CONVERSATION WITH RICHARD HUGHES

 With Tim Bowden

Just before World War II Australians seemed unaware that they were geographically linked to Asia, and not simply ‘British to the bootstraps’ as Prime Minister Robert Menzies later put it. There were no Australian foreign correspondents working in Asia, and Richard Hughes (and colleagues like Denis Warner) were determined to redress this balance.

 Hughes (against the wishes of his newspaper proprietor Frank Packer) went to Japan in 1940 to report from Tokyo on the growing threat of war, and returned in 1945 (still defying Packer who sacked him) to cover the Occupation under General Douglas Macarthur.

Hughes came late to journalism. He was 28 when he became a reporter on the Melbourne Star, having left school at 14 to become a boy shunter with the Victorian Railways, progressing to become the public relations assistant of Sir Harold Clapp, the head of Vic rail.

But he was always attracted to a good story, and tells hilarious tales of his time with the Victorian Railways, and indeed of his introduction to journalism in Melbourne. His achievements were legendary, but he quickly nominates his finding two of the ‘Cambridge spies’, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean in Moscow in 1956, as his most memorable scoop.

 

Richard Hughes worked directly to Ian Fleming, his boss at the Sunday Times.

Hughes and Fleming during a tour of Southern Japan in 1959. They became good friends, and Fleming drew on Hughes’ character, writing him into his last James Bond book, as Dikko Henderson, head of Australian security in Japan. (Pictured in Japan in 1962.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the 1950s he began to work for the Sunday Times in London, directly to Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books. Fleming made several trips to the Far East researching several books, and Richard Hughes (and Hughes’ Japanese friend ‘Tiger’ Saito) travelled with him.

Fleming included both men in his last Bond novel You Only Live Twice. Hughes was the model for Dikko Henderson, the head of Australian security in Japan.

As portraying a foreign correspondent as a spook is one of the worst insults to journalistic integrity that can be imagined, Hughes (tongue in cheek) threatened to sue Fleming, who responded by telling him to go right ahead, adding, ‘If you do, I’ll really write the truth about you Dikko.’

 

Richard Hughes in Laos in 1959 when he had his curious meeting with the Blind Bonze of Luang Prabang.

In 1975 I was lucky enough to record an extensive interview with Richard Hughes looking back at his remarkable life.

Here is an excerpt. I began by asking Hughes why his friends often called him His Eminence Cardinal Hughes:

 

(A two-CD set of my conversation with Richard Hughes is available through this website for $20.00 including postage.)

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS PAGE PLEASE USE THE CONTACT BUTTON UNDERNEATH THE HEADER OF THIS BLOG.

Audio Order Form 2012

  • Please pay by Electronic Funds Transfer Bank: Westpac BSB: 732543 Acc No: 587956 Or email tim.bo@ozemail.com.au for other methods of payment
 

 

One Response to Conversation With Richard Hughes

  1. Bob Wurth says:

    Tim,

    Love your website. Fascinated to read of your interview with Richard Hughes. Memories of his exploits were in mind in November last when friends of your old mate, Singaporean cameraman Willie Phua, (subject of my book ‘Capturing Asia’, gathered for a rather long and rowdy dinner in the Richard Hughes room of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong.

    One regret I have as a foreign correspondent in Asia in the ‘eighties is not interviewing Dick Hughes as I had planned. But our ABC Manager for Asia, Peter Hollinshead, shot the proposal dowm by saying: ‘Why do you want to speak to that old piss pot!?’ So it never happened and I never got to meet him.

    In reference to your comments on Hughes going to Japan before the war, I touched on this in my earlier book ‘Saving Australia’. It must be said that Hughes at this stage before the war was very pro-Japanese to an embarrassing point. The Japanese consulate in Sydney at the time wrote glowing accounts of Richard Hughes as the one journalist who could get his facts straight, or words to that effect. The Consul was one Masatoshi Akiyama, a fascist of the worst order and a warmonger.

    Hughes in Japan backed a few nasties, including one time prime minister and war criminal Kōki Hirota. His worse mate in Japan after the war was the mass murderer (never charged because he went into hiding), Colonel Masanobu Tsuji. It takes a book to describe the hundreds of thousands he killed, directly and indiractly. Dick Hughes helped Tsuji’s literary efforts, describing the bastard as “a proud, high-principled patriot, honest in his aims if devious in his methods.’ Devious is not the strongest term to be used to describe this fascist who, among many other atrocities, was respopnsible for the “Sook Ching” round up and murders of tens of thousands of Chinese men in Singapore after the Japanese invasion.

    A journalist can’t help who he interviews but he should be a tad careful about who he drinks with and helps.

    No-one said Richard Hughes was perfect. Far from it. But I still would have loved to have been a bar fly on the wall as he was telling his yarns of old.

    All the best and keep up the good work (and the travelling).

    Bob Wurth.