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Number 1 Shimbun

Tales from the Round Tables: The Centurions


HERE’S A LITTLE HOLE in the heart of the Club these days, especially around the Open Table on the far side of the Main Bar. That’s where Chuck Lingam has held court for 50 years; a welcoming face that bore witness to an impressive sweep of history, from life in India under colonial British rule, to landing as a 21-year-old in Nagasaki in 1935, and the subsequent series of roller-coaster transformations of his adopted homeland.

FCCJ has always had a roster of legends who straddled those different times and different cultures. It was only last year that we lost former FCCJ president John Rich, who became a journalist after fighting in WWII. Rich went on to cover the rise of Mao Zedong, the Korean War and a lion’s share of the world’s most coveted headlines all the way through to the Gulf War, where, at 73, he distinguished himself with his usual world-class reportage as the oldest correspondent.


She put the phone where

they could hear the first shots being

fired outside her window.


We had London-born journalist Ian Mutsu, a charter member of the Club, born to the Japanese count who masterminded the Great Japan Exhibition of 1910 in London and his English wife. Ian, who boasted foreign minister Munemitsu Mutsu for a grandfather, was family friends with Ichiro Hatoyama and a host of other postwar lions of Japan. He then went on to form a film company that dominated the documentary and newsreel market through which the world learned about Japan. Many in the Club still remember his towering influence on the international news scene, remaining a resonant voice and the Club’s resident dandy well into his 90s.

The FCCJ is now 70, so it’s no wonder we are losing some of our greatest storytellers. Chuck entertained us all with his tales from his 100 years on earth, but left us just short of his 101st birthday party – one that we were all looking forward to attending. He must be laughing with mock envy in heaven at the news that arrived just a few weeks later from our sister correspondents’ club in Hong Kong, where our old friend, the British journalist Clare Hollingworth, was celebrating her 104th birthday in style.

Clare will probably never be surpassed for making the most impressive debut ever as a correspondent, scooping the start of WWII in 1939 when she followed a hunch and stumbled upon Hitler’s tanks moving onto the Polish border. Just one week into her job at the UK’s Telegraph, she attempted to report the developments to the British Embassy – only to be lectured on how negotiations were still ongoing. At which point she put the phone where they could hear the first shots being fired outside her window. A war was being launched, and with it, a legend.

When not in the trenches, Clare was often dressed to the hilt, hobnobbing with diplomats and spies at dinner parties, like the one at which expected guest Kim Philby didn’t show. Not long after, the story of his defection to the Soviet Union broke. All in a day’s work for Clare.

Hollingworth was an inspiration for generations of journalists and an exceptional raconteur who kept FCCJ friends enraptured whenever she stopped by. The lines between “good” and “bad” appeared clearer in her heyday. Countries still fought “good” wars, and with that came the heroics, the pride and the great tales we still keep hearing at the Round Tables.

Every time we lose legends like Chuck Lingam, John Rich and John Roderick, all the questions we might have asked linger like sweet memories of a world we know only vicariously, but vividly, thanks to the people who lived them.

It would be worth asking the FCCHK to put us on their guest list for Clare’s 105th.

      The Shimbun Alley Whisperers




Published in: December 2015

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