Chapter 13: Of Green Monsters and Broken Daggers
The Publicity Division received a considerable boost when David Ford replaced Nigel Watt as Director in September 1972. Having arrived in Hong Kong on a military posting in the aftermath of the 1967 disturbances, Ford remained on secondment to ISD and later resigned from the army to join the information grade. He relished the challenge of community building.
In step with the gathering momentum of social development in Hong Kong was the introduction, in 1972, of the first of many major publicity campaigns with which ISD set out to inculcate and foster a sense of civic pride in the newly self-aware community. Arthur Hacker came up with the design for an emblematic 'public enemy number one' of the new Keep Hong Kong Clean Campaign, in the form of Lap Sap Chung, the litterbug.
A green, long-snouted monster with red spots and a forked tail, Lap Sap Chung was supposed to be repulsive but ended up looking almost endearingly naughty instead. This despite the fact that an early poster for the campaign - and one which prompted great demand - shows him looming, gigantic and Godzilla-like, above the city skyline, poised to trash the metropolis. Happily his advent coincided with the rapid inroads of broadcast television services into every home in Hong Kong, so that, even though his anti-social behaviour was not to be emulated, he became an instantly recognisable icon of the new age.
His creator, 'Frankenstein' Hacker, ruefully comments on Lap Sap Chung fever in Hong Kong in Posters, published by ISD many years after the event: "The litterbug, Lap Sap Chung, and Miss Super Clean were both launched at the same time and promoted equally. Miss Super Clean soon dropped out of the picture, but Lap Sap Chung became a folk villain. For the 'Year of the Rabbit' a white bunny called Siu Pak To (Litte White Rabbit) was introduced to counteract the villainous litterbug. Once again evil triumphed."
Television in fact became the principal medium for getting the message across, and here the groundwork laid by Nigel Watt, in formulating the licensing conditions under which the television stations were to operate, proved invaluable in securing generous allocations of free air time for announcements of public interest.
When the Keep Hong Kong Clean campaign targeted public beaches in 1975, ISD came up with the idea of forming Clean Your City groups, comprising your children who would adopt particular beaches and, through their volunteer efforts, compete for the honour of achieving the cleanest. The project proved so successful that, at year's end, ISD succeeded in encouraging the Education Department to preserve both the concept and the acronym by establishing Community Youth Clubs on a permanent basis.
For the Fight Crime campaign, launched to enlist public support for a crackdown on crime, Hacker devised a symbol of a broken dagger. This was followed by numerous other logos, targeting the different strategies employed by the Police in later phases of this campaign.
Since designing the look of a campaign only marked the first phase of ISD's involvement, a new sub-division was formed to follow up with the intricate logistical work entailed in devising and coordinating various public activities and events, with the help of city district offices, schools, auxiliary forces and voluntary services.
This 'bread and circuses' entourage had to fly largely by the seats of its pants, making it up as it went along. Among its early graduates were Ted Thomas, who soon moved on to form his own independent public relations consultancy, Gillian Newson, now a theatrical agent for some of the world's better known opera singers and orchestras, and Bill Yim, the popular cartoonist who was commissioned to design and operate a troupe of puppets for a mobile theatre.
Mounted on a flat-bed truck, for rapid deployment in factory precincts and housing estate playgrounds, the mobile theatre used lights, loudspeakers, hired talent and a pastiche of variety acts and social dramas heavily laced with public service messages. One reader wrote her Chinese newspaper to complain of the high decibels of this 'obligatory entertainment' - but that was in the days before ISD launched its Environmental Protection campaign which emphasised noise as a contributory element of social ills.
Supporting the television APIs and posters was a wide range of print material, including leaflets and explanatory booklets explaining the objectives of each campaign and the role the public could play. Quickly sensing how their own targets might be attained with the help of such campaign treatment, heads of departments competed vigorously for the mounting funds allocated to ISD each year for an ever-expanding range of programmes.
