Richard Hughes: Ian Fleming’s Man in the Orient

In the original typescript to Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, held at the Lily Library in Indiana, there is a very interesting “Author’s note” prefixing the manuscript. Fleming wrote that on his second visit to Japan, he followed “as closely as prudence would allow, in the footsteps of James Bond.” He was accompanied by the two expert investigators to whom the book is dedicated—one, the Far Eastern Representative of The Sunday Times Richard Hughes, and the other the Editor-in-Chief of that distinguished annual ‘This is Japan’ published by the Asahi Shimbun.

Graham Thomas explores the extraordinary life of Richard ‘Dikko’ Hughes for whom Fleming gained so much insight in writing You Only Live Twice.



Charles Gray as Dikko Henderson

Charles Gray as Dikko Henderson

Bond has snatched Dikko Henderson’s walking stick and hit him hard with it across the leg.

I’m glad you got it right.’ says Henderson,  ‘I lost that in Singapore in ’42. Oh, you must excuse this rather odd mixture of styles, but I refuse to go entirely Japanese. Very fond of some of these old things… You’ve never been to Japan before, have you?’

A minute later, Henderson is dead, killed by an assassin who has knifed him in the back through a shoji screen.

His screen time in the film’s opening is brief, leaving little opportunity for Charles Gray to develop the character. What we do see is a rather languid, off-hand persona, the Old Asia Hand who never returned home after the War, and is now somewhat dismissive of Bond, the newcomer.

But even this briefest of appearances bears no relation to the Dikko Henderson in the novel. Henderson is Australia’s secret service chief in Tokyo, and is afforded a greater piece of the action as he introduces Bond to Japan. The nature of the man is clearly set out: a loud, hard drinking, whoring Australian who leaves a trail of empty whiskey and brandy bottles behind him, looking and speaking like an ex-prize fighter who has long taken to drink. He speaks fluent Japanese, intimately understands Japan’s culture and way of life, is rather dismissive of the Japanese as a race, claims that Tokyo is a bloody awful place to live, and has what we might term an old fashioned view of a woman’s position in society. In short, he was portrayed as a typical ex-pat or Old Asia Hand of the period. ‘What’s a girl’s bottom for anyway,’ he remarks when Bond points out that he slapped a girl so hard on the bottom that she fell over.

Our literary Henderson does not wear an artificial limb, and is not assassinated. In fact he bows out of the story discreetly, remarking to Bond, ‘you’re on your own now.’

It