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Literary Arts Dance Music Theatre

Othman Wok

Former Minister of Culture and Social Affairs.


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : ~10mins

I think the younger people of today are closer than we were in the old days, partly because they share a more common youth culture. In the old days, we were still a bit shy, and may not have confided in each other as much as young people do today.

– The Straits Times, 1997

Othman Wok, born 8 Oct 1924, was a former journalist, Member of Parliament, and Minister of Culture and Social Affairs during the early years of Singapore’s independence. He was instrumental in many major Singapore projects such as the establishment of the National Stadium, the Singapore Grand Prix, the implementation of legislation such as the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA), and concerted efforts to create a harmonious multiracial Singapore society. During his retirement, he returned to writing, publishing Malayan Horror: Macabre Tales of Singapore and Malaysia in the 50s, the first of several volumes of ghost and horror stories, as well as his autobiography.

Othman Wok, who described himself as an Orang Laut (literally, "man of the sea"), grew up in a Malay kampong. One of an early batch of Malay students to be offered English-language education under the British, he was interested in journalism from a young age which led to him working as a reporter. After an interlude during the war working under the Japanese in an anti-plague laboratory, he later received a scholarship to study at the London School of Journalism, and eventually became editor of the Malay-language newspaper Utusan Melayu.

An active trade unionist, he went on in the 1950s to be a key link between the People’s Action Party Government and the Muslim/Malay community. In 1963 he became the Member of Parliament for Pasir Panjang, the only Malay member in the Cabinet, and retained the post until stepping down 14 years later in 1977 to serve as Singapore’s ambassador to Indonesia.

He succeeded Singapore’s Minister for Culture S. Rajaratnam during Singapore’s newly independent years and served as Minister for Culture and Social Affairs. He contributed to the development of the nation’s fledgling arts, cultural and sports scene as its arts ambassador, and helped establish the National Stadium and the Singapore Grand Prix.

Following retirement he was appointed a board member of the Sentosa Development Corporation and the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board. He also returned to writing, now being able to devote more time to his passion. He writes ghost and horror stories and his books include Malayan horror: Macabre tales from Singapore and Malaya (1991), The disused well: And other tales of horror & mystery (2006) and Unseen occupants and other chilling tales (2006). He published his autobiography, Never in My Wildest Dream, in 2000.

On 17 Apr 2017, Othman Wok passed away at the age of 92 in Singapore.


8 Oct 1924

Born in Singapore.


Studied in Sekolah Melayu Telok Saga (Telok Saga Malay School).


Studied at Radin Mas Primary School.


Studied at Raffles Institution.

1942 to 1945

Laboratory assistant in the Japanese Anti-Plague Laboratory in Unit 731.

1946 to 1951

Reporter, Utusan Melayu.


Awarded a Colonial Development Scholarship to study journalism.
Graduated with Diploma in Journalism, London School of Journalism.


Secretary General, Singapore Printing Employees Union (SPEU), where he became friends with SPEU’s/Utusan Melayu’s legal advisor, Lee Kuan Yew.

1951 to 1957

News Editor, Utusan Melayu.


Member, People’s Action Party (PAP).

1957 to 1962

Deputy Editor, Utusan Melayu.


Elected chairman, PAP Geylang Serai / Tampines.
Member, Malay Affairs Bureau.


Transferred to Kuala Lumpur as Deputy Editor of Utusan Melayu.

1963 to 1977

Member of Parliament, Pasir Panjang Constituency.


Left Utusan Melayu.
Assemblyman, Pasir Panjang Constituency.

1963 to 1965

Minister for Culture and Social Affairs.


Director, Malay Affairs Bureau.


Establishment of the National Stadium.

1977 to 1981

Minister without Portfolio.

Jul 1977 to 1980

Ambassador to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.


Received Jasa Utama Star, Indonesia.

Mar 1981

Officially retired.


Director, Overseas Investment Pte Ltd.

1981 to 2012

Permanent member, Presidential Council of Minority Rights.

1981 to 1994

Board member, Singapore Tourism Promotion.

1981 to 1987

Board member, Singapore Tourism Board.
Board member, Sentosa Development Corporation.


Director, Utusan Melayu (S) Pte Ltd.


Received Order of Nila Utama (Second Class), Singapore.


Published Malayan Horror: Macabre Tales of Singapore and Malaysia in the 50s.


Published Cerita-cerita Seram (Tales of Horror).


Published Kisah-kisah seram dan misteri (Tales of Horror and Mystery).


Published his biography Never in My Wildest Dreams
Published Malayan Horror: Macabre Tales of Singapore and Malaysia in the 50s (reprint)


Published Tales of Horror and Mystery: More macabre tales from Singapore, Malaya and Indonesia.


Published Malayan Horror: Macabre Tales from Singapore and Malaya.


Published The Disused Well: And other tales of horror and mystery.
Published Unseen Occupants and Other Chilling Tales.


Received Anugerah Tokoh Wartawan Dunia Melayu, Former Berita Harian Journalists’ Association

17 Apr 2017

Passed away at age 92 in Singapore.


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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