A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Remembering Reporter Clare Hollingworth, 1911-2017

Veteran British foreign correspondent Clare Hollingworth died today in Hong Kong at the age of 105. (Yes, 105.) Almost all the obituaries will lead with her famous scoop of being the first reporter to report the German invasion of Poland in 1939, though at the time she had been working for the Daily Telegraph only three days. Admittedly, when your first big story is breaking news of the outbreak of World War II, that can be hard to top. But she spent her incredibly long career reporting from hot spots around the world, including the Middle East. She covered the North Africa campaign, the Palestine conflict (including the bombing of the King David Hotel), covered the Algerian War of independence, reported the defection of Kim Philby, and interviewed the Shah. So she deserves being remembered on this blog for her Middle Eastern reporting, mostly from the 1940s through the 1960s.

I had the honor of knowing and occasionally working with Clare back in the 1980s, though in Europe and East Asia, not in the Middle East. At the time she made her home mostly in Hong Kong, where she spent the rest of her life, but also kept a place in Paris. I remember visiting her during the Paris Air Show one year, but I particularly remember her role as my guide on my first visit to Hong Kong in 1987.

Hong Kong was still British in those days, and was also still a key listening post for Western intelligence services keeping an eye on the mainland; as well as a Chinese intelligence listening post to the outside, the station thinly disguised as the Xinhua News Agency. Clare knew them all.

Clare must have had a home somewhere, but she seemed to live to all intents and purposes at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents' Club, where she held court, a celebrity among her colleagues. The Club is a legend in its own right, and at the time I had recently read John Le Carre's The Honourable Schoolboy, in which the Club played a key role. Asked to introduce me to Hong Kong, Clare set up a withering schedule of meetings and interviews, often at the club. She would have been 76 at the time, and I was not yet 40, but she easily left me in her dust.

I understand five years ago, when Clare turned a mere 100, the Foreign Correspondents' Club held her a suitable party, and she still survived another five years. They don't make them like Clare anymore. RIP.

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