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Obituary: Robin Lynam – ‘He put the “Gentle” Into Gentleman’

By Andrew Dembina

“Van Morrison’s playing reminds us that he used to be quite a sharp acoustic guitarist… a welcome inclusion on an engaging, enthusiastic but inessential set.” So concluded an incisive review of a then new CD called The Skiffle Sessions, published in the May 2000 issue of HMV’s now defunct magazine The Voice, penned by the late long-time Hong Kong resident and part of the furniture at the FCC’s Main Bar for decades: Robin Piers Lynam.

While pulling no punches in his music writing – mostly on rock, jazz and blues – for a great many publications, Lynam reached his conclusions via a wide, long-accrued knowledge that was closely rivaled by his in-depth understanding of food and (alcoholic) drink, another of his preferred areas of focus as a contributing writer.

While he would often tell it like he saw it in media or social gatherings, Lynam was not one to put someone down for the sake of it – generally, that is. On occasion, I recall him reaching boiling point when a know-it-all at a media gathering veered into verbose overdrive – or, even worse, got a fact wrong.

L to R: Angelica Cheung, Mark Graham & Robin.
Photo by Steve Knipp.

Anyone who knew him well loved this acerbic side of the otherwise exceptionally courteous, intelligent and witty Lynam. He “put the ‘gentle’ into gentleman” was one of the most apt tributes to appear on the Facebook page of Karin Malmstrom, his long-term partner, following his premature passing in the early hours of 20 February. A struggle with prostate cancer which shifted to his colon, bouts of chemotherapy and finally, ensuing surgical procedures were to take an accumulated toll. Appreciative remarks about Lynam, in social media and elsewhere, also expressed shock that he was gone far too soon, having just turned 63.

L to R: Karin and Robin. Photo by Chris Davis.

Despite illness hampering his activities for a while, Lynam had managed to catch up with his good friend and host of a longstanding Christmas get-together, Chris Davis, editor of Banking Today, in Hong Kong. “Lynam was a great pal for more than 30 years – it was not unusual to see each other two or three times each week,” he says. “He and Karin joined us for our journos’ and friends’ Christmas lunch for 20 years or more. 

“Last year, he had to see us just before that lunch, as he couldn’t be exposed to many people [in his condition]. Previously, he was always the first to arrive and last to leave – his conversation was always as eloquent on his first glass as it was after his third bottle. With a pithy comment, he could say or write in one sentence what might take others 1,000 words.

“They both also played music at my wedding party in 2005. I miss him so much – he was one of my closest friends.”

L to R: The late Gopi Gopalen with FCC pals Bob Davis & Robin Lynam. 2011. Photo Steven Knipp.

Davis travelled on a number of press trips over the years, which were made all the more colourful for Lynam’s presence. One of Davis’ fondest memories is when “as someone with absolutely no interest whatsoever in sport – he actually went to the Rugby World Cup in Australia [in 2003], which I was also attending. He’d said ‘no thanks’ to the invitation from the PR company at first, but then they told him there would be some wine to try.” That changed Lynam’s mind and they had a great time – even at the rugby games.

Lynam was born in London in February 1959. Both his father and brother served in the British armed forces and he spent part of his early childhood in Tripoli, Libya, while his father was posted there. Family bonds were strong. “Robin was very close to his mum and dad,” says Malmstrom, “and he adored his [late] brother Jeremy [who was stationed in Hong Kong for some years].” Lynam attended Dulwich College Prep School and Cranbrook School, before moving to University College London to study English literature. He was also very fond of his cousin, the English actress Jenny Agutter, who he would occasionally see in London.

“My best memory of Robin is through knowing him as a child,” recalls Agutter, who was six years his senior. “Spending time with him over many years, I think always of his warmth and humour. When my husband and I visited Hong Kong, we had the benefit of his wealth of knowledge about food, and the joy of discovering great restaurants with him. I loved being in his company.”

Bernie Kingston, a young tutor at Cranbrook when Lynam was there, recalls: “He told me that he played guitar, and I told him I had always been fond of The Shadows and could play Apache note-perfect, so for fun we formed Bernie and The Jets, which may have been his first band.”

