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Donald Moore

Singapore's first impresario.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


Time taken : >15mins

One of the fundamental characteristics that help a country to survive in bad times is a common—one is forced to use the term—culture. The people must have a common interest in something more than the accumulation of riches… They must see that their country produces something of permanent value—and then take pride in their achievement. They must spend some of their time creatively and some, too, in watching and listening to creative genius from other countries.

– "The Story of the Glorious Failure", The New Malayan.

Donald Moore is well-known as Singapore's first impresario. The presenter, publisher, writer and gallery owner came to Singapore in his twenties and remained here for three decades contributing to the early development of arts and culture on the island. During his time here, the arts aficionado established several publishing houses⁠—Donald Moore Ltd (Singapore), Eastern Universities Press, Asia Pacific Press and also published under the Donald Moore Galleries imprint⁠—as well as Donald Moore Productions and the Singapore Arts Theatre.

He also established Design Singapura at Tudor Court on Tanglin Road and due to his and wife Joanna Moore’s efforts, Tudor Court was saved from planned demolition. Design Singapura produced Singapore silk⁠—which was named Khersonese Silk – and the shops and showrooms were located there.

A passionate arts personality who wanted nothing more than to share his love of the arts, Moore organised and presented many musical and theatrical presentations of overseas arts groups on his own expense.

Born in 1923 in Leicestershire, UK, Donald Moore received his education in the UK and went on to work in a bank. At the outbreak of World War II, the youth enlisted in the Royal Navy, which brought him on overseas postings to Russia and the Far East.

In 1947, he came to Singapore and took on the job finding distribution avenues for British publishing houses. Here, he began his career in literature and publishing, giving talks on British literature and literature in general. Soon, he established his own publishing company, Donald Moore Ltd (Singapore) and later on Eastern Universities Press and Asia Pacific Press. In a close reflection of the times, he published many books on the history and goings-on in Southeast Asia, especially with regard to Singapore and Malaya.

Expanding beyond his role as publisher, Moore began writing as well, authoring books that also featured Southeast Asia heavily in their themes and settings. His books included Far Eastern Agent (1953), We Live in Singapore (1955), Where Monsoons Meet (1956), The Sumatra (1959), Far Eastern Journal (1960), The Magic Dragon: The Story of Singapore (1975), and his joint work with his wife Joanna Moore, The First 150 Years of Singapore (1969). He also wrote All of One Company (1959) and The Judgement of Oleron (1960)⁠—novels about the sea, which were drawn on his own experiences in the British navy during the Second World War, as well as thriller Highway of Fear.

In 1966, the National Book Development Council of Singapore was established by the Ministry of Culture to encourage book development in Singapore. Two years later in May 1968, the Singapore Book Publishers' Association was established with 12 members including Moore, who was selected to head the association.

At the same time, Moore began producing and presenting arts shows. He steadily built a reputation for being the first ever impresario in Singapore, and brought in several overseas arts groups for musical and theatrical presentations. Singlehandedly, he introduced the arts and culture to a young Singapore that did not have a large audience for these things then. In a country still focused on economic and infrastructural development, Moore contributed to the early development of the island’s artistic and cultural tastes and appetites.

He established the Singapore Arts Theatre and Donald Moore Productions, serving as chairman of the Singapore Arts Theatre and presenting a countless number of shows under Donald Moore Productions. To encourage attendance of his shows—particularly attendance by the Asian community that had not embraced the arts—he also established the Singapore First Night Club⁠—later Friends of the Arts⁠—which allowed arts lovers to attend concerts and plays presented by Donald Moore Productions at a 25 per cent discount. Membership to the club was free and within a month, he had attracted more than 800 members, a large proportion of whom were Asians.

Moore intended to grow the membership such that he would be able to offer subscription concerts for club members, and an annual fee that would allow club members to attend all Donald Moore Productions concerts in a year.

