PH television and a sitcom writer named Beer

By Tony Joaquin

It was at the start of the ‘60s right after I returned from a one-year fellowship in Toronto, Canada when I got to meet Virgilio “Beer” Flores. He was a department head at the CBN offices in the old CBN building on Aduana Street in Intramuros. This was years before ABS-CBN became the broadcast behemoth it is today.

I was hired as an independent director to handle “Student Canteen,” a noontime talent show that was extremely popular at the time as it was also simulcast on radio and could be heard throughout the archipelago.

Virgilio 'Beer' Flores

Since I was an outsider just coming over to handle the one-and-a-half hour program I would greet Beer and address him as “sir.” His counterpart manager was a warm-hearted and witty fellow named Gumsy Alba.

On my second year directing “Student Canteen” — which featured Leila Benitez, Eddie Ilarde and Pepe Pimentel — I got an offer to head the production department of another up-and-coming TV station. It was an offer I could not refuse, as they say.

Not long after I moved out of “Student Canteen,” produced by the very engaging Visayan talent named Bobby Ledesma, I began to hear about a new situation comedy created by Beer Flores. “Sebya Mahal Kita” starred Pugo, Bentot and the comedic soprano Sylvia La Torre. (Last I heard, she is reaping the harvest of her exceptional talent, as her granddaughter Anna Maria Perez de Tagle is now a Broadway actress in “Godspell.”)

A film version of “Sebya, Mahal Kita” was produced in 1957 and starred the love team of Nida Blanca and Nestor de Villa. Of course, the show’s moving parts were still Pugo and Bentot who were also in the TV and movie version. The movie was a flop. The audience did not appreciate having their favorite radio show reformatted for the movie.

Beer knew comedy and had written other situation comedies show before. While the stage shows during the Japanese Occupation had showcased comedians Pugo and Tugo, it was radio and TV that further boosted the popularity of Pugo and later Bentot.

The disappointing reception for “Sebya” did not stop Beer from moving on to another TV sitcom called “Tang-Tarang-Tang,” featuring Leroy Salvador, Pugo and Sylvia la Torre. This time, Beer hit a gold mine. The popularity of “Tang-Tarang-Tang” was unprecedented and would later spin off into a movie.

So talented was Beer that he even wrote the lyrics of the opening theme which goes something like –

Ako si Don Mariano (Pugo)
Ibyang po naman ako (Sylvia)
Bitoy ang pangalan ko (Bentot)
Badong naman ako (Leroy Salvador)…

Sylvia and Leroy would leave the show at the height of its popularity and would be replaced by the comely Marita Zobel and young actor Dindo Fernando.

Writing comedy in the Philippines, as I learned back then is more challenging than writing drama or action stories. Comedy demands a good ear for humor especially the brand of Filipino humor that we do enjoy. Beer stood head and shoulders among them during his time.

Life imitating art, Beer’s punchlines would never end. He married my sister Nenita to my pleasant surprise. My ex-boss would become my brother-in-law.

Tony Joaquin was a television producer, director, newspaper journalist, industrial trainer and soap opera actor in the Philippines. He still gets excited by new ideas, films, love and living. He is 81.

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