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Eighty years-old and still going strong, Lily Leung Seun-yin never tires of acting

By Hilda Lee

Immaculately dressed in a trouser suit, accessorised with a gold tulip brooch and matching earrings, Lily Leung Suen-yin greets Varsity with a friendly smile and perfect poise. Looking at her radiant face, nobody would guess that she had worked until 4 a.m. that morning.

The 80-year-old veteran actress has been in show business since 1957. Her career-defining role as a wealthy and haughty woman known as the “Upper Class Person” in the hit 1990s TV sitcom, A Kindred Spirit, is deeply etched into people’s memories. Even now, she still catches the attention of most passers-by in the street.

But the role is just one of the great achievements in Leung’s 56-year career. Leung has been on TV for almost as long as TV has been in Hong Kong. In that time, she has marked many major milestones.

She was named “the first lady of television in Hong Kong” because she was a voice actress in the first TV programme, Puppet Family, a children’s programme. She was one of the first actresses to act in a TV drama, one of the first news anchors, a host of the first variety show, and a host of the first television programme aimed at women viewers (teaching them about make-up and deportment).

Leung never set out to be an actress. She came from a respectable middle-class family, whose fortunes changed when her father’s business failed after World War II. She gave up her studies after high school and went to work selling perfume in the Sincere Department Store to support her siblings’ tuition fees. After working in the perfume department for two to three years, people gave her the title of “Princess of Perfume” owing to her beauty.

But the beauty never regarded herself as a “princess”. She just wanted to be an ordinary woman who could earn money to support her home and her own family.

It was a chance suggestion from her husband that set her on her extraordinary path.

Leung’s husband read an advertisement in the newspaper saying that Rediffusion was recruiting announcers and encouraged his wife to apply. Rediffusion, Hong Kong’s first television station was established in May 1957 as a subscription cable service.

Then aged 24, Leung had already given birth to three children. To this day, she expresses her heartfelt gratitude to her late husband for his constant support and encouragement.