This article is to introduce magicians and magic enthusiasts to the rich history of magic in Singapore. It honours the notable achievements, prominence and significance of local magicians from the past and present.
The beginning of Modern Magic in Singapore
It is the general consensus that modern magic in Singapore (post World War 2) began with the late-Ng Bo
Oen AKA The Great Wong. Information on local magic pre-war is very scarce. The only information found has ichiteck been on The Great Wong performing at the New World Amusement Park (then located at Kitchener Road) in the 1930s.
The Great Wong was born in 1908 in Shanton, a city of the Guangdong Province, China and immigrated to Singapore in 1933. He was the only professional magician of his time in Singapore and performed across South East Asia. He was known for his sharp stage magic, Linking Rings routine and Sword Basket illusion. He was also an expert craftsman who built all of his props by hand. He had the gift of figuring out the mechanics and methodology of magic props and fabricating them from scratch.
In 1962, The Great Wong made a significant contribution to the international magic community by publishing his famous linking rings routine with English script written by Tudor Brock. Davenports Magic in London distributes his manuscript to date. In 1982, he was invited by the Federation Internationale des Societes Magiques (FISM) to perform at the 15th World Congree of Magic in Lausanne, Switzerland.
(For more info on The Great Wong; refer to ‘The Great Wong Story’ in The International Brotherhood of Magicians Singapore Ring 115 The Quantum Ring Golden Jubilee Issue)
Another local magician who was instrumental in growing modern magic in Singapore during the beginning was the late-Tan Hock Chuan. He was a teacher by profession but performed for annual special events, charity shows and private parties. He was (and still is) internationally known for his magical inventions. His effects and ideas are still marketed dealer items today and have been published in countless publications (of that time) such as Gen, Spinx, Pentagram, New Pentagram, Swami Mantra, Abracadabra and even Tarbell’s Course in Magic. He is the first Asian magician to receive the Spinx Award (1936-37)
Both The Great Wong and Tan Hock Chuan were important influences to many of the first generation of Singapore modern-magicians who have paved the way for future generations.
It was only after the war and during the British Military Administration that magic in Singapore began its rise to where it is today. 1950 was the year that the Singapore Magician’s Club was formed by a group of amateur magicians, comprising of English-educated professionals.
In 1951 the Singapore Magician’s Club received their charter from The International Brotherhood of Magicians HQ in America and was from then on was officially known as The International Brotherhood of Magicians Singapore Ring 115. Founding members of the club at that time included Tan Ewe Chee (President), Yeo Soon Kian, Lim Kim Tian, Lim Hap Hin, J.H Stafford, L.A Joseph, J.W Jackson (Vice-President) and Tan Hock Chuan (Secretary).
The 50’s gave birth to Singapore’s first generation of modern magicians. Besides the founding members of the IBM Ring and The Great Wong (who joined the Ring in 1952 by invitation), some prominent first generation magicians included Lim Hap Hin, Tan Choon Tee, Tan Bah Chee, Yeo Soon Kian and his student Michael Lim.
The Great Wong operated the first magic shop from his home cum showroom/ workshop in Singapore at 255-A Jalan Besar where he sold his own handcrafted props as well as imported dealer items from Japan. (This home/ shop was destroyed in a fire in Dec 1988 causing him to lose most of his books and props)
During this period, magicians like The Great Wong, Tan Bah Chee, Lim Hap Hin and Tan Choon Tee conducted magic courses at the National Theatre Club and the YMCA. They were responsible for producing active magicians such as Charles Choo, Wong Fok Choy, Chia Hearn Jiang, Gwee Thiam Hock and the late-Vijeyacone.
The early 60s also saw the ‘Golden Age’ of magic with magicians performing at different venues across the country. Besides local magicians performing in night clubs, foreign magicians such as Socar performed a grand illusion show to a full house at the Capitol Theatre (along Stamford Road) and The Great Nicholas at the Sky Theater in The Great World Amusement Park at Kim Seng Road (Now, Great World City).
In the late 60s, Wee Peng Guan (Uncle of Charles Choo), opened the second magic shop in Singapore at a shop house along Robinson Road. Around that time, popular entertainer Victor Khoo’s father Khoo Teng Heng who was a magician, a ventriloquist and hypnotist opened his magic shop at Bras Basah. (where Carlton Hotel stands currently).