In turn, Road Safety, Fire Prevention, the Anti-Narcotics and Anti-Smoking drives, AIDS education, Industrial Safety, Home Safety, Recreational Safety, Child Abuse prevention, Metrication and Voter Registration all got the campaign treatment. With a host of other topics calling so heavily on public service airtime the broadcasting media were obliged to provide, the Publicity Division had to produce monthly schedules mapping out time slots for each message.
ISD's growing publicity apparatus came in particularly handy at a time when the government was developing new satellite towns in the New Territories, and facing resistance from a populace wary of moving into them. Inroads into the no longer 'new' territories had taken on greater urgency in the '70s. By the middle of the decade the Housing Authority's long-term development programme envisaged that at least half of the new projects would be located there, principally in the new towns of Tsuen Wan, Sha Tin and Tuen Mun. But planning and building these new towns was one thing. Getting people to inhabit them was another.
While the comforts of domesticity were assuming greater importance in the minds of Hong Kong residents, most still held home to be subordinate to workplace, and believed that a minimum distance should separate the two. On the other side of the Kowloon range lay rustic backwoods one might venture into - if time permitted - for a Sunday outing. But they were no place in which to work or live.
The skills brought to bear in breaking down this resistance, and encouraging the exodus of pioneering new town settlers, became part of the new motivational armoury of ISD. Investors had also to be wooed for the new industrial areas that would form the employment base for these new populations, and housing, schools, social and commercial amenities and public utilities had to be developed in parallel - all of them dependent on ease of transportation and none of them likely to work unless ordinary families could be prevailed upon to take up residence there. Heavily involved in this programme was Kerry McGlynn, newly-recruited to ISD from Australia.
Chapter 14: A Sniper in the Bell Tower
Although it seemed, at the time, merely a logical extension of the work of ISD, the creation of public relations units within various other departments marked a significant development with profound implications for the government's overall information policy. For as the years went by, ISD would find individual departmental heads exerting greater independence and control of their own public relations output.
The 'diaspora' was linked to the growth of political maturity in the community, and to the more critical role played by the media. David Ford, as DIS, had publicly stated that, because of the limitations on democratic development, the press had to serve as the 'opposition' in Hong Kong.
The creation of departmental public relations units also coincided with a major review of government's information policy in the early '70s, which in turn arose from a group of management consultants' recommendations to strengthen and reinforce the overall structure of the administration.
The Central Government Offices acquired their first Secretariat Press Officer in 1972, accompanying Jack Cater in the newly-established post of Information Secretary. Cater was already familiar with ISD's operations as a result of overseeing the government's response to the 1967 disturbances. The following year responsibility for information policy was absorbed within his wider ambit as the first Secretary for Home Affairs. In late 1973 he was succeeded by Denis Bray. David Ford moved from ISD to become Bray’s Deputy Secretary for Information, later becoming Secretary for Information and eventually Chief Secretary, the last Briton to fill the post.
Other departmental information units were set up in the Police, and in Labour, Social Welfare and Resettlement Departments. The momentum was accelerating so fast that by the end of 1972 there were a further five in operation.
At first the move met with resistance from certain department heads. They resented having to find space to accommodate personnel seconded from ISD, and resented even more the idea that they were in need of advice on how to handle their public relations. Even when they grudgingly acquiesced to such 'infiltration', the information officers seconded to them were given little or no familiarisation, or indeed encouragement to discover where their services might be required.
While some seconded staff found their new assignments heavy going, others quickly established an almost unhealthy relationship with their hosts, and saw fit to declare virtual autonomy from ISD, much to the alarm and chagrin of the latter's directorate.
Notable early 'rebels' were Barry Walsh, in Labour Department, Drew Rennie in the Police and Alberto Da Cruz, in Medical and Health, who set an independent tone that would be followed by one or two successors, including Chris Wong.
