Ralph Pixton asked callers to hand over money for projects that never materialised

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 May, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 May, 2001, 12:00am

Radio legend Ralph Pixton died owing thousands of dollars to listeners of his long-running Open Line programme, the Sunday Morning Post has learned.

Pixton, who died last month aged 65 after a career at RTHK's Radio 3 spanning almost 40 years, rang talk-back callers after the show and asked them to invest in recording projects that never materialised.

He told listeners he was making a compact disc, either of poetry or an aid to learning English, for use in schools.

They were promised a copy of the CD and told to expect a healthy return on their money. But project backers got neither, despite repeatedly asking for their money back.

RTHK refuses to reveal how many complaints it has received from listeners, but confirmed it was passing on their claims to the executor of Pixton's estate.

Ma On Shan listener Jim Foster said Pixton phoned him in August 1998, soon after he called Open Line. 'The CD was for teaching English in schools and he said he was going to do it with British actress Felicity Kendal. He said he'd known her since he was a child. It would be an investment and we would get interest on it.

'Shares were $7,000 so my wife and I invested $14,000. After a year we said, 'well, how's it going?'

Pixton told them he had been ill and unable to work on the CD.

'When we asked for some of our money back, he said it would be difficult and gave us excuses,' Mr Foster said. 'We wouldn't mind but we didn't really give him the money as an investment. We thought it sounded like a good cause and that he was a decent bloke.

'We'd listened to him for years and we trusted him.

'He did a lot of good things in his life but he let a few of us down in the end.'

Kendal's London agent said the actress had not seen Pixton for 20 years and 'certainly hadn't agreed to be involved in any CDs at all'.

Pixton also phoned listener Jennifer Tuke, from Sheung Shui, a month after she called Open Line in 1998. Ms Tuke called the programme to discuss postal deliveries, but Pixton asked for money to back a poetry CD for schools.

The project would be running within six months and he told her she would get a 12.5 per cent return on a $7,000 investment and a copy of the disc.

Ms Tuke says that, with interest, she and her husband are owed $10,000. She was forced to chase Pixton for the money but was given 'every excuse under the sun' why she could not have it back.

'I think he got fed up of us being a nuisance and conceded to at least pay something back, but it took a lot of bullying to get it.'

Some $6,500 was returned to the couple in three instalments last year. 'After that we gave up because it was obvious we weren't going to get any more,' Ms Tuke said. 'I felt let down by him. I don't want to speak ill of the dead, but I've been listening to him for years on the radio and always thought he was a man of his word, and I think that's the worst part.'

Sai Kung lecturer Alastair Maxwell said Pixton asked for $4,000 around July last year. Pixton phoned at 'ungodly early hours' of the day, a few weeks after Mr Maxwell went on Open Line to discuss the Bar Association.

Pixton said he was working on a poetry CD and that Mr Maxwell would get a 10 per cent return on his money and documents would be faxed to him if he sent a cheque.

But no documents arrived, despite repeated calls to Pixton.

'I had no reason not to believe him,' Mr Maxwell said. 'Then he was stalling quite a bit and it became clear there was a problem. He said eventually I would get the papers but this went on and on.'

By late last year, it was well known that Pixton was ill and Mr Maxwell offered to take back his $4,000 interest-free.

'He said 'thank you', but instead of returning the money, he asked for more and said he was struggling to get by on his pension. I would definitely not have got involved had it not been for Ralph Pixton's reputation and long service with Radio 3.'

John Gardner, RTHK's administration unit departmental secretary, refused to say how many Open Line listeners had complained to the station because it would infringe Pixton's right to privacy.

'I'm aware that Ralph has been involved in many attempted business deals,' Mr Gardner said. 'Ralph's been noted for his failures rather than his successes. To people who've called me, I've said the best I can do is receive a letter from them and I'll pass it on to the executors of his estate.'

Pixton's producer at Radio 3 for 11 years, Stuart Clarkson, said that he knew nothing of any plans to make poetry or English learning aids. He added that phone numbers of Open Line callers were available to many Radio 3 staff.

'Ralph's private life was very, very private,' Mr Clarkson said. 'Even working with him all these years, it was like a weekend sort of friendship - we only saw each other for the programme.'