Selling Dreams - Early advertising in Singapore
HAVING FUN IN
THE MODERN TIMES
Innovations in technology and shifts in leisure culture at the turn of the 20th century ushered in a new era of entertainment in the West, and Singapore was quick to embraced the new trends. Advertisements from the 1900s to the 1960s reveal the diversity and popularity of these new forms of leisure. Before this, the populace in Singapore was entertained by a variety of performances such as Chinese operas in various dialects, Malay bangsawan opera, Indian traditional dance, and Western theatre.
The cinematograph, what films were called when first invented, came into Singapore shortly after its first screening in Paris in 1895. The earliest local public screenings took place in makeshift tents in the 1900s. The first enclosed cinema, Paris Cinematograph, opened in Victoria Street in 1904. Larger movie theatres soon sprouted and advertisements of cinemas and movies proliferated in print media in the following decades.
Another innovation in entertainment introduced in the early 20th century was the amusement park. The three local amusement parks: New World (1923), Great World (1932) and Happy World (1937, later Gay World) were said to be modelled after the Malaya-Borneo Exhibition held in Singapore in 1922 and were inspired by entertainment parks in Shanghai. These ‘worlds’ became highly popular leisure spaces where people from all social classes could enjoy a myriad of entertainment, from traditional theatre performances to getai and boxing matches.
One of the major attractions of amusement parks were the cabarets – dance halls with dance hostesses, a live band and floor shows, which were highlights of Singapore night life from the 1930s to 1960s. Cabarets were also found in hotels, with the Southern Cabaret in Great Southern Hotel on Eu Tong Sen Street being the most famous.