His promotion of the arts went far beyond his efforts with the Singapore First Night Club. Understanding the need to build an interest in the arts amongst the young, Moore frequently presented free plays in schools, and went so far as to give away unsold seats at concerts—which were often presented at a loss to himself—to schools for their students to come and enjoy the arts for free.

Moore's passionate belief in the arts and financial magnanimity came to benefit many, but proved detrimental in the long term. In 1967, he sold off his publishing business, which became incorporated into United Publishers' Services. Four years later, his failing financial health meant that he had to close down Donald Moore Galleries, which sold artifacts and luxury lifestyle products. The gallery was first located on Clemenceau Avenue and then moved to Liat Towers in the ‘60s.

A few years after the closure of Donald Moore Galleries, Moore was ultimately forced to close all his remaining businesses. In 1976, he returned to the UK with his family. After three decades in Singapore promoting the arts, he became a businessman and established several thriving businesses in the UK including the Oxford Piano Workshop. He even wrote and published a monthly newsletter titled Entrepreneur to share his thoughts on self-employment with readers.

Moore spent some of the most exciting years of his life in a foreign land, developing an arts and cultural scene from nothing in a time when no other person or organisation had thought it important to do so. Moore passed away in 2000 at age 76 after battling colon cancer for four years. His indelible contribution secures his place in Singapore arts and cultural history.

Images of Mr Donald Moore and his wife Joanna Moore courtesy of Mr Sumio Saito.

Timeline

7 May 1923

Born in Leicestershire, UK.

1947

Arrived in Singapore.

1949

Speaker, British literature in the Far East, East-West Society Meeting, British Council, Singapore.

Speaker, Talking of Books, Radio Malaya.

1950

Founder, publishing house Donald Moore Ltd (Singapore), sometime in the early 1950s.

1950 to 1967

Publisher, Donald Moore Ltd (Singapore).

1950

Producer, Christopher Fry's The Lady's Not for Burning, Little Theatre, Singapore.

1951

Founder, Singapore Arts Theatre.

Producer, Annouillih's Ardele, Little Theatre, Singapore.

1953

Chairman, Singapore Arts Theatre

Author, Far Eastern Agent.

1955

Presenter and sponsor, Japanese pianist Yoko Kono, Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore.

Presenter, Singapore pianist Mme. Florence Margue-Wong, Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore.

Author, Where Monsoons Meet.

1957

Founder, Singapore First Night Club.

Presenter and sponsor, Metropolitan Opera soprano Eleanor Steber, Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore.

Presenter and sponsor, English pianist Irene Kohler, Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore.

Presenter, New Zealand pianist Richard Farrell, two recitals at Victorial Memorial Hall, Singapore.

Presenter, American musican William Clauson, Cultural Centre, Canning Rise, Singapore.

Author, All of One Company.

1959

Author, The Sumatra.

1960

Author, Far Eastern Journal.

Awarded the MBE medal in recognition of his services in the British Royal Navy and the Sea Cadets Corps sometime in the early 1960s.

1961

Speaker, "Reading habits in South East Aisa", Rotary Club, Singapore.

1963

Founder, Donald Moore Galleries.

1963 to 1971

Owner, Donald Moore Galleries.

1964

Performed a reading of Shakespeare, Department of Extra Mural Studies, Eusoff College, University of Singapore.

Speaker, forum on "Newsmakers and Newsreaders", Eusoff College, University of Singapore.

1966

Presenter and co-sponsor, Music for the Millions series with Sunday Mail, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

Presenter, English musician Crispian St Peters, Singapore Badminton Hall.

Presented, Barangay featuring 26 Filipino dancers, musicians and singers, National Theatre, Singapore and Stadium Negara, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Presenter, English musicians The Dave Clark Five, National Theatre, Singapore.

Presenter, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, National Theatre, Singapore and Stadium Negara, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Presenter, As You Like It and A Man for All Season, The Nottingham Playhouse Company, in association with British Council, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

Presenter, English musicians Herman's Hermits, National Theatre, Singapore. Sponsored by Singapore Tobacco Company Limited.