British TV presenter Sankha Guha, who studied at UCL at the same time, says: “Lynam was one of my closest friends over the years and across continents. From the moment we met, we plotted the hijacking of the university newspaper together.”

Upon arrival in 1982 in Hong Kong, Lynam’s first work was for Hong Kong Tatler and Hong Kong Business magazines. The editor of Tatler at that time, Steve Knipp, recalls his impression of the budding contributor: “a lovely guy, he was a true Edwardian-era English gent.

“As our arts and culture correspondent, he penned a stack of insightful, beautifully written film and book reviews, plus profiles of visiting jazz musicians.

“Lynam told me he had zero interest in ever taking a fixed staff post. I think installing him in a petite office cubicle would have been like trying to put a seagull in a birdcage – very noisy, quite messy and short-lived.

“Later, when I joined Travel & Leisure, I sent him on trips, including to then-exotic Shanghai on an old rust-bucket coastal liner. He loved it.”

While Knipp agrees with the consensus that Lynam was a kind and gentle fellow, he recalls some fearless tendencies: “On a press trip to Spain, he and I found ourselves in a dingy waterfront dive in Barcelona, well past midnight. The scruffy, unshaven barman looked like a super-sized Tony Soprano. Lynam smiled at him and said something in debauched Spanish; the scowling barman walked away, returning a minute later with two glasses and a bottle of sparkling white Cava wine.

“Lynam poured two glasses, sniffed his, then instantly held up his hand, waving to the brute behind the bar. I feverishly asked what the problem was. He glanced at me through the gloom and said, ‘Mr Knipp, as a colonial American, you may not be aware of this, but our wine has clearly not been properly chilled. The barman must bring us another bottle, promptly, and at the proper temperature.’

“Thankfully, I was able to convince him to let this late-night barbarism slide.”

Malmstrom, a strategic advisor to Cotton Council International who arrived in Hong Kong in 1980, met Lynam at the FCC. They became a romantic item in 1996, having both worked together planning events on club committees when she was Second Vice President. “At that time, one of his Mind Your Head bandmates retired and they invited me to join [playing an electric blue violin]. Being in his company sparked so much happiness.

“He was always so thoughtful,” she continues, describing their blossoming as a couple. “He made me feel very appreciated. He would surprise me with all sorts of information, insights about so many topics, especially arcane facts about 1960s and 1970s musicians and old movies.”

The couple enjoyed travel but with different preferences: “He was used to five-star hotels, I didn’t mind a backpacker hostel,” Malmstrom says. “We met in the middle and enjoyed years of globetrotting. He loved Paris and each time we visited he insisted on making a pilgrimage to Harry’s New York Bar [known for its live jazz, as much as its cocktails].”

Other journeys took them to North Korea, Cuba and the Blues Highway from Chicago to New Orleans – in time for its annual jazz festival. “We were fortunate to squeeze in possibly the best trip – just before Covid hit two years ago – when we lazily cruised aboard The Strand Hotel’s luxury riverboat on the Irrawaddy.

Lynam was formerly married to Gillian Smith “and they have remained good friends throughout the years,” says Malmstrom.

And how would Malmstrom most want Lynam remembered? “He was a kind, clever and caring soul whose wit and humour filled people’s lives with joy,” she replies, which seems spot-on – as long as some fool was not spouting nonsense within earshot for too long.

Christopher Hunter: A Man of Conviction and Faith

By Patrick Dransfeld

Christopher Hunter – publisher, journalist, scholar of Chinese, father of Jessica and son of Gillian and Frederic – passed away at the age of 57 at home in Berkhamsted, England on 21 November 2021. Chris, who lived in Hong Kong from 1987 to 2016, had been suffering from multiple sclerosis for over 25 years and donated his body for research in the hope of providing relief for future sufferers.  

Everybody who met Chris remembers him. He was an active and vocal participant in many social activities. Chris was an early member of the Community Church of Hong Kong and a regular worshipper. The Chinese and Hong Kong legal community owes Chris a great deal as he was a key figure in the development and propagation of Chinese law through his work as editor of China Law & Practice in the 1990s, his work for the Financial Times in Nanjing in the 2000s and as co-founder and director of Vantage Asia Publishing. The magazine China Business Law Journal that Chris founded and edited continues to thrive.    

