“We met at nine” “We met at eight” “I was on time” “No, you were late” “Ah yes, I remember it well.” The lyrics of the song from the musical Gigi, as sung by Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold, came back to me as I reflected on the significance of an extraordinary anniversary dinner I attended recently.
The annual dinner has been running for some time now, but this year’s was special because it marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of a local tabloid newspaper, the Star. Nothing special about that, you might think, and yet the Star folded over 30 years ago. So what is it about that publication that makes former staff convene every year even three decades later.
Is it memories of the founder and former publisher, who in 1967 during the riots ordered his photographers into the front lines of the police anti riot squads? The man who published a photograph of a blown up bomb disposal officer under the headline “Now would you hang the bombers?” Nothing wishy washy about the editorial line there.
Is it the presence of the dinner’s organiser, who became a legend in 1973 when he discovered and exclusively reported that Bruce Lee had died in an actress’ flat rather than at home as indicated by the family spin doctors?
Or the news editor who in his early 20s strong-armed a divisional police superintendent – nicknamed “Iron Man” -- into running an honest investigation into the deaths of two young children at a kindergarten, and bringing the operator to justice despite an earlier corruptly-secured cover-up?
Could it be the photographer who from the roof of the old Supreme Court Building in Central took photographs of the red-top minibus drivers paying cash bribes through the windows of their vehicles directly to the traffic sergeant marshalling the queue in Statue Square? Or the young reporter – now a columnist – who wrote the story accompanying the pictures without a thought as to possible consequences.
These and other stories get told, and re-told, with relish. No-one who worked at the Star in its glory days from the mid 60s through to the 1970s will ever forget that era. Journalism seemed to count for something, standing unequivocally on the side of the righteous and weak against the powerful and crooked.
With the passage of time, some colleagues have passed away or no longer live in Hong Kong. So to maintain attendance levels the invitation list has been gradually opened to staff from former rival the China Mail, and even a few from the Standard. But the event is still called the Star Reunion.
Perhaps we should give the last word to Barbra Streisand “Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time re-written every line? If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we? Could we?”