Sponsor, Spanish flamenco dancer Sara Lezana and her troupe, National Theatre, Singapore.

1967

Presenter and co-sponsor, An Evening with GBS starring Max Adrian, with British Council, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

Presenter, American musicians The Walker Brothers, The Quotations and the Yardbirds, and Singapore’s The Quests, National Theatre, Singapore.

Presenter, Camerata Bern Orchestra, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

1968

Head, Singapore Book Publishers' Association.

Presenter, The Australian Ballet, National Theatre, Singapore.

1969

Co-author, The First 150 Years of Singapore, with wife Joanna Moore.

1970

Presenter, Hungarian pianist Béla Síki, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

Presenter, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, National Theatre, Singapore.

Presenter, Labours of Love starring Barbara Jefford and John Turner, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

Presenter, British pianist John Ogdon, National Theatre, Singapore.

Presenter, Ceylonese pianist Malinee Peris, Wisma Theatre, Singapore.

Presenter, Chilean pianist Ivan Nunez, Singapore.

Co-presenter, Tel-Aviv String Quartet with the Israeli Embassy, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

1971

Presenter, Hungarian pianist Peter Frankl, Singapore Conference Hall

Presenter, ballet dancer Felix Blaska, Victoria Theatre, Singapore. In association with the French Embassy.

Presenter, German violinist Denes Zaigmondy, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

Presenter, American musician Rosalyn Tureck, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

Presenter, exhibition of 45 paintings from 20 Balinese artists, Donald Moore Galleries, Singapore.

Presenter and sponsor, M. Petrossian, Singapore.

Co-sponsor, First Singapore International Festival, featuring Dame Margot Fonteyn and the Australian Ballet.

1972

Presenter, French pianist Irene Pamboukjian, Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore. Sponsored by the French Government.

Presenter, Berlin Chamber Orchestra, Singapore Conference Hall..

1973 to 1974

Presenter, English string quartet the Alberni Quartet, Cultural Centre, Singapore.

Presenter. Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, National Theatre, Singapore. In association with the German Embassy.

Presenter, American pianist Malcolm Frager, RELC Auditorium, Singapore.

Presenter, Indian film actress Hema Malini and party performing Indian classical dance, Cultural Centre and Singapore Conference Hall.

Presenter, The Joys of Love starring Katherine Stuart, RELC Auditorium, Singapore.

Presenter, boxers Muhammad Ali, Tony Doyle and Alonzo Johnson, National Stadium, Singapore.

Presenter, The Leningrad Kirov Ballet Company.

1974

Presenter, German Rhineland Choir, DBS Auditorium, Singapore.

Presenter and co-sponsor, all-male German Rhineland Choir with Lufthansa German Airlines, Singapore Conference Hall.

1975

Presenter, choir The Scholars, DBS Auditorium, Singapore.

Presenter, American musicians the Charles Moffet Family, Goodwood Park Hotel, Singapore.

Author, The Magic Dragon: The Story of Singapore.

Presenter, Disney on Parade, in conjunction with the Walt Disney Company.

1976

Presenter, Peter Pan, in conjunction with National Broadcasting Company (NBC, America). This was a major production as it was performed in the biggest tent in the world at the time, which had to be flown in from Florida, US.

Presenter, film Rage by George C. Scott, RELC Auditorium, Singapore.

Presenter, Magic Studio starring German illusionist Ingo van Wilke, RELC Auditorium, Singapore.

Presenter, German pianist Professor Detlef Kraus, RELC Auditorium

Presenter, musician Robert Luse, DBS Auditorium, Singapore.

Jul 1976

Returned to the UK with his family.

2000

Passed away at age 76 from colon cancer in the UK.

2013

Awarded (posthumously) the Arctic Star for his service in the Royal Navy (North Sea) during the Second World War.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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