Some of the tributes which have been paid to Chris are reproduced here: 

“Chris Hunter was a unique individual: thoughtful, incisive and unafraid to offer a trenchant opinion, I was very fortunate to benefit from his tremendous knowledge of Chinese law, language and culture. As a colleague at Asia Law & Practice in the mid-1990s, he was loyal, industrious and committed. Beneath his quirky sense of humour, there was often a serious and sometimes valuable message. A man of conviction and faith, what he occasionally lacked in tact he more than made up for with his integrity and honesty. He will be much missed.”   

—Dominic Carman, former Managing Director of Asia Law & Practice 

“The world is a smaller place without Chris Hunter. I first met Chris at a Student Christian Movement debate in Leeds during the spring of 1983. I recall that he took great delight in sharing biting wit during a particularly heated debate. Our working relationship began with Euromoney’s Asia Law & Practice where we collaborated on several publications: I think my best time in publishing was working with Chris on “The China Patient” (1999) and “Life and Death of a Dotcom in China” (2005). When I left Euromoney, Chris gave me a DVD of the Bill Murray comedy ‘The Man Who Knew Nothing.’  I am still puzzling about that.”  

—Patrick Dransfield, Leeds University Alumni and colleague at Asia Law & Practice

“Chris was a boss, mentor and most of all, a friend. My first taste of his unorthodox approach to life came when he interviewed me for a job at Asia Law & Practice. “What would you think if I fired you?” was one of the first questions he asked. Somehow, I got the job, managed not to get fired, and Chris became my mentor in the world of legal publishing. A combination of my fledgling sales skills and his amateur interest in sales psychology gave rise to some unconventional sales techniques. A memorable example was when Chris attempted to use reverse psychology to sell a sponsored article to one of Asia’s top restructuring lawyers by telling him he was not up to the job of writing it. 

Ten years later, I sought Chris’ mentorship again when I started my own venture – Vantage Asia – in which Chris subsequently became a partner. His presence gave me the confidence to strike out on my own, while his intellect, analytical mind and talent for finding faults in just about everything made him a fantastic sounding board for ideas. His quirky sense of humour and boisterous laugh eased the pain of getting a new business up and running. We all miss him immensely.” 

—James Burden, Director, Vantage Asia 

Chris joined the Financial Times in 1999 with a brief to improve relationships at an FT venture in Nanjing. Chris’ business acumen, knowledge of Chinese culture and language, unflustered approach and determination delivered results. We held one-to-one meetings with principals from our Chinese partner in Beijing – with Chris translating – and the direct approach meant we could dispense with some middle-men, saving money and ensuring clearer communication. Chris then tackled on-the-ground issues in Nanjing, improving relationships with the onsite management, local staff and the handful of young Westerners the FT had contracted. His key victory was persuading the partner to provide better accommodation for the Westerners.  

Chris analysed the 40-person operation that FT was running. He helped develop and then execute our strategy of positive engagement, with the goal of exiting the project when the contract came up for renewal. He managed this skilfully with the partnership ceasing without rancour in 2001. Chris left the FT to pursue other ventures shortly afterwards.  

Over four years Chris’ time in Nanjing was sometimes challenging as MS began to impact him. He identified a skilled number-two to be the key local liaison in Nanjing and reduced the frequency and length of his trips. He also made trips to FT’s London HQ and our divisional office in the New Forest.  

I remember his good humour in dealing with often prickly negotiations and the trouble he went to in building personal relationships in Nanjing. His karaoke rendition of a famous (I’m told) love duet with a senior female official in Nanjing still lives in my mind and won massed applause from the audience. It was clear the staff, locals and Westerners, admired and respected him.  

Chris developed my interest in Chinese history by taking me to sites in Nanjing – the wall and city gates, Yangtze bridge and nearby Sun Yet Sen mausoleum – and in Shanghai and Beijing. He was a cheerful and well-informed guide and always keen to cover elements that UK history ignores.  

