Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Englishman Who Shouted Merdeka!

Was delighted to see Fredrick Lees interviewed by Wan A. Hulaimi in the New Sunday Times today.

Some of you will know Freddy as the author of Fool's Gold, a novel (published by Silverfish) based on his own experiences as an officer in the Colonial Service in Malaya, and may have met him at the first KL Literary Festival.

I met Freddy through my friends Jean and Barry who also have a house in Rye, in Sussex.

He really is a fascinating storyteller and I loved hearing about how things were here "back then", particularly when he took my head on a virtual tour of KL in the fifties and I saw the skyscrapers dissolve and the mansions along Jalan Ampang swim back into view.

But the best story and the one I told him really must be written was his account of how he - an Englishman - was actually the person who lead the crowds in the rousing call "Merdeka!" on that auspicious day.

Freddy had been enlisted as a member of the committee that organised the Independence Day celebrations:
At midnight, Aug 30, 1957, Tunku Abdul Rahman delivered his independence message to the people. "A new star has risen in the eastern sky, a star of freedom for yet another Asian people." From his drawer, Lees pulls out a bound copy of cyclostyled sheets, the schedule of events on the morning of Saturday, Aug 31.
Everything was timed exactly as it should have happened. "At 7.36 HRH the Duke of Gloucester arrives at the stadium and greeted by Datuk Abdul Razak and Encik Abdul Rahman Talib," he reads from one page.

But not everything went to plan, the Declaration of Independence as read by the Tunku and which everyone now takes as the highlight of the event, was not read as timed in the sheets.
"What happened was a bus came up to the front of the Merdeka Stadium, drove into the storm drain and could not be removed. So the whole ceremony took place one hour later," recalls Lees with a chuckle.

He also remembers another incident that still gives him great satisfaction. Lees was in the stadium’s control box with Umno’s then rising star, Syed Jaafar Albar. Just as they were studying the schedules and looking out nervously for possible glitches, "Tunku Abdul Rahman popped his head in" on his way down to the stadium grounds.

He asked Syed Jaafar to lead the crowd in cheers of "Merdeka" at the conclusion of the event.
This Syed Jaafar did. "Merdeka! Merdeka!" he shouted into the microphone as the dignitaries were moving out from the specially built Merdeka platform in the stadium.

The crowd responded with equal gusto, and then, according to Lees, another hitch: Syed Jaafar lost his voice.
"Syed Jaafar turned to me and said, ‘My throat’s gone, my throat’s gone. You do it!’ "I did and shouted ‘Merdeka’ into the microphone, and ‘Merdeka!’ the crowd responded. Again, ‘Merdeka’..."
In his house in the peak of Rye, at midday, in front of the landmark church of St Mary the Virgin, Lees speaks his gruff voice into an imagined microphone of 50 years ago. "Merdeka! Merdeka!" Lees proclaims to the whitewashed room of his book-lined study. He sits back with a broad smile.

"I thought then, ‘This is marvellous, it gives me tremendous satisfaction. This is why I came here.’"


Kak Teh said...

aaah, sharon, thanks for posting this. Look out for the 7 min feature i did on him for RTM's Galeri Perdana. Should be out soon. Fred and his wife Marie have beautiful stories to tell. Marie is such a talented artist and Fred does cartoons too. Wonderful couple. Will spend 30th August with them.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks kak teh, so glad you dropped by. do let us know when the programme is on and give freddy and marie my love - also jean and barry if you see them

Anonymous said...

Oh, I would so love to meet Mr. Lees and his wife! I'm sure they must be inundated by such requests. I can't tell you how much this anecdote resonates with me, and I know they must have many more like it. Maybe someday....


bibliobibuli said...

freddy is in his '80's now ... but if youa re in UK i'm sure he'd be very glad to see you

Jean said...

I’ve just emailed this to Freddy in case he hasn’t seen it. He lives across the cobbled street and down a few houses in this 14th century town which some say is the most photographed in England and where we feel very fortunate to live. We inherited his present house, which we loved, from Barry’s parents but 10 years ago we got the chance to move to a slightly bigger one on the sunnier side of the street and it seemed fitting that the people keenest to buy the family house also had strong Malaysian (actually Malaya) connections. So if any of you do get to England (braving the prices of everything--the biggest shock still for this pair of retirees from Malaysia), do make the short train journey south from London. We can have a grand Malaysian reunion while introducing you to a town which never fails to delight visitors. Freddy does have lots of interesting and amusing stories of his days before and after Independence which we still hope he’ll write up.

Jean Floyd, ex CfBT, ex MPIK-UK Twinning Programme, ex Resource Centre, English Language Teaching Centre Malaysia

bibliobibuli said...

hi Jean, so happy that you dropped by!! i'm so bad at keeping in touch by more normal means, but my thoughts are very much with you and barry.

preeta and the rest - there's your invitation!

Kak Teh said...

sharon, just wondering - did you get my email?

bibliobibuli said...

yes - and replied to it yesterday! what is going wrong (again?) with screamyx???? i know i know

Kak Teh said...

no nothing - didnt receive anything = thus sending u message thru this comment box.

bibliobibuli said...

sent again.

by the way, congrats on being one of khairy jamaludin's monkeys! you must be doing something right!

Kak Teh said...

sharon - thanks - am truly honoured. Got sms when i was in Liverpool and came back to check internet - and confirmed - am a monkey!

bibliobibuli said...

i'm quite jealous of your monkey status. was having a good giggle about this whole thing just now with patrick teoh in bangsar village - he seems very flattered too. if you're all longlisted when does the shortlist get announced and what's the prize??

the funniest and cleverest take on it all is zorro's

cacing buku said...

Glad to see Frederick Lees getting some publicity for his book Fool's Gold. It's written with humour, wit and erudition, what Anthony Burgess could have been if he were not such a sneering show off. Shame though Lees was published in Malaysia by a pretentious nay, snobbish, publisher who gave him such a rotten cover design and even less value to the product. Freddie now has to publish the rest of his trilogy on the internet.