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Zulkassim Daud was a well-loved Singapore Malay-language television and radio actor. Born in 1946, the co-founder of the National Theatre Malay Drama Workshop in the 1960s was a key presence in the Singapore Malay theatre, television and radio arenas. Zulkassim is especially known for his work with children, which included engaging them in community drama workshops, and TV series where he will always be fondly remembered as “Tok Selampit” and “Pakcik Zul”. Zulkassim passed away in 2011 at age 64.
Zulkassim Daud is a personality known to many children of the 1970s and 1980s in Singapore. A frequent presence on television known as “Tok Selampit” or on radio as “Pakcik Zul”, Zulkassim was born in Johor, Malaysia in 1946, the third child in a family of seven children, and grew up with little interest in acting. Although he eventually came to head Bengkel Drama Kelab Panggung Negara (National Theatre Club Drama Workshop)—one of the most active and prominent Singapore Malay theatre groups in the ’60s and ’70s—Zulkassim’s first encounter with the stage was accidental.
With an early preference for art and music (the one-time musician even used to play in a pop band as a drummer), Zulkassim had initially tagged along to a theatre rehearsal on the request of his friends—with his preference for drawing, he was supposed to have helped them with set design. However, observing the rehearsals, Zulkassim was convinced he could do a better job than any of the actors and so set about the task of taking on acting roles himself.
As it turned out, Zulkassim was right on his self-assessment and his standing as an actor grew, in no small part because of his positive attitude that learning is a constant process, and that with any activity or project, one should give 100 per cent and nothing less to every effort.
Zulkassim had an affinity with children, and worked with child actors and starred in children’s programmes, and gained popularity for his roles as “Pakcik Zul” on Singapore Broadcasting Corporation’s Bengkel Kanak-kanak radio show; as the father figure in television series Comel; and as the beloved eponymous storyteller in the television series Tok Selampit.
Off the screen, he was an instructor in the Children’s Drama Workshop and the TV Drama Workshop for the Malay Drama Unit in Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. He also conducted acting workshops in educational institutions such as Jurong Junior College and the National Institute of Education. Zulkassim also directed many theatre dramas over the decades and served as a judge in competitions held in theatre festivals and on television.
When he took a back seat from television and the stage as health issues forced him to retire from his job in a manufacturing company and from the public limelight, Zulkassim continued to coach young children and youth in community theatre workshops, encouraging them to channel their youthful creative energies onto the stage. Through all this, Zulkassim was motivated by the belief that theatre was a great confidence-building tool, and not just an avenue one went into for the glamour of the stage.
For his efforts and contributions to Malay drama, Zulkassim received the Raistar Lifetime Achievement Award from Raistar Entertainment in 1998.
Zulkassim retired in the mid-1990s, and relocated with his wife to New Zealand in 2005. In 2011, while on one of his trips back to Singapore, he suffered a fall and passed away. He was 64.
by Widya Iryani Zulkassim-Barnwell
My earliest recollection of my late Pa’s work as an actor was watching him do bangsawan (Malay opera) at the Victoria Theatre with my mother and sister. The performance I remember most clearly had him in a duel scene with another actor, both of them in period costumes and brandishing keris (daggers). The duel was so realistic that when one of them was slain, there was blood on the injured body part that hadn’t been there before. I was most impressed and could hardly wait for the intermission so I could ask Pa how it was done.
Oh, how I looked forward to the intermissions! The bangsawan productions seemed to last forever to a child who couldn’t fully understand what was happening on stage. While other members of the audience could only spend the short break going to the washroom or queuing for overpriced snacks at the cafeteria, my sister and I had the wonderful privilege of being allowed into the changing room, where we got to see our father and the other members of the cast as real people, chatting with each other as friends, plastic cups of coffee in hand, while still in make-up and wearing clothes from another era.
When Pa was not on stage, he could be heard on the radio, which had a huge listenership then—this was the pre-internet and pre-cable television ‘80s. Every Saturday, he would “pergi recording” (“go recording”) as he called it, at Caldecott Hill, where the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation was. On the Bengkel Kanal-kanak radio show, he was the affable Pakcik Zul (Uncle Zul), interacting effortlessly with talented, bubbly children, getting them to tell stories and sing. On Sunday mornings, he took turns being the voice of a father, husband, old man or villain, as the Pentas Radio (Radio Theatre) script required. I got a kick out of listening to the radio plays with the script in hand, following the story line by line. One thing about Pa, he had one of the most distinctive and most recognisable voices ever. It was deep, strong, and masculine—a voice that commanded attention.
I didn’t fully appreciate just how well-known Pa was until he started appearing on television. I would say that his breakout role was as the onscreen father to Rilla Melati Bahri in the Malay children’s television series Comel. Then, in 1986, he became the eponymous village storyteller in Tok Selampit, the role for which he is remembered most fondly by practically every Malay-speaking child who grew up in the ‘80s. I even got teased about it a little at school—when I walked by, some kids would say, “Eh, tu anak Tok Selampit lah!” (“Hey, that’s Tok Selampit’s daughter!”). Others would tell me that they preferred Mat Yoyo, a much-loved children’s series that I myself enjoyed tremendously, and whose Monday 6pm slot Tok Selampit filled when it ended. (To be honest, I too missed Mat Yoyo, and was glad when it made a return to the screen, but I couldn’t possibly tell Pa that!)