—Adrian Clarke, Former Director of FT Electronic Publishing 

“Rest in peace, Chris. You were a very sharp mind let down prematurely by an uncooperative body. I have much to thank you for and hope you now enjoy your freedom from physical constraints!” 

—Michael Fosh  

A memorial service will be held for Chris Hunter in Hong Kong at 6pm on 20 January. The service will be held in the Community Church of Hong Kong (1/F, J+ Building, 35-45B Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan). This will be followed by a memorial dinner at the FCC. (Further details from Tom Cohen: [email protected] ) 

Photo of Christopher Hunter courtesy of James Burden, Director, Vantage Media.  

Remembering Carlos Tejada: Deputy Asia Editor for The New York Times

By Austin Ramzy and Dan Strumpf

Carlos Tejada, an editor for The New York Times who mentored generations of journalists in Asia and helped guide coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s oppression of ethnic minorities, died of a heart attack on 18 December 2021 in Seoul. He was 49.

Tejada became the Times’ deputy Asia editor in 2020 and helped lead the transfer of much of the paper’s Asia operations from Hong Kong to Seoul last year. He previously served as Asia news editor, China news editor and deputy Hong Kong bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal.

Colleagues at both newspapers remember him as a gifted editor who elevated stories with seeming ease and faced the burdens of the job with joy and humour. He held reporters to high standards, coaxing out their best work through both scrutiny and compassion. He made long sentences short and vague ideas clear.

Yuan Li, a business columnist for the Times who also worked with the late editor at the Journal, said Tejada was always willing to help Chinese journalists like herself who wanted to write in English.

“In our 17 years of working together at the Journal then at the Times, he had never laughed at my English,” she says. “As my editor, he just patiently corrected the numerous grammatical mistakes I made, made my sentences comprehensible and my columns shine.”

Josh Chin, deputy China bureau chief at the Journal and a longtime colleague of Tejada, said he was “like a Jedi master of newspaper editing.”

“He could always mind-trick you into doing a story his way, which was usually the right way,” Chin says. “He constantly devoted energy to reporters and their stories in a way that seems unfathomable, and that can only be explained by the fact that he believed with so much infectious conviction in the goodness and value of old-school journalism done properly.”

Tejada also helped nurture young reporters and editors outside his own newsrooms. “The best stories are about conflict,” or where “the stated intent or purpose goes horribly awry,” he told a writing seminar at the FCC’s journalism conference in 2017.

He edited early stories on China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic cited in the Times’ 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. In addition, he contributed to coverage of Beijing’s crackdown on predominately Muslim minority groups that was a Pulitzer finalist in 2020.

After the Times decided to move much of its editing operations in Asia from Hong Kong due to difficulty obtaining visas and the uncertainty created by the National Security Law, Tejada helped spearhead the establishment of a new regional hub in Seoul last year.

Carlos Tejada
Nov. 4th, 2021, Seoul, South Korea: Carlos Tejada, a New York Times editor
in Asia Headquarters in Seoul during a company dinner.
Credit: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Tejada grew up in Arizona, the son of an immigrant from El Salvador and an English teacher from New Hampshire (his parents met when his father took his mother’s ESL class). The family lived for a time in a salvaged mobile home. 

“There were javelina [a pig-like hooved animal] in the creosote [a desert shrub] and scorpions in the kitchen sink, but no telephones and no neighbours,” he said of that point in his childhood. “It was more fun than it sounds.”

He joined the Wall Street Journal as a spot news reporter in Dallas, Texas, before moving to New York to work as an editor.

He served as the Journal’s deputy bureau chief and Asia news editor in Hong Kong, then moved in 2011 to Beijing, where he was the paper’s China news editor. He returned to Hong Kong in 2016 when he became the Times’ Asia business editor.

Tejada met his wife, Nora, at the University of Kansas, where he studied journalism. They had a son, Marco, and a daughter, Gianna.

Obituary: A Toast to Ian Verchere

By Philip Bowring

Ian Verchere, who died on 17 July in England aged 83, was one of the most agreeable and versatile journalists I have known. A restless enthusiasm and a wide variety of intellectual interests took him to many places, but he started out in Hong Kong doing his national service in the army in the late 1950s which led to his first job as a sports reporter on the South China Morning Post. Then it was off to La Sorbonne in Paris for two years to perfect his French, which led to a job as tour manager for Thomas Cook and a great deal of travel around Europe; he also spoke passable Spanish having studied in Barcelona.

