1955 : the year in Malaya

This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: COI 690).


Malayan Government propaganda.

The film covers the first Malayan general elections, emphasising popular support for Tunku Abdul Rahman and the Alliance Party. Cabinet members are seen beginning work. "The new era has begun." Other achievements include: new amateur sporting records; construction of new roads and townships; smooth labour relations, exemplified by the first Conference of South East Asian Plantation Workers; progress in education - the first Moslem College; consecration of first Malayan bishop; diamond jubilee of "that grand old man", the Sultan of Johore; South East Asian Film Festival - MFU award. The year witnessed a number of visits from distinguished visitors and increased diplomatic contact with Malaya's neighbours. Tunku visits Indonesia, "Thus cementing still further the ties of friendship between our two countries." The emergency situation is dismissed as an obstacle to national prosperity. The Communists refuse amnesty terms, although the people want the guerrillas to "come out and let them get on with their lives in peace". Tunku meets the Communists at Klian Intan and Baling. The concluding "Newsflash 'The Baling Talks'" jibes at Chin Peng's well-fed appearance, and contrasts Tunku's popular authority as an elected leader with the Communist's heartless "lust for power". Tunku expects further talks - the Communists' position is desperate.



Marking a pivotal year in the political development of Malaya, 1955: The Year in Malaya offers newsreel coverage of both the ‘first general elections’, held on 27 July, and the Baling Talks on 28-29 December. In February 1956, the Chief Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, would return from England with the Independence Treaty, which set 31 August 1957 as the date for independence. In outlining these two preceding political events and in celebrating ‘Tunku’s year’, The Year in Malaya charts these rapid moves towards independence.

At the elections of 1955, the Alliance, which was comprised of three communally exclusive parties (the United Malays National Organization, the Malayan Chinese Association and the Malayan Indian Congress), claimed a resounding victory, winning 51 of the 52 elected seats. Although the British remained suspicious of the multi-racial commitment of the Alliance (the Malays had accounted for 84% of the electorate even though they made up less than half of the country), the Alliance now had a powerful national mandate (Stockwell, 2004, 24). In response to the ongoing Emergency, this newly elected Malayan Government declared a new Amnesty on 9 September 1955 which, while generating only 62 surrenders by the end of the year, prompted an exchange with Chin Peng, the Secretary-General of the MCP, proposing a meeting between himself and the Tunku. The British remained extremely anxious about such a meeting, and were concerned at the widespread concessions that the Tunku might make in an attempt to secure an end to the Emergency. With this in mind, Sir Donald MacGillivray, the High Commissioner, announced at the end of November that Malayan independence was no longer dependent on the resolution of the Emergency. As Kumar Ramakrishna argued, this eased the pressure on the Tunku and he now ‘approached Baling with a stiffer, cautious but confident attitude, primed to merely clarify the Amnesty terms and nothing more’ (Ramakrishna, 2002, 194-195).

The Baling Talks, held over two days at the local Government School, failed to achieve a resolution. Chin Peng rejected the September amnesty, while the Tunku reaffirmed that he would never acknowledge the MCP. However, the Tunku would emerge from Baling with both an enhanced reputation and greater influence, as he secured full control of internal security and, a month later, the aforementioned Independence Treaty (Ramakrishna, 2002, 195).

The film of the Baling talks was shown in cinemas almost immediately and proved ‘unusually popular’. However, it also sparked controversy. A newspaper report in the first week of 1956 reported that cinemagoers in Kuala Lumpur ‘applauded terrorist leader Chin Peng during the Malayan Film Unit’s newsreel of the Baling peace talks’ (The Straits Times, 6 January 1956, 4). Tom Hodge, the head of the MFU, believed that ‘unnecessary fuss’ had been made over these incidents, stating that cheering had been reported at only three out of eighteen theatres in Kuala Lumpur. ‘I consider it easily the best anti-Communist film we have ever made’, he said, and added that the MFU had been inundated with requests to show the film (The Straits Times, 15 January 1956, 5).

A newspaper report in January 1956 explained that ‘the controversial Baring talks’ newsreel’ was to be shown in Kuluang, ‘Johore’s blackest terrorist area’ after a request from the local Malayan Chinese Association. Lim Chin Toh, the Executive Secretary of the Kluang MCA, wrote to Tom Hodge, stating ‘My committee believes the film would be good propaganda for the people here if it were shown quickly before the amnesty ends [on 8 February]’. ‘We believe’, he continued, ‘that the people will not sit on the fence any more after seeing it and that more surrenders will materialise as it will be seen that the Communists are fighting against the elected Government of the people and not the British Government’ (The Straits Times, 15 January 1956, 5). However, a report at the end of the year stated that the film ‘had still not be shown in new villages in Johore’ because it was deemed ‘too dangerous’, although the report concluded that ‘most of the new villagers had already seen the film in cinemas in towns’ (The Straits Times, 15 November 1956, 7). 



