Australia’s not-so-secret spy appeal, smallpox warning, and an MTR preview: 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
A newspaper advert in Australia recruiting a spy and the introduction of a Swiss relaxation hotline made the headlines four decades ago this week.
September 3, 1978
● A smallpox expert regarded as the foremost authority on the disease was found with his throat cut in England. His death came after medical researchers reported that a laboratory he headed might have been the source of Britain’s first case of the disease in five years.
● Hamburgers made with meat from a deadly snake said to boost the sexual potency of those who ate it were being offered to tourists visiting Takayanagi City in Japan. The rural resort, noted for its hot spring spa, was touting mamushi snakes, a type of viper that the Japanese have long associated with sexual prowess.
September 4, 1978
● An advertisement in that week’s Government Gazette offered a salary of US$32,200 (HK$145,000) for a spy to head Australia’s intelligence operations. Applicants were expected to have outstanding executive abilities, a proven capacity for research, and a deep understanding of international affairs.
● A punchline in a Roman restaurant, renowned for the way in which the proprietor and waiters traditionally insulted diners, quickly turned sour and blows were traded at the venue. A group of South Americans misunderstood the custom and fighting broke out between them and other guests.
● The Hoover Theatre building was sold for HK$203 million, the highest price for a single real estate transaction in Causeway Bay. At the time, there was no immediate plan for the structure to be redeveloped.
September 5, 1978
● Hong Kong was treated to a preview of what the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) had in store, when two of its carriages were given a series of test runs. MTR officials said they were pleased with the results.
September 6, 1978
● Government chemists were to test imported beers following reports that some American and European products might contain tiny amounts of cancer-causing compounds. The American Brewers’ Association (ABA) said some of the beers might contain small traces of nitrosamines, but added there was no evidence available to support the claim.
September 7, 1978
● People travelling to Britain were advised to have smallpox shots. The advice from British officials came after the World Health Organisation revealed that Birmingham City had been declared an infected area.
● Zurich postal authorities announced a new telephone service called “dial-a-rest”, which was an innovative idea by the city’s Institute for Parapsychology. The line claimed it would be “using the most modern electronic methods” to provide three minutes of relaxation to its listeners.
● A French stuntman, famously known as Monsieur Mangetout (Mr Eat-All), had consumed more than 15lbs of bicycle in 12 days. On the side, he ate 100 razor blades, two plates, and a tumbler.
September 8, 1978
● About 40 international firms were vying for a multimillion-dollar assignment to develop a layout plan for the proposed second airport off Lantau Island.
● Beijing international airport opened a second runway as it prepared for the first jumbo jet landing in China. The runway was equipped with a modern ground lighting system that enabled aircraft to land in zero visibility.
● An increasing number of Hong Kong husbands were complaining to the Social Welfare Department that their wives had left them and their children. Officials said the phenomenon was due to urbanisation, industrialisation, and commercialisation, which prompted “many wives to run away” because they were not satisfied with staying in the house and taking care of the children.
September 9, 1978
● Tenders for taxi licences shot up dramatically during the latest Transport Department offering with 297 of the 300 permits going for HK$240,828. The remainder would be up for public ballot in a few days. Taxi licences just five months ago fetched an average of about HK$210,000 while the year before, the tenders averaged just more than HK$180,000.