The travel bug and journalism merged when the travel trade’s premier journal, Travel Trade Gazette, hired him. Ian then became the editor of Asia Travel Trade (ATT) following a chance meeting at a Singapore travel conference in 1972 with the publisher, bringing him back to Hong Kong. I arrived in the then-colony the following year and we quickly became friends. When he hired Murray Bailey to join him at ATT, Ian persuaded me to let Murray share my flat.

Ian was by then editing Insight, a monthly business-focused magazine which was, at least for a while, a journalistic success even if not a commercial one. Its in-depth look at business was a first for English-language monthly journalism in 1970s Hong Kong, a period that saw a great flowering of regional journalism with the launch of Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek and the Asian Wall Street Journal, among others. ATT and Insight gave him great opportunities to travel in the region and satisfy his wide and ever-growing interests.

From the May 1979 issue of The Correspondent magazine.

While living in Stanley, Ian also took up sailing a Hobie – a small catamaran which he launched off the beach at To Tei Wan. I was also living in Stanley, and also had a dinghy which I kept on the main beach, so I saw Ian quite often – though we did not make a habit of visiting the Smugglers Inn, then strictly for the squaddies from Stanley Fort.

In 1979 Bank of America lured Ian away from journalism with a job in Tokyo as vice president of corporate communications. He worked there for five years, then moved to New York. But journalism remained his first love and he eventually returned to London, working for Janes’ aviation magazines, the Economist Intelligence Unit and The European newspaper (which made a valiant but failed effort (1990-1998) to persuade English-language readers to learn more about what was happening in Europe). He also freelanced for numerous national dailies.

Ian went on do much sailing and travelling in Europe, the Caribbean, the US and across to Fiji. His adventures in Fiji led to a semi-autobiographical novel, Mugged in Tahiti, a tale of fun and games in the South Pacific. He also wrote Sailing into American History, a journey along the east coast’s Intracoastal Waterway which shed light on the early decades of the US.

The avid traveller was also very much at home in Buckinghamshire where I last saw him for lunch at a pub on the Grand Union canal. A memorial service was held at St Mary the Virgin, Ivinghoe, on 10 August 2021, followed by drinks at The Old Swan in Cheddington. I drank a toast to his memory at the Smugglers Inn.

Remembering Jonathan Mirsky

By Stephen Vines

Jonathan Mirsky was never a conventional journalist, nor conventional anything else. He died in London in September at the age of 88. 

For many years he was among the best known China watchers in the hacking business and won the British Press Awards International Reporter of the Year title in 1989 for his Tiananmen massacre coverage in The Observer

In Beijing he was “rewarded” with a savage beating at the hands of the police while covering the protests.

He later moved to The Times and was based in Hong Kong from 1993 to 1998. Towards the end, Mirsky fell out with the paper’s increasingly accommodating attitude towards Beijing ordered by owner Rupert Murdoch, who had big ambitions for expanding business in China.

Mirsky became a familiar figure at the FCC, where a lack of alcoholic consumption and an enthusiasm for discussion – not forgetting an impressive stock of Jewish jokes – marked him out as a not so run-of-the-mill member.

Mirsky, or Minsky as I called him after he was mistakenly identified as such by aristocratic Times Editor William Rees-Mogg, came to journalism through the circuitous route of academia and never quite lost his affection for the long form preferred in universities.

I got to know him back in the 1980s when we were both working for The Observer in London. He was an eccentric character in a newsroom where eccentricity was the norm. At the time I was engaged in the hard-edged area of labour reporting, while Mirsky was pontificating on China from afar. 

Infuriatingly to us hacks who thought that the only kind of reporting that mattered came from on-the-spot observation, he managed to produce superb and highly readable analysis which often outdid the work of Beijing-based correspondents.