1955: The Year in Malaya provides a valuable historical record of two seminal moments in Malaya’s moves towards independence. Labelled the ‘best anti-communist film’ made by the MFU, it was intended for screening not only within cinemas, but within new villages and through the mobile circuit, as it sought to appeal directly to the ‘Communist Terrorists’ (CTs). It attempted this primarily through the image of Tunku Abdul Rahman, whom it presents as a powerful, elected national leader, uniting the races and leading Malaya towards independence.

The first line of commentary within the film states ‘There’s no doubt about it, it was the Tunku’s year’, and from the outset he is presented as the main protagonist, endorsed as a national leader and statesman. He is shown delivering speeches in front of cheering crowds, organising his cabinet, as an international statesman (visiting Indonesia) and within the context of other national leaders, including Nehru and Anthony Eden. The film shows him campaigning for independence and outlines his plans to secure in London a confirmed date for the handover.

Hassan Abd. Muthalib, writing of the MFU’s subsequent documentary Merdeka Mission, which reported on the Tunku’s trip to England in early 1956, argued that the MFU celebrated the Tunku as a ‘heroic figure’. This, he suggests is achieved both formally – low-angle, close shots framed against the sky, the spatial relationship between him and the British leaders – and through the celebratory scenes upon his return, in which he is garlanded by a non-Malay, as an indication of his acceptance within the non-Malay community (Muthalib, 2009, 60). The Year in Malaya similarly represents the Tunku as a powerful leader – for example, he is shown pointing his finger at Chin Peng during an exchange – and sees the failure of the talks as a sign of his strength and defiance (he will not ‘yield an inch’). The film also emphasises, through the structure of the newsreel, the authority and support that the Tunku enjoys from ‘people of all races’.

The opening election sequences, and the subsequent footage of road building, the new state capital, the consecration of the first Malayan Bishop and the opening of the Kolej Islam Malaya, all inform the final item on the Baring talks. They present the peoples and cultures of Malaya united through the Tunku and, after highlighting the developments within Malaya over the course of the year, position the Communists as an ‘obstacle’ to this ongoing ‘progress and prosperity’. In particular, these earlier sequences illustrate the country’s move towards self-government and emphasise that Malaya is now run by elected leaders and not by the British government. The Tunku goes to Baling ‘with the people behind him’, displaying ‘complete confidence in their elected leader’. The commentary repeatedly refers to the ‘elected men’, speaking ‘with authority on behalf of the Malayan people’. The Communists are now opposing the Malayan people (shown attending an anti-Communist demonstration), not the British government. The film appeals directly to the ‘CTs’ here (to use the British terminology) in showing the widespread support for the Amnesty and urging people to come out of the jungle ‘while they still have the chance’.

In contrast, the film presents Chin Peng’s dislocation from the Malayan public. Over footage of children leaning against barbed wire fencing surrounding the school, the commentator states that the Communists ‘have no care or feeling for the ordinary people who long for the end of terrorism’. In directly appealing to ‘CTs’, the film attempts to distance Chin Peng from this audience, by suggesting, somewhat flippantly, that he does not represent them either: ‘However starved his rank and file may be, it’s obvious that the boss has been living well in his Siamese hideout’.

However, despite the MFU’s representation of Chin Peng, reports noted that some cinemagoers cheered his appearance. This reaction illustrates a well-established problem for propagandists, unable to control the division between the film text and the audience. This audience response may simply be credited to an inevitable show of support (regardless of the representation), but the way in which Chin Peng is introduced certainly does build up suspense and excitement at his appearance. ‘All necks crane for a glimpse of the number one terrorist. There he is. That’s him, Chin Peng’. Ultimately these audience reactions, however overstated, restricted the exhibition of the film. Nonetheless 1955: The Year in Malaya remains a valuable example of the ways in which the MFU sought to appeal to the Malayan public and specifically the ‘CTs’ through film.

Tom Rice (February 2010)


Works Cited

Muthalib, Hassan Abd., ‘“Winning Hearts and Minds”: Representations of Malays and their Milieu in the Films of British Malaya’, South East Asia Research, 17:1 (March 2009), 47-63.

Ramakrishna, Kumar, Emergency Propaganda: The Winning of Malayan Hearts and Minds 1948-1958 (Richmond: Curzon Press. 2002).

Stockwell, A.J. ed., Malaysia: British Documents on the End of Empire, Volume 8 (London, TSO, 2004).

‘Chin Peng Cheered as KL audiences see Peace Talks Newsreel’, The Straits Times, 6 January 1956, 4.

‘Red “Black Spot” to See Film of Baling Talks’, The Straits Times, 15 January 1956, 5.

‘Baling Film Not for Them’, The Straits Times, 15 November 1956, 7.



  • NEWSFLASH : 'The Baling Talks' (Alternative)
  • 1955 : the year in Malaya

Technical Data

Running Time:
15 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1355 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Production company
Malayan Film Unit







Production Organisations