The School Magazine -
The Early Years
It was only in 1923, the year of the School’s thirtieth anniversary, in the month of April, the same month that saw the founding of the VI Prefects Board, that the first School magazine rolled off the presses. The Headmaster, Major Richard Sidney had described it as “surprising,” that the VI was “a school which has gone on for thirty years and has no records available to parents and boys of what it has done in that time.”
It was christened the Victoria Institution Echo – VIE in short - and its cover page declared itself as Volume 1 No. 1. A slim 9 in. by 7 in. volume, this publication turned the lights on the school’s activities for the first time. Hitherto, the public and VI Old Boys only learned of the school’s activities from the local press or from government reports. Now, finally, the VI had found its voice. It would publish every term, in April, July and November and calls were made for copy. Complimentary copies of this issue were sent to other schools.
The cover illustration – in the era before the creation of the iconic 1930 school crest, resplendent with its seladang head, goals of life, key of knowledge and crescent moon and star - was that of two wrestlers silhouetted in combat. It was the winning design by Wan Chong Chow in open competition among nine other boys.
The editorial on the front page by Wong Koon Yoon exulted, “Vie means to strive to gain supremacy and we hope this aim will always be our incentive.” He hoped that the Old Boys would find the VIE a real link with their Alma mater.
The frontispiece featured a photograph of the beloved first Headmaster Mr. Shaw. Missing was a table of contents though it was not quite necessary in an eighteen-page document. Major Sidney, writing as “R.J.H.S.”, led off with “A Few Hints” on how to write for the school magazine. Sprinkled throughout the magazine were jokes, puzzles, poetry and even a self-promotion cartoon. The sole interview of that issue was that of Doraikim, the school peon, and was entitled “Venturous Interview” (the initials being a play on those of the School). The interviewer was identified by his initials “O.B.M.” which did not require much sleuthing to figure out – Othman bin Mohamed, the first School Captain, whose installation as Prefect with fourteen other boys earlier that month was reported in that same issue of the VIE as well.
The practice of using one’s initials instead of full name was part of the restrained and oblique style of that era when a written piece would be preceded or ended with a quote. Indeed, the editorial itself was preceded by an invitation, adapted from the Bard’s Henry V:
“Who, prologue-like, your humble patience cry
The two poems classified under “Versified Interludes” (note again the play on the initials “V.I.”) and signed “H.C.A.” and “K”, were most likely by the hand of teachers.
There were no formal “reports” to speak of; for instance, ex-Victorians’ activities and achievements were printed under “Old Boy Jottings”. Here, readers were told of the exploits in the Royal Navy of Old Boy Charles Stratton Brown and those of his brother Henry, now studying agriculture in Australia. The movements of Old Boys were noted – “Mr Khoo Chye Poh has left for China on a holiday”, “Mr. S. Rasanayagam will spend his holidays in Ceylon” - as well as their career moves – “We hear that Messrs. Navaratnam, Saida Ali and Fernandez have been appointed headmasters of the English Schools at Tapah, Gopeng and Tronoh.” One read, too, that the Mr Ganapathy Pillay, an Old Boy and son of School founder Mr. Thamboosamy, had already signed up as a life subscriber of the VIE.
Sports and games – cricket, hockey, badminton and boxing - which were described modestly as “pastimes.” The activities of cadets and scouts, were duly highlighted in detail in the VIE and the reader now had a sense of how incredibly busy the young men of the VI were in those days, what with their incessant treks, marches and camps.
It could also now be surmised from its “jottings” that the VI Literary Union had been in hibernation for an indeterminate time and had only been revived only recently to be the only school society in 1923. The VILU, dutifully quoted Sir Walter Raleigh’s
Fain would I climb –
before presenting the report on its first meeting of the year, the talks and debates it had organized and its making the Headmaster its President and Mr. R. Thampipillay its Chairman.
