Geoffrey Somers: A Tribute From His Son
By Michael Somers
Geoffrey Vincent Somers, who spent many years gracing the pages of Hong Kong newspapers – whether making the news at the punchy tabloid The Star, spinning it at the Government Information Service (GIS) or commenting on it as an independent writer – died on 13 August at the age of 93.
Born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1928, Geoff got his start at the Daily News and later moved across the country to The Truth and The Herald, both in Melbourne. He shifted to Hong Kong in the mid-1960s and made a name for himself while working on The Star when he scooped the world with news of communist party vice-chairman Lin Biao’s death in a plane crash in September 1971 in circumstances which are still shrouded in mystery.
Geoff subsequently spent many years with the GIS, covering the then Royal Hong Kong Police, the Housing Authority, the Urban Council and the government publications office. He also wrote for various publications under colourful noms de plume because, as a civil servant, he could not publish without permission. An exception was made when he authored The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club: The Story of Racing in Hong Kong which profitably combined his passion for both horses and racing.
He later worked with Henry Parwani on The China Review and at one time he was the tipster Madame X on The Star’s league of racing pundits before passing on the handle and its fine legacy of not quite breaking even. He edited at least one Hong Kong Yearbook and played a key role in several others. He started the police newspaper Offbeat, and a bilingual newspaper for the Urban Council. He also quietly helped a bunch of people start newspapers and magazines, not least the brightly blazing but short-lived Australasian Express, and Raymonde Sacklyn’s groundbreaking business newsletter Target.
Having reached retirement age, he left Hong Kong in 1989 with my mum, Luisa Somers. But rather than twiddle his thumbs, Geoff dovetailed his still considerable energies with his love of horses, using skills he had honed at Happy Valley and Sha Tin to interview trainers and jockeys for Australian racing publications.
Geoff stopped for a stint in Tokyo, where he wrote the Japan Racing Association’s annual report, then returned to Hong Kong in 1992 to run Window for Lo Tak-shing during that tycoon’s ill-fated tilt at becoming the SAR’s first chief executive.
In 2011 Geoff left Hong Kong for good, moving to Buderim in Queensland with Amy, who he had married in 2006, and publishing Ghosts of the China Coast: A Tabloid History of China with Earnshaw Books. In the years up to his death, he wrote columns in The China Daily and contributed to the South China Morning Postfrom time to time.
While Geoff was known for his keen interest in horses and generous policy of contributing his stake money to racecourses around the world, he also loved travelling and writing about the places he explored; he even reviewed music at one stage. He read voraciously, in particular about Hong Kong and southern China’s coastal history, and collected vintage maps and books.
Geoff, who made friends wherever he went and with whomever he worked, had many vigorous (but never acrimonious) exchanges and was universally respected for his professionalism. And of course, the FCC – where he was a Life Member (No. 3228) – was a favourite for many years, both at Sutherland House and Ice House Street, where our family enjoyed many meals and he and Amy held their wedding reception.