Inevitably, of course, there was always a danger of divided loyalties arising from such postings. Working side by side with the professional staff to whom they had been attached, ISD's 'outriders' were like scouting parties sent far afield from the main body of their troops. They had to learn to speak a different language, accommodate to new ways and, not surprisingly, to view public relations problems from a different perspective.
The best of them displayed precisely the kind of initiative they were expected to display, and clung to their standpoint even if it put them at odds with headquarters back in ISD. It was a learning experience, both for them and - more especially - for their superiors in the information grade. How much free rein should you allow the hounds in pursuit of the quarry, particularly if the quarry was something they could scent better than you could?
Irene Yau, one of the earliest to head a departmental unit, describes the experience as almost schizophrenic. "Not only are you torn between your department head and your boss back in GIS, but you are also torn between the government and the media.
"The media find it difficult to trust us because they think of us as civil servants, and civil servants ask 'Which side are you on? The media's or ours?' If you defend the media to your fellow civil servants you're suspected of aiding and abetting them. What too many of them fail to realise is that we're actually there to help them."
Once she became DIS herself, Irene found it surprising how often civil servants would cling to the mistaken belief that GIS still exercised responsibility for the by then long independent Radio Television Hong Kong.
"I was frequently challenged by quite senior officials, who should have known better, to explain what I intended to do about RTHK. My response was I was the same rank as the Director of Broadcasting, over whom I had absolutely no control," she said.
By 1976 the number of departmental units had grown to 15, the latest - and for a long time the smallest - being in the Civil Aviation Department. Whereas 'our man at Kai Tak' had at least one genuine hijacking to deal with, most departmental units were left to cope with crises that spared them any risk to life and limb. Sensing that too much reality would blunt their taste for adventure, government decided, every now and then, to stage an imaginary security exercise that would prod civil servants out of their seats and on to their toes.
Even though ISD was consulted on the preparation of the scenarios for these exercises, and expected to loan its personnel to staff imaginary 'news media', information was the last priority in the minds of those senior government personnel who responded to the often highly improbable circumstances devised by the authors of these exercises.
Frequently the pace of events was so unrealistically exaggerated that the 'media' were asking questions regarding events that had not been notified to the operations centres. Police Commissioner Roy Henry, for example, was left flatly denying, at a simulated press conference, that any hostages had been taken from a fictional consular office, even when shown photographs of 'deceased hostages' left to hang from the consulate balcony.
On another occasion ISD personnel, about to come off duty from a harrowing session in the subterranean recesses of Central Government Offices, were denied permission to leave the premises on the grounds that a sniper was posted in the bell tower of St John's Cathedral to cover the rear entrance. How he might have gained access to this sanctuary without killing the sexton and stealing the keys was a detail conveniently overlooked.
What about the front entrance? was the exasperated response. Before the exercise controllers could quickly vary the scenario, by posting a second sniper in the tree dominating the main quadrangle, the ISD contingent made its escape.
In March 1999, there were 25 departmental units and 11 Secretariat Press Offices.
Chapter 15: Peripatetic Players In A Movable Feast
David Ford's tenure as DIS spanned a period when improved labour conditions, reduced working hours and increased leisure time led to a blossoming of artistic creativity in what many had previously condemned as a cultural desert.
Like Governor Sir Murray MacLehose, who took up his appointment in 1971, Ford was personally interested in doing what he could to foster this development. He volunteered the services of ISD to help the Hong Kong Arts Festival, which was launched in 1973 but by 1975 was running short of funds.
Along with publicity campaigns, arts promotion went under the wing of the newly-retitled 'Festival and Campaigns Sub-division', an appellation which, though still cumbersome, was vastly preferable to the collective designation of 'Technical Services Division' previously employed to refine the department's overall publicity services. Today such duties fall under the ambit of the Promotions Sub-division.
Regarded with about as much suspicion by their fellow ISD colleagues as ISD, in turn, was still regarded by most other civil servants, the personnel of the Festival and Campaigns Office Sub-division found themselves cast as peripatetic players performing in a movable feast. Accorded the lowest priority in accommodation, they led a brief and ephemeral existence on the first floor of Beaconsfield House, immediately above the public lavatory.
