Veteran radio and TV personality Tan Swee Leong dies of rectal cancer

Radio and TV veteran Tan Swee Leong with his cat Ouzo.
Radio and TV veteran Tan Swee Leong with his cat Ouzo.PHOTO: COURTESY OF PETER BOUDEWYN

Veteran radio and television personality Tan Swee Leong died of rectal carcinoma, or rectal cancer, at 5.18am on Friday. He was 77.

He had a long career with Rediffusion, Singapore's first cable-transmitted commercial radio station, where he was part of a popular DJ duo alongside Larry Lai.

Tan hosted various local television shows produced by Radio Television Singapore and the Television Corporation of Singapore, such as variety-cum-game show Guthrie Hour, and was a household name from the 1960s to 1980s. He also held the franchise for the Miss World pageant in Singapore and was a promoter for it.

Prior to the cancer diagnosis, he had suffered two strokes, the first of which was in December last year.

Tan spent time at the All Saints Home in Tampines and made regular trips to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital for his treatments.

His longtime friend and former local TV sports presenter Peter Boudewyn, 57, said: "The cancer only came to light a month ago, when he started bleeding."

Tan is survived by a sister, three daughters and three ex-wives - one in England, the second in Australia and another in Indonesia.

His former partner on radio Lai, who is 75 and retired, knew him from his first day at Rediffusion in 1960. They remained friends ever since.

He remembered Tan as "a fun chap who never took anything too seriously".

"At Rediffusion we were billed as the terrible twins and pitted against each other in friendly competition," he recalled, adding that it was all for the entertainment of their listeners.

Choking up, Lai said of his friend's passing: "This is one race I am really not so glad to be the last man standing."

Tan is also remembered as a mentor to younger presenters and bands.

Veteran sports commentator and radio presenter Brian Richmond, 68, said Tan was the reason he got into the industry.

"I was inspired to get into the business by this man when I was a teenager," Richmond added, admitting that he took a leaf from Tan's self-deprecating and easy-going hosting style.

Their paths crossed at Rediffusion and again on television on Guthrie Hour. Richmond was a guest on the game show.

Richmond recalled: "It was easy working with him. Even if he was nervy, it never showed."

Vernon Cornelius, who is in his 60s and the singer of popular 1960s band The Quests, said he was a huge fan of Tan, adding that he encouraged the band a great deal.

"He was very fond of the band, and more like a mentor to us."

He lived up to his reputation as an entertainer, said Cornelius. He used to go to pubs and clubs with Tan, who would often go missing with a lady. Cornelius said: "His life was one big party."

Though they never worked together, former 938 Live producer-presenter Andre Ahchak, 55, remembered Tan as "more than just a disc jockey", adding that he was well-respected "because of the professional standards he kept".

A wake will be held on Saturday from noon at the void deck of Block 322, Woodlands Street 32. A memorial service will be held at the same location at 11am on Monday, while the cremation will be at 1.30pm that day in Hall 2 of the Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium.