Lest We Forget

DOWN MEMORY LANE WITH BORNEO BULLETIN ARCHIVES

Compiled by Zainul Akmal Zaini

A television actor for all seasons (and styles)

Robin Alp

SEPTEMBER 1, 1979 – Pengiran Mohammad Don bin Pengiran Haji Besar is, in the true sense of the word, a man of many parts.

As a television actor, director and presenter, he is one of the best known faces on Radio Television Brunei (RTB).

He is also one of the most versatile characters on RTB, equally at home acting in straight dramas or taking the part of a comedian or even sometimes bursting into song. In many ways, his affable personality makes him a natural comedian.

“I’m always joking with people,” he said. “Sometimes so much so they can’t stand it.”

But drama remains his main love and he started playing straight roles while still at primary school in the Temburong District.

“We used to put on school concerts and shows and the teachers encouraged us to take part in them. Then we also put on plays outside school during Hari Raya and as part of celebrations in the district.”

Pengiran Mohammad Don bin Pengiran Haji Besar in fighting mode and complete with keris as the hero of the Malay martial arts drama Badik.

Gradually, he said this week, the scripts and dialogue improved until he even appeared in Shakespearean works, translated into Malay.

When he left school in 1957 he joined the Agriculture Department and was eventually sent to Singapore on a two-year horticulture course.

But even there, his love of acting continued and he spent many hours in the Botanical Gardens watching films being made.

“That really was an eye opener and when I returned to Brunei I continued acting part-time.”

Pengiran Mohammad Don was then selected by RTB to go on a course conducted by the BBC in Brunei and he became the first local man who could act, direct and present programmes as well.

Now, at the age of 42 (“you couldn’t reverse those figures could you ?”), he has directed four major dramas and acted “in so many plays I can’t remember them all”.

Until recently, he was also presenting the weekly gardening programme put out through the Agriculture Department, and in addition has presented shows for both stage and radio.

This versatile and unassuming man practised the martial arts and boxing as a youth, and this has put him in good stead for an hour-Iong drama, Badik, screened by RTB over Hari Raya.

Badik was the first local production utilising the martial arts and Pengiran Mohammad Don directed all the fighting scenes as well as starring in the play.

Now, he is dedicated to helping other would-be young actors and actresses, and his main desire is to encourage more local youngsters to take up the profession.

He has already encouraged many to do so, including Hashim Suhaimi, who is now conducting a form of actors’ workshop in Kuala Belait.

Pengiran Mohammad Don has little or no spare time himself, with his full-time job at the Agriculture Department and then filming practically every Friday and Sunday. But he is always prepared to help others and when he can.

He was also on RTB’s recent auditioning committee when the station was looking for new talent.

Now many of the successful applicants, particularly from the Belait District, are appearing with him in Badik.

“It is time consuming when one helps and directs new artistes because you have to help them build up their confidence,” he said.

But when RTB’s new studios open, there will be “more opportunities open to new talent than ever before”.

This very busy man feels, together with many other local actors, there is now a need for a full-time drama school in Brunei.

“Other countries have them and so far we’ve been lucky to have achieved what we have done without one. But proper training is needed to improve standards and to supplement RTB’s facilities.”

He also feels more youngsters would be encouraged into the profession if the payments were higher.

“Most people in Brunei act for the love of it, not for money. But higher fees would help a great deal. Sometimes one can spend a whole day in the sun shooting just one scene which will only be shown for a few minutes.”

Pengiran Mohammad Don also feels it would be a great thing for the state if somebody backed and started a film industry.

“And then there would be no reason why youngsters could not take up acting as a full-time career,” he said.

“However, I’m not concerned for myself. But I would like to see someone with money back a film industry in Brunei so more people could get the chance to act,” he said.


Safety is his business

SEPTEMBER 15, 1979 – Meet a man whose job will be to help Brunei Shell maintain its good safety record – Sulaiman bin Haji Damit, with the Diploma in Safety Management he had just received from Shell International’s Area Co-ordinator for Southeast Asia J Klootwijk, as shown in the picture on the right.

Sulaiman was one of 38 representatives from 15 countries who just completed a 10-week training course on the British Safety Council’s training ship, the St Katharine, in London. He is a Brunei Shell staff member.

The Diploma in Safety Management is one of the world’s highest safety qualifications.

A Safety Council statement says that diploma holders “regularly achieve anything between a 30 per cent and 50 per cent reduction in accidents in their first year after qualifying”.


Students visit mayor in England

SEPTEMBER 22, 1979 – Students from Brunei visited the Mayor‘s suite in the Town Hall at Fareham, Hampshire, recently and found a familiar figure to greet them.

Swapping his schoolmaster‘s cap and gown for cocked hat and fur trimmed robes was the Mayor, Councillor Eric Barber, who also happens to be their tutor.

Earlier that day, the mayor had been teaching the Bruneian students in classes at Fareham’s Linguarama School where he is principal. And it wasn’t all traditional tea, scones and polite parlour conversation.

Before that, the mayor delivered his last lecture of the day – a 15-minute talk on local government in the council chamber.

The Bruneians are sponsored by the state government and are undergoing courses to prepare them for entry into British universities.

Barber, who is the longest serving member of Fareham Borough Council, said the discovery of oil in Brunei had changed the state’s lifestyle.

Most of the students will return to Brunei as fully qualified teachers.

Mayor of Fareham, Hampshire Councillor Eric Barber and Mayoress Hilda Barber surrounded by smiling Brunei students in Fareham Town Hall.