Alternative accommodation was found in the United Chinese Bank Building, where they worked alongside the Arts Festival Office, affording them more salubrious surroundings. But this was not a long interlude. Next destination was an abandoned fire station at 1A Garden Road, where the Citibank Plaza now stands.
Stories abounded of unquiet ghosts dating from the Japanese occupation, when the building was used to interrogate hapless prisoners. George Yuen, who had arrived in ISD to head the marketing office somewhat loosely attached to festivals and campaigns, was not thrilled at the prospect of sharing his room with any uninvited and invisible presence. He took the precaution of surrounding himself with fung shui defences of every conceivable device and collected funds from his colleagues, ostensibly for a 'house warming' but in reality to employ Taoist priests, along with roast pigs, for an exorcism ceremony.
Employed primarily to help with the Arts Festival publicity programme, together with whatever other vaguely celebratory events might crop up, Gillian Newson joined a team that included others who were learning the business as they went along, including Richard Mann, Sian Cadwallader and Pauline Ling. As she was already well aware, from prior experience of working with the artistically-inclined, Gillian knew she would have to cope with prima donna sized temperaments, and had developed just the right bedside manner to nurse bruised egos. When the Cullberg Ballet Company from Sweden was preparing its world premiere of a new ballet entitled Adam and Eve, based on Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Gillian had a hard time persuading the director that a key element of the d_cor simply would not prove acceptable in Hong Kong. At virtually the eleventh hour the director gave in and a gigantic stage prop - an erect phallus rendered in anatomical detail - was removed from the City Hall stage, to be replaced by a vaguely androgynous statue symbolising sexual awakening.
"One of our aircraft is missing," was the anguished cry from members of the Kai Tak Model Club who, at the behest of ISD, had brought their exquisitely crafted radio-controlled model aeroplanes to the Government Stadium to test whether they might be used for a Silver Jubilee Pageant in 1977, commemorating the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's accession to the throne.
The idea was for the miniatures to perform aerobatics to entertain nightly audiences during the pageant's week-long run. But it took only one afternoon's dress rehearsal to demonstrate that the proposal was hopelessly impractical, and that wireless frequencies employed to control the models were dangerously vulnerable to interference. Sent aloft to see what kind of range it would cover, a diminutive World War II bomber soared heroically onward and upward, way above the football field, above the serried ranks of stadium seats and beyond the stadium perimeter, never to be seen again.
Intended as the pi_ce de r_sistance was the largest multi-media show ever attempted in Hong Kong. Television guru Robert Chua was commissioned to produce this spectacular, on a giant screen that stretched across the entire width of the stadium. When the moment came to throw the switch on opening night, nothing happened. Among those madly scrambling in the darkness to find the one missing link in a vast tangle of wires and electrical outlets were Robert, Gillian Newson and Grahame Blundell, still soldiering on in ISD as Assistant Director/Publicity after his experience at Expo '70.
All told, the pageant was witnessed by some 150 000 spectators, but even before it faded in the memory the festival and campaigns office was on the move again, this time to the old Fire Services building alongside Central Market. From there it moved into the Admiralty Centre, and then again into the French Mission Building, right behind Beaconsfield House and at the other end of the bridge connecting the latter with Battery Path. Promotions Sub-division is now back safely 'within the fold' at ISD Headquarters in Murray Building on Garden Road.
Chapter 16: The Unauthorised Addition
The index at the back of the particular edition of the annual report entitled Hong Kong 1970 contains a curious entry on page 330; an entry that exists purely to direct the reader back to itself. It simply states ‘Dougherty P.W., Editor, Hong Kong 1968, 69, 70, 330’. Denied the opportunity to officially accept the credit for editing that complex and demanding record for three consecutive years, Paul Dougherty found his own unofficial way to circumvent the prohibition.
