Living heritage of Hong Kong

An Australian inventor, a British exorcist and a secret Soviet ray gun: headlines from four decades ago

A journey back through time to look at significant news and events reported by the South China Morning Post from this week in history

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 2:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 9:38pm

Hong Kong cabbies’ notorious practice of covering their “For Hire” signs so they could pick and choose fares was so prevalent that it prompted the introduction of legislation to outlaw it four decades ago this week. Meanwhile, the Church of England appointed an official exorcist to cast out demonic forces, while the Soviet Union was reported to be developing a powerful secret weapon.

December 18, 1977

Two giant oil tankers that collided and caught fire off the South African coast were recovered. Salvage crews boarded the 330,954-tonne Venoil and her sister ship, the Venpet. All 82 crewmen, said to be Hong Kong sailors, from the two ships were reported to have been rescued.

A Sydney businessman, disillusioned with what he called Australia’s “apathetic” community, decided to settle in Hong Kong to develop his multi-purpose solar-powered device. Ronald Parkinson, a former Royal Australian Air Force officer, arrived in the city the day before, armed with the “revolutionary” new system, which he hoped to eventually sell to a big name electronics company for further improvement.

December 19, 1977

A leading Chinese trade official reiterated five times at a press gathering that Beijing was not anxious to alter the status quo as far as Hong Kong was concerned. The head of the China Products Company in Hong Kong, Chang Cheng, said: “Hong Kong is a problem left over from history, and we are not eager to tackle it … As it stands, Hong Kong is of interest to both China and Britain, and both sides need a long period of consideration to decide what is to be done about it.”

December 20, 1977

A Church of England bishop was appointed as an official exorcist, whose traditional role was to expel evil forces. The Right Reverend Bernard Markham, 70, a former Bishop of Nassau and the Bahamas, was the first churchman of his rank to hold the office in modern times.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption Complaints Committee wanted details of Urban Councillor Elsie Elliott’s claims that highly placed corrupt people had been “spared the axe” of prosecution. Y.K. Kan, chairman of the recently formed committee, had contacted her over claims that graft-busters were being selective in the prosecution of corrupt people.

December 21, 1977

The government’s decision to scrap daylight savings was condemned and described as a move that was equal to “robbing the community”, while a ferry company chief predicted it would worsen traffic congestion in the evening rush hour. The sun was expected to set on the issue this day when home affairs secretary Li Fook-kow moved a Legislative Council motion to retain standard time.

Libyan head of state Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was apparently not known to his own country’s postal authority. A court summons requesting he attend a hearing of a complaint against him filed by two Italian businessmen was returned stamped “addressee unknown”.

December 22, 1977

The Soviet Union was believed to be working on a “lightning-like” energy ray weapon remarkably like the “ray guns” of science fiction, the editor of Jane’s Weapon Systems claimed. The weapon was believed to have the ability to obliterate a target with a powerful beam of energy and could replace the anti-ballistic missile as the next form of nuclear defence.

The British government’s discriminatory attitude towards Hong Kong during its textiles negotiations with the European Common Market again came to the fore in Legco, as unofficial legislators urged that a strong protest be directed against the UK government.

December 23, 1977

The UK Ministry of Defence would release another 102 acres of land to the Hong Kong government as soon as essential military rehousing facilities were completed. The government had agreed to pay HK$158 million for essential reprovision and an additional HK$58 million for numerous capital works to be done for the garrison. Local officials said money spent should easily be regained by the eventual sale of the land.

Britons rallied behind one of their favourite brands of Scotch whisky in a noisy confrontation with the Common Market. Spurred on by xenophobic headlines, shoppers launched a run on fast-dwindling stocks of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky. Businessmen and politicians joined the chorus of protest that followed the announcement that Red Label bottles were to be taken off the market in Britain.

December 24, 1977

The infuriating practice of taxi drivers covering their “For Hire” signs with gloves or old rags was on its way out with the impending implementation of new legislation in the following year. It was common practice for cab drivers to cover their flags and cruise around so that they could pick and choose their fares.

The Medical and Health Department planned to set up “satellite centres” for kidney treatment in district hospitals and large outpatient clinics by mid-1980. Patients would be allowed to bring family members to these centres to look after them during treatment, which would help reduce running costs for kidney care centres, thus releasing more cash to provide a comprehensive service for patients.

Remember A Day looks at significant news and events reported by the Post during this week in history