When we were later both based in Hong Kong, we occasionally joined forces for interviews. It was an exasperating experience as Mirsky liked to be discursive and, with his genuine interest for people and what made them tick, would spend a great deal of time talking to the interviewees about their lives, while I was impatient to extract the news line of the day.

The Mirsky method often worked far better than the more conventional news-gathering approach, and he made firm friends with many of the people he interviewed. Among them were the Dalai Lama, who wrote to him shortly before his death, and Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last Governor – a combination of friendships likely to confirm the worst misgivings of an ever-suspicious government in Beijing.

Mirsky came from an aggressively secular intellectual leftist New York Jewish family and quickly graduated towards left-wing politics both as a student and an academic. It was this leftism that led him to become one of the early visitors to China in 1972 when the regime was keen to cultivate fellow travellers.

It would however be inaccurate to describe Mirsky as an apologist for the regime, because a sharp eye for the reality of Mao’s China and an uncontainable independence of mind defied such a simple characterisation.

In later years, most especially after Tiananmen, he became a prominent critic and was banned from entering the PRC. To describe Mirsky as being somehow “anti-China” would be a gross misconception because he had a deep love of all things Chinese and almost certainly a deeper knowledge of China’s culture and history than many of the most avid “patriots” who flaunt their love of the nation these days.

Above all Jonathan Mirsky was a mensch. It’s a Yiddish term that covers everything from friendship to humour to kindness yet is still inadequate to convey the true nature of the man.

Obituary: The legendary Clare Hollingworth, 1911-2017

Clare as a freelancer in the 1950s. Clare as a freelancer in the 1950s.

The FCC’s legendary Correspondent member, Clare Hollingworth, who spent her entire working life travelling the world reporting war and conflict, passed away at home in Hong Kong in January at the very venerable of age 105.

Hollingworth, often hailed as the “doyenne of Foreign Correspondents”, forged a remarkable career as a foreign correspondent, beginning with the scoop of the century when she reported the start of World War II from Poland in September 1939 while working as a stringer for London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

She was a dedicated journalist who overcame gender barriers to report from the front lines of major conflicts in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Vietnam. She lived her final four decades in Hong Kong after being one of the few Western journalists to report on the Cultural Revolution from China in the 1970s.

Hollingworth had celebrated her 105th birthday in October last year at the FCC. “We are very sad to hear about Clare’s passing. She was a tremendous inspiration to us all and a treasured member of our club. We were so pleased that we could celebrate her 105th birthday with her this past year,”  FCC president Tara Joseph said.

Best known as a Daily Telegraph correspondent, Hollingworth wrote for many publications during her long career, including The Economist, The Observer, Manchester Guardian, Daily Express, International Herald Tribune and Asian Wall Street Journal.

Charles Moore, the editor of the Daily Telegraph described Clare as one the Telegraph’s most distinguished servants and an inspiration to all foreign correspondents and all women in journalism. Other tributes from the Telegraph included:

Clare in the 1960s next to a RAF Hunter in Aden Clare in the 1960s next to a RAF Hunter in Aden

Kate Adie, the veteran BBC war correspondent said Hollingworth was “a pioneer” for women in journalism who did not stop after her great scoop, went on to have a “a lifetime of journalism, full of adventure, good stories and terrific attention to detail and fact. She was a role model, without being aware of it.

Robert Fox, the Telegraph‘s former defence and chief foreign correspondent, described Hollingworth as amazing and steadfast. “After the Falklands I remember she took me to lunch and asked me about the state of the British Army. She used to take the trouble to come over to me, she was always interested and took a great deal of interest in younger reporters.”

The BBC’s John Simpson, who first met Clare in 1978, described her as a journalist who people trusted. “She interviewed the Shah of Iran in 1941, just after we had put him on the throne, and she was the only person he would speak to before he died – because he trusted her. I consider her one the finest journalists of the 20th Century, along with Martha Gellhorn and one or two others. I shall miss her memory more than I can say.”

Chris Patten, who knew Hollingworth when he was Hong Kong governor, said, “Clare was quite literally one of the greatest journalists of the 20th century. She was a great buccaneer, brave, witty and wise. “She covered some of the greatest stories of the last century with imitable dash and, on top of all that, she was kind and lovable.”

