Kluang before finally settling at Petaling Jaya. In Singapore, the Zion Road office was retained to service the island's cinemas as well as perform distribution to Independent halls.
With Vee Kong firmly in charge of distribution, bookings to the Shaw circuit continued to be headed by Mr P.S. Chia until the mid-70s.
With Chia's retirement, Cheong Hoi Weng took over as chief booker. Working under him was Mr Y.T. Kwan, a booker since 1956, who handled the key towns and sub-key towns in Malaysia as well as several halls in Singapore. Another booker , Mr Mak Kai Seng focused on the remaining Singapore halls as well as the myriad small towns of Malaysia.