Chapter 7: Defending the North House
On June 8, 1963 the Information Services Department moved from the Government Offices West Wing into newly-built Beaconsfield House at No 4, Queen's Road, Central, which was to remain its home for almost 33 years.
The move followed closely on the heels of Jock Murray's succession by Nigel Watt, who was appointed DIS on April 11, 1963. Relocation to Beaconsfield House inevitably meant a major upheaval for a total staff which still numbered less than 100.
The site of the new home was originally a steep slope from a rocky hill to the shore of Victoria Harbour - which lay generally within metres of Queens Road. In 1841, Hong Kong's Deputy Superintendent of Trade and acting administrator, Alexander Johnston, levelled the top of the hill to build a home. The slope below was cut away to provide space for stables and outbuildings. The rock and earth were used for reclamation.
The new Beaconsfield House, its Cantonese name Gung Bak Hong (Defend the North House), beckoned when ISD outgrew its quarters in the Government Offices West Wing. But the department was at first allowed only the two top floors of the ugly and utilitarian six-storey structure. The lower floors housed three service messes, a post office and a public toilet.
Into the two floors allocated to ISD were decanted a news room, press conference room, Chinese translators' office, teleprinter service, photographic studio and darkroom, art studio, editorial section, film unit and two theatres for the censorship of commercial feature films, which then also fell within the purview of the DIS. Also shoehorned into this already constricted layout were a publications distribution office, administrative office and various secretarial desks.
The entire building was serviced, at one end only, by a single lift which was sorely overburdened, particularly at lunchtime, by various members of the public seeking relatively cheap meals in one or other of the messes catering - no questions asked - to their demands.
Despite various unsuccessful attempts to provide separate access for tradesmen, senior government officials and visiting politicians, arriving for a press conference, would frequently find themselves crowded into a corner of the lift by delivery boys with bloodstained tunics, bearing baskets and trays of raw meat.
From the rear of the fourth floor's western extremity a narrow bridge linked Beaconsfield House with Battery Path, alongside the French Mission Building (which at one stage housed a wing of ISD and is now the Court of Final Appeal), and this too became congested with pedestrian traffic when the noontide rivers of civil servants flowed down from the heights above.Competition for parking spaces, lining vehicular access via the Central Government Offices from Lower Albert Road, grew so fierce that staff cars occasionally spilled into the precincts of St John's Cathedral. Returning to the vehicle he had left in the church grounds, one information officer found a message slipped under his windscreen wiper warning that 'God will strike you dead for this'.