Clare with the Commander of British Forces near Tamar in Hong Kong. Clare with the Commander of British Forces near Tamar in Hong Kong.

Patrick Garrett, her biographer and great-nephew, said, “At 105 we had begun to wonder if Clare was one of the immortals. However, she got a cold around Christmas and obviously it is an extra concern with the elderly. We assumed she’d fight it off but it was to be her last Christmas.

“She was far from home but she’d been abroad most of her life. Seventy-eight years ago in Nazi Austria and most years since on foreign soil.”

Garrett, in his biography of Hollingworth, “Of fortune and war” published in July last year, described her first taste of war: “27-year-old Clare collared one of the scoops of the century by borrowing the flagged diplomatic car of the British consul-general in Katowice (with whom she’d a fling, extra-marital for both of them) on the Polish-German border, driving probably in breach of the rules into Germany and by chance seeing masses of Wehrmacht tanks readying for action. When a couple of days later the tanks rolled into Poland, Clare’s first account of world war breaking out was denied – by a disbelieving Polish government.”

What is far less well known is what Hollingworth was doing immediately before she walked into the offices of the Daily Telegraph in Fleet Street in August 1939 and asked for, and got, a job. “The fact is during the spring and summer that year Clare played an important part in rescuing around three thousand people from under the very noses of the Nazis.” These were refugees facing immediate arrest, or worse, as the Nazis tightened their grip on eastern Europe. Clare’s job was to try to help these very frightened people who were on the Nazis’ wanted list to find a safe haven. This she did despite nightmarish logistical difficulties, lack of funds and baulky bureaucracies. It is an amazing account of sheer, bloody-minded persistence on Hollingworth’s part – qualities that would serve her splendidly in her journalism. It was clearly “fiendishly difficult and dangerous work that deserved gratitude and recognition far beyond the modest OBE she received from the British government much later in life.”

Clare during the India-Pakistan war in circa 1965, also with The Guardian Clare during the India-Pakistan war in circa 1965, also with The Guardian

After her journalistic coup on the Polish-German border, Clare had hair’s-breadth escapes from the rapidly advancing German forces, experiences which did nothing to quench her thirst for action and adventure. Far from it. And the outbreak of World War II was by no means her only scoop. Another notable success was breaking the story of double agent Kim Philby’s defection to Moscow.

Throughout her subsequent career she repeatedly impressed or shamed her male correspondent peers with her sang-froid and apparent fearlessness. “It was manic story-chasing and a perverse pleasure in warfare. This relentless hunt for conflict and adventure would become a way of life for Clare, and ultimately it is what defined her as a person.”

Hollingworth was born October 10, 1911, to a middle-class family in the village of Knighton in Leicestershire, England. Her father ran a boot factory founded by her grandfather. She took brief courses in Croatian at Zagreb University, international relations in Switzerland and Slavonic studies in London. She worked as a secretary and then at a British refugee charity in Poland while writing occasional articles about the looming war in Europe, before landing the job with the Daily Telegraph that was to launch her remarkable career.

When Clare moved to Hong Kong in 1981 it was supposed to be temporary. She was researching a book on The Great Helmsman (Mao and the Men Against Him) and had secured a research position at HKU’s Centre of Asian Studies. She never planned to stay, but was intrigued by the negotiations over Hong Kong’s future. Finally she decided to sit it out until the Handover. She never left.

Undoubtedly one reason she opted for Hong Kong was the FCC. Describing the Club as a “second home” for some members may be an old cliché. But for Clare it soon became her first home. Widowed in 1965 she lived for journalism, and was frankly obsessed with following “the story”. She lived modestly – university accommodation at first, later an un-renovated one-room flat. But in the FCC Main Bar there was always someone – local insiders, out-of-towners, and reporters from the 20th century’s wars – to exchange gossip and memories.

A one minute silence was observed in the Main Bar and a service to celebrate Clare’s life will held in the Club on Thursday, January 19. Tributes to Clare and her achievements can be found on the FCC website at http://www.fcchk.org

Celebrate Clare Hollingworth Facebook page

Patrick Garret, Anna Fenton, Jonathan Sharp, Paul Bayfield

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