My sister Widya Aryanti and I both agree that our favourite television appearance by Pa was in Bunga Rampai Hari Raya (Hari Raya Potpourri), a 1986 children’s Hari Raya special recorded in front of a studio audience (which included us, of course). He reprised his role as Tok Selampit. A battered copy of the script exists, jealously kept by my sister. We memorised every spoken line and all the song lyrics in it, and having recorded the show on the VCR and watched it over and over again, we even remembered the choreography to some of the song-and-dance performances.
In the ‘90s, when Malay-language programmes were finally designated its own channel, Suria, a new generation of fresher, younger talents dominated the entertainment scene. I didn’t see much of Pa on television, but he still had a couple of memorable performances, for instance in the popular drama series Sayang Mona. By 1999, he had retired from his day job in a manufacturing company due to his failing health, and had virtually disappeared from the television screen and radio airwaves.
The Malay-speaking public’s loss was his children’s gain. The truth was that Pa was not at home during a large part of our growing-up years because of his work. Now that he had plenty of time on his hands, he focused his attention on his family. There was certainly a lot of lost time to make up for, and much healing to be done. I, along with my siblings—my sister and our two younger brothers, Zulkhairi and Zulkhairul—started that process with our father slowly, uncertainly, but surely.
It goes without saying that his passing in 2011 was most unexpected and heartbreaking. Still, we are thankful that we were lucky enough to have had him with us not only during some special events in our lives—graduation, weddings, the births of his grandchildren—but also during our private, troubled moments when his firm, reassuring presence and wisdom gave us much comfort.
In my heart and in my eyes, he will always be a hero and a star.
Born in Johor, Malaysia.
Graduated from Siglap Secondary School.
Co-founder and head, National Theatre’s Malay Drama Workshop.
Received Best Actor Award, Pesta Drama Sriwana (Sriwana Drama Festival).
Actor, TV drama Sikit Sama Sikit, Radio Television Singapore.
Actor, TV drama Teratai Desa, Channel 5, Radio Television Singapore.
Actor, TV drama Selayang Pandang, Channel 5, Radio Television Singapore.
Director, theatre drama Airmata Kasih, National Theatre.
Actor, TV drama Kemenyan Tak Dibakar Tak Berbau, Radio Television Singapore.
Director, theatre drama Gelora, Tanglin Handicraft Centre.
Actor, Jejak Kembara, Channel 5, Radio Television Singapore.
Received Best Director award, Bengkel Drama Panggung Negara (National Theatre Drama Workshop).
Actor, radio drama Arwahnya Datang Lagi.
Actor, radio drama Keluarga.
Actor, radio drama Titian Hari.
Actor, TV drama Azam, Channel 5, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
Instructor, Children’s Acting Workshop, Malay Drama Unit, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
Director, TV drama Suatu Malam di Hari Raya.
Actor, TV drama Comel, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
Director, theatre drama Lepaskan Aku, Taman Jurong Community Centre.
Drama Section Leader, Taman Jurong Community Centre.
Director, theatre drama Lela Jaya, Victoria Theatre.
Actor, TV drama Sepanjang Jalan, Channel 5, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
Director, theatre drama Hujan Lebat.
Actor, radio drama Mambang-mambang Planit.
Director, theatre drama Seperti Kata Saya, Victoria Theatre.
Judge, Youth Theatre Festival, Singapore.
Chairman, Badan Kegiatan Melayu (Malay Cultural Section), Boon Lay Community Centre.
Voice actor, Malay as Second Language (secondary level) programme, Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore.
Instructor, TV Drama Course, Malay Drama Unit, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
Invited speaker, Theatrical cooperation in the Malay-speaking countries – Strategies and Upgrading Theatrical Appreciation forum, Youth Theatre Festival, National Museum of Singapore.
Actor, TV programme Tok Selampit: the storyteller, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
Children’s drama instructor.
Director, theatre drama Tugu.
Director, theatre drama Terlalu Ramai Orang Di Sini, Perkumpulan Seni, Victoria Theatre.
Director, theatre drama Ruang 2, 3, 4, 5.
Director, theatre drama Kisah dari Bedok North, Drama Centre.
Head (drama section), Persatuan Seni, Singapore.
Judge, Pesta Drama Sriwana (Sriwana Drama Festival).
Judge, Talent Quest, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
Chairman, Malay Activity Executive Committees Coordinating Council, People’s Association, Singapore.
Stage manager, musical extravaganza New Life, Harbour Pavillion, Singapore.
Received the Raistar Lifetime Achievement Award by concert promoter Raistar Entertainment.
Invited to perform as Tok Selampit at weekly storytelling sessions at Yishun Public Library.
Actor, TV drama Selatan Semenanjung, Suria, MediaCorp.
Conducted acting workshops for IMO Productions, Singapore.
Moved to New Zealand with his wife.
Passed away in Singapore at age 64.
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Zulkassim Daud (second from right) with fellow Perkumpulan Seni committee members after a successful production. c. late 1980s.
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Zulkassim Daud as a guest trainer at drama workshop at Cairnhill Community Centre in Singapore, 2006.
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Zulkassim Daud at a radio recording with Mastura Ahmad (left) and M. Saffri A Manaf (second from right). 2005.
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Zulkassim Daud with wife Suzana, daughter Widya Iryani (centre), son-in-law Khalid Barnwell (left) and grandson Omar (in arms). Feb 2011.
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.