Reading into the head­lines, you would be forgiven for thinking Operation Santa Claus, Hong Kong’s favourite Christmas charitable drive, began its good works in 1988. In fact, its roots lie much further back.

“Radio HK’s Drive For A Merry Christmas For Colony’s Poor Children”, ran the head­line in the South China Morning Post on December 17, 1960.

Ted Thomas talks about his time in the spotlight and how he started Operation Santa Claus

“Radio Hongkong wants $10,000 or more to make sure Christmas this year is a merry one for the Colony’s poor children,” the story continued. “And you will be able to help realize the sum by pledging $1 up, when Radio Hongkong’s marathon charity effort ‘Operation Santa Claus,’ goes on the air for three consecutive nights next week.

“On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 9.15pm to midnight, a task force of 10 disc jockeys led by Ted Thomas will play your favourite discs in exchange for pledges of a contribution to the fund.”

The initiative spread its wings on December 21, the Post reporting: “At 9.15 tonight Santa Claus (heavily disguised as Ian Kingsley) will [...] climb Victoria Peak in aid of ‘Operation Santa Claus.’ Santa Claus will climb the Peak in ratio to the amount of money subscribed. He will proceed at a speed of $1,500 per half mile.”

The next day’s headline read: “Broad­casts By Radio Hongkong Raise More Than $50,000”.

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Kingsley’s hike to The Peak had garnered, among others, “A pledge of $1,500 from the Ko family of 27 Magazine Gap Road. Moreover, Santa was invited into the house to quench his thirst.”

And there had been a “see-saw battle” between those who wanted Madge Newcombe, secretary of the Council of Social Services, to sing Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini and those who did not.

“The total for Miss Newcombe to sing at one stage topped $1,000 but immediately it was announced a donation of $1,000 was made for her not to sing. However, Miss Newcombe did sing the song.”