The only literary piece printed in the inaugural VIE, entitled “The Root of all Evil,” was by one “L.L.M.” (easily deciphered as Leow Liew Min). Written in the characteristic flowery style of the period, it was sprinkled with archaic phrases like “the grim reaper,” “Father Time,” “preordained destiny,” “overtaken by Nemesis.” In the nineteen twenties, in the quaint style of that era, the sun never rose in the morning; rather, what happened was that “Phoebus announced another day.”
The VIE also printed the results of the 1922 Senior Cambridge results. One noted that eleven boys had passed their examinations, including future VI teacher, Wong Shoh Kee. Also listed were the names of thirty-eight successful candidates in the Junior Cambridge Exams. So began a tradition, extinguished only in 1970, of an annual listing in the school magazine of the names of passes in the annual Cambridge examinations.
Three months later, as promised, came the July issue of the VIE. It proclaimed itself the thirtieth anniversary number. The editor’s chair was now occupied by the same Leow Liew Min above, though the actual burden of financing, printing and distribution of the magazine was in the hands of the School administration, in particular, Mr. J. B. Carr, whose initials now signed off “The Manager’s Notes” at the front of the publication. The frontispiece featured a photograph of Major Sidney and, indeed, the Headmaster himself led off with a two-page history of the first decade of the school.
There were accounts of the various “pastimes” of cricket, tennis and badminton in the intervening three months. The Versified Interlude had two poems, both by Mr. Carr. The VILU, the Cadets and Scouts reported a very busy second term, the former preceding its report with a verse from Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. His arithmetical puzzle of the previous issue having proved popular, Sapuran Singh was made the Puzzle Editor of a proposed Varied Intricacies column. There was now a Rumour and Humour Column with a collection of tongue-in-cheek in-jokes like: Things we want to know – Which prefect owes the tuck shop most under the new credit system?
The Old Boys had their Jottings page and one learned that Hong Kong University medical students Chua Boon Teck, Teh Yoke Chin and Kon Fatt Kiew were spending their holidays in Malaya and had visited the School to meet old friends. It was also reported that the former VI Headmaster, Mr. B. E. Shaw, and his wife were in the best of health in England.
The first ads appeared in the VIE, one for Mackintosh’s Toffee de Luxe retailed by Chow Kit and Company, the other placed by Nakajima & Co. for portraits, enlargements and Kodak film. The third ad drew attention to the School’s first ever Malay play, Chitra Raja Besi, to be performed at the VI on August 14th 1923.
When October 1923 rolled along, the VIE was gone and in its place was the renamed School magazine – The Victorian, Volume 1, Number 1. “No time will be wasted on an introduction,” went the terse statement by the Editor, Choong Wan Chan, without explaining the name change. “We are privileged to start with no hampering traditions and, being so young, can make or break precedents.” The new magazine was offered for sale at 50 cents a copy to Victorians and at 75 cents to others.
With the new identity came a new cover design won in a competition by Old Boy Ho Choo Chuan – a line drawing of the western façade of the Block 1 flanked by a large rain tree. Framed by a Chinese gate with two dragons coiled around the supporting pillars, the design won the artist $25 for his effort. This iconic gate rendering and the magazine’s 6 inch by 10 inch format would be the template for future issues for a half-century. The inaugural issue printed photographs for the first time, of the 1923 annual sports, a cricket match, the Wyatt Cricket Shield and a visit to the Istana in Klang.
The Victorian would appear at the end of each term. Each issue would usually carry an interview with some prominent personality. The first issue carried an interview with Mr. Choo Kia Peng, a Kuala Lumpur businessman and member of the Federal Council. The rest of the issue would normally be a mix of House reports, literary and art contributions, jokes, accounts of the various school activities – debating, drama and sports ( not “pastimes” any more), scout and cadet news and Old Boy “jottings.” The School Bell made its appearance for the first time. It was a veritable journal of school activities, semi-official announcements and, well, gossip. Its very first item in the very first Victorian announced that Mr. B. E. Shaw’s daughter, Mrs. Bridges, had made him a grandfather in September 1923 with the birth of a son in Kuala Lumpur.
Last update on 29 March 2010.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min