Phua Chu Kang was my best project in my 20-year career & it nearly got cut due to lack of sponsors

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Mothership| December 01, 10:25 AM

On Air – Untold Stories from Caldecott Hill is a collection of 51 essays about the history of television and radio in Singapore.

Compiled and published by Marshall Cavendish, the book features accounts from actors, producers, directors, journalists and many more about their time in the broadcasting industry throughout Singapore's history.

Here, we reproduce an excerpt from the book, "Thank You For The 20 Years", by actor and show host Gurmit Singh, about his experience on working at Mediacorp.

Gurmit is currently working as a radio DJ on Gold 905.

On Air can be purchased here.


By Gurmit Singh

I was with the TV station for 20 years. It was 1989 when I was spotted in Haw Par Villa performing in an interactive comedic musical. After the show, a TV producer came to say that perhaps one day I could do a television project.

Inside I laughed it off thinking “no chance”, but four years later, I got a call for an audition. Neil Wilson, the executive producer of a new show on Channel 5 saw me performing as a compere in a popular disco in Orchard Road and persuaded Kenneth Liang to audition me for the show.

I was asked to talk about myself for a minute, followed by another minute of interviewing an imaginary guest celebrity. I passed that stage and was told to come in for the screen test.

This was done in the studio itself with proper backdrop and stage, etc. There were a few of us in that audition. They were looking for a female and male host pair to helm a new disco variety show called Live on 5!.

Not only did I get the part, but I was the only host. No female co-host.

Being live on television was scary

It was my first foray into television and a live show at that which made it extra scary. Every Monday night in 1994, we went live for one hour.

I was super anxious and scared.

But at the same time, I was learning a lot at an exponential rate and that was exciting me so much – so much so, I would forget the fear of making a total fool of myself on live national television.

After almost a year, we wrapped up Live on 5! I went on to do other projects which were quite diverse.

A talk show (Tonight with Gurmit), a kid’s show (Gurmit’s Small Talk), a sketch show (Gurmit’s World), a sitcom (Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd), a reality show (Singapore Idol), a drama (Lifeline), several movies and many more projects in my 20-year career with the station.

I was asked to change my name for television

As a matter of fact, on average, I was doing three projects on any given day! Interestingly, when I was asked to join the station, it was suggested that I change my name to make it more television friendly.

The name suggested was Christopher D’Souza. I had to decline even if it meant costing me the opportunity to be in television because I sincerely felt that changing my name would be an insult to my parents.

As it turned out, my reason for declining added to my credit and I was signed up!

Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd was my best project

I reckon my best project to date would be Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, which went on to win Best Comedy Series for six years and I won Best Comedy Actor for five years in the Asian Television Awards.

By the time we finally stopped production, it had become the longest running English show on Singapore TV, not counting the News of course!

There was a time in its early days when Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd was at the risk of being cut because we couldn’t find any sponsor.

Many clients who were approached cited the reason that the show was not in line with their branding because it was about a loveable but uncouth and unrefined contractor, and his dysfunctional family.

But after the first Asian television win, the sponsorships, endorsements and so on all came flooding in – to the point that all commercial slots were sold out and ate into the slots reserved for in-house promotions.

To say that the 20-year career has changed my life would be an understatement. It expanded my horizons incredibly and it had been quite a ride.

But now, I am even happier spending time with my family that has been my support and anchor all these years.

Top image collage from Gurmit Singh Facebook