Remember A Day

Flying saucers in Hong Kong, a serial bus sign thief and students paid to stay in school: 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, 17 May, 2018, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 8:45pm

Reports of flying saucers spotted in Hong Kong skies and British education officials paying students to stay in school instead of claiming a government unemployment handout made the headlines four decades ago this week.

May 14, 1978

• An extensive survey of income and industry was hailed overseas as the most comprehensive study yet of Hong Kong’s economy and people. The 200-page report, titled Industrialisation, Employment and Income Distribution, was compiled by the University of Hong Kong. It recognised the city’s capacity to reduce income inequalities because of its economic growth, good prospects and education system.

A Coca-Cola crisis, a 12kg cyst and Hong Kong’s tallest building: headlines from four decades ago

• British education secretary Shirley Williams proposed paying teenagers as much as 10 British pounds (HK$90 at the time) a week if they stayed in school after they turned 16, in a bid to keep them off the nation’s swelling welfare lines. Government officials estimated the incentive could cost up to 200 million pounds a year. There were 1.5 million people unemployed in the country.

May 15, 1978

• Police were on guard against radical opponents of Tokyo’s new international airport following a series of guerilla activities, including an attack on aerial guidance facilities. Several left-wing extremists threw petrol bombs and hammered down part of the antenna and beacons on top of a building about 10km (six miles) northwest of the airport, which was due to open in a few days.

• China called for “stepped-up military training”, to be ready for combat missions at any moment, New China News Agency reported. The call, in a resolution adopted by China’s top military body – the Central Military Commission – came a few days after Beijing issued a protest note highlighting what it called “Soviet military provocation” across the border on the Ussuri River. 

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May 16, 1978

• The government scrapped plans for a full-scale public examination at the end of the junior secondary course in Form Three. Instead, from 1981, students would receive a Junior Certificate of Education, giving details of their achievements in a range of subjects and of their personality, potential and outside interests. About 94,000 students in some 400 schools would be affected.

• China was likely to start a charter passenger plane service between Hong Kong and Guangdong province in three months to fly visitors to the Autumn Trade Fair. A regular scheduled passenger flight was still not in sight, although the likelihood of an air link had been discussed for some months.

May 17, 1978

• The Royal Observatory had received more than 30 calls earlier in the week from people who claimed they had seen a bright, oval object – which they suspected to be a flying saucer – in the sky. An Observatory spokesman said it was “most likely one of the thousands of satellites re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, causing a bright light”.

• A large number of public servants may have unknowingly broken Civil Service Regulations by signing a petition calling for the resumption of Radio Television Hong Kong’s morning classical music programme, Overture. Civil servants were forbidden from signing or procuring signatures to any public petition regarding the actions or proposals of the government.

May 18, 1978

• The coffin containing the remains of Charlie Chaplin, stolen from his grave two months earlier, was recovered. Two men were arrested after they allegedly called police to demand a ransom for the return of the body.

• A collector of bus signs stole 965 of them over 16 months. A Harlow court in Britain was told that when family troubles struck, Lewis Norris, a school secretary, “buried his head in a comforting patch of sand” and absorbed himself in his hobby. Norris was caught when a bus inspector saw him at a bus stop with a ladder.

May 19, 1978

• Community leaders condemned the master of a Singaporean freighter for his “inhumane” behaviour in dropping 22 Vietnamese refugees off outside Hong Kong after picking them up in the South China Sea. The group, which included two infants, was found stranded on a life raft by a Royal Navy patrol boat, the HMS Beachampton.

May 20, 1978

• Hongkong Electric (now HK Electric) looked certain to build a new major power station on Lamma Island. The 58.9-hectare site for the proposed HK$2 billion-HK$3 billion project would be on the northwest of the island. The new station would be able to serve Hong Kong for another 10 years until 1992.

• Romania’s president Nicolae Ceausescu said that only China and the Soviet Union themselves could settle their ideological and political feud. He was referring to border talks between the two communist giants and said he hoped they would lead to the normalisation of bilateral relations.

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