Later editors, commencing with Anthony Tobin in Hong Kong 1975, would indeed receive accreditation, immediately following the title page, when the embargo was finally lifted by Director David Ford. And other editors, like Dougherty, would find themselves trapped in the editor's chair year after year, simply because there were few contenders - and certainly no volunteers - for this thankless task.
Tobin was succeeded by Joyce Savidge (two successive reports), Philip Rees, Dianne Wood (two), Cynthia Kerr Rao (later Cynthia Lockeyear), Mark Pinkstone, Melinda Parsons (two), Bill Knight (two), Aladin Ismail (three), David Roberts (two), Renu Daryanani (one) and the record-holder Bob Howlett (four), who has been in the chair since early 1994. Like the Editorial Sub-division - now the Publishing Sub-division - in which they served, these editors also pursued their displaced existence away from the power centre of Beaconsfield House.
For several years the sub-division enjoyed a splendid isolation at Baskerville House in Icehouse Street, before coming to rest alongside the Promotions Sub-division in the French Mission Building. The sub-divison - along with the Promotions and Creative Sub-divisons - found a temporary home at the Shiu On Centre in Wan Chai from March 1995 until 'reunification' in January 1999 with ISD Headquarters in Murray Building.
As the flagship of ISD's editorial production, the year book topped the priority list for the Design Sub-division (now the Creative Sub-division), whose hard-working photographers laboured to produce ever more spectacular picture essays to embellish its pages and boost its sales.
Until the late '60s and early '70s, the entire publications output of ISD was safely in the hands of one editor, supported by the indomitable Dolly Ng, who had originally been recruited as books designer, and who worked at an adjoining desk on a string of projects including City of Children. However, by the middle of the latter decade, expanding public interest in civic affairs demanded a stepped-up output and more editorial staff.
An early response to this desire for more information on the hitherto mysterious mechanics of government was a series of fact sheets, each treating a different aspect of administrative affairs and each requiring to be updated annually with the latest facts and statistics. The range of titles grew so voluminous that editing them became a year-long job for the particular information officer assigned these duties. The Senior Information Officer assigned to this task nowadays oversees the updating of no less than 67 Fact Sheets, as well as more than 60 leaflets or booklets on how to apply for various government services.
Backing the editorial staff were the sales and marketing personnel, who controlled and painstakingly expanded the department's only source of revenue. Originally seconded from the establishment of the Government Printer, who continued to print ISD publications but declined to take any further responsibility for the goods delivered, these stalwarts pursued an existence so specialised that there were few opportunities for them to cross over into the mainstream of information duties.
Very few succeeded in achieving this transition. The rest heroically and uncomplainingly pursued a closeted existence in the one section of the department most vulnerable to audit queries, producing a virtually flawless record.
Chapter 17: Profound and Lasting Consequences
The Royal Visit in 1975 - the first by a reigning British monarch - coincided with the first influx of refugees from Vietnam, where the previous year American forces had abandoned their efforts to help withstand an unstoppable communist advance. The day the Queen and Prince Philip set foot on Hong Kong soil a Danish vessel, MV Clara Maersk, sailed into the harbour bearing 3,900 refugees picked up at sea from a small, overburdened and imperilled vessel, the Truong Xuam.
Conversing with veteran foreign correspondent Anthony Lawrence at a reception in Government House, Her Majesty expressed concern for the implications of this development and correctly surmised it could be the beginning of a much larger and ongoing exodus with profound and lasting consequences not only for Hong Kong but the world at large.
Though slow to materialise at first, the exodus gained rapid momentum by 1978, when a total of 3,356 were similarly rescued at sea and a further 2,441 arrived directly aboard their own small craft, many so laden with their human cargoes that they were barely seaworthy. These numbers did not include some 3,000 aboard the Panamanian freighter Huey Fong, which at year's end was still anchored just outside Hong Kong waters, denied permission to enter because she had originally been bound for Taiwan and only diverted after picking up her unscheduled passengers.
John Slimming had just taken over as DIS from Richard Lai Ming, a Mauritian Chinese who for the previous two and a half years, before he retired in June 1978, was the first local officer appointed to that post. Lai Ming had done much to advance the careers of promising local officers, but his directorate was still dominated by expatriate 'old timers'.
Slimming had pursued a colourful career as British Council representative in Burma, advisor on aboriginal affairs in Malaya and author of a number of successful novels, including The Pepper Garden, before arriving in Hong Kong in the aftermath of the 1967 disturbances. He was a man who took his work very seriously and whose particular talent was to anticipate the downside of almost every development.
One of his staff, invited by the Hong Kong Tourist Association to address a group of students about to depart for universities overseas as 'goodwill ambassadors', found that by chance the date of this address fell on June 30, 1977 - 20 years before the New Territories lease was due to expire. When he later reported to Slimming that he had settled for this topic, and invited what proved to be a lively discussion on the prospects of reversion to China, Slimming was greatly dismayed. It was not, he felt, a subject to which anyone should be drawing attention, leave alone a senior member of his own department.
For Slimming the implications of the rising refugee influx were nothing less than disastrous. He became obsessed with this particular issue to the point where, because he was unwilling to delegate responsibility, it began to take an appalling toll of his health.
An additional burden was his anxiety for his beloved wife Lucy, a Malaysian Chinese he had met while on a language course in Kuala Lumpur, and whom he had married from the home of David and Jane Akers-Jones, then stationed in Malaya prior to that country's independence in 1957. Yet in the end it was John who preceded Lucy's demise through his sudden death from a massive heart attack in 1979.
In his desk drawers were found copious notes of his observations on the manner in which the refugees had made their desperate voyages in hope of a better life, as though he had half toyed with the idea of using them for a future account of their remarkable odysseys.
The man who took over from Slimming, in an acting capacity until Bob Sun's return to the department as DIS on January 1, 1980, was Bernard Renouf Johnston, better known as 'Johnny'. Already thoroughly familiar with the refugees issue, Johnston organised special documentary films, booklets and information kits designed to highlight the burden posed for an already overcrowded territory that was not receiving the co-operation it needed from countries far better equipped to share the load. Though he often personally organised briefings and conducted tours of improvised refugee centres, Johnston also busied himself with other departmental priorities, including the importance he attached to recreational events organised by the staff club. For relaxation he embarked on weekend excursions to the New Territories and outlying islands with his wife Gwyneth, a noted authority on butterflies who succeeded in rearing lesser-known species in a special room assigned for the purpose in their government quarters in Mount Austin Road. Together they collaborated on a book on Hong Kong butterflies, published by ISD.
More intimately involved with refugee matters were David Roads, a veteran AP correspondent who had been based in Hong Kong almost throughout the post-war years, and Matthew Cheung, who was later to leave ISD and make his mark in the ranks of the administrative grade and is now the Commissioner for Labour. These two formed the nucleus of the Overseas Public Relations Section established in 1977 under the Public Relations Division. The most famous holder of the post, however, was undoubtedly Mark Pinkstone whose unfailing good humour, accessibility and helpfulness were recognised by his “clients” who awarded him a rare life membership of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.
Hong Kong was to carry the cross of its refugee centres for many years to come, constantly defending its policies and raising the issue in the world arena to focus attention on the unfairness of its struggle to cope, largely unassisted and with little sympathy for the dilemma it faced.
Not until June 1997, on the eve of Hong Kong's reversion to Chinese sovereignty, did the numbers of Vietnamese migrants in detention centres decline to the point where the government could afford to close the largest - and most contentious - at Whitehead. Inmates at this Sha Tin facility had frequently staged violent protests against efforts to repatriate them. Less than a year later, the last of the detention centres was closed bringing to a humane conclusion a saga that had dogged Hong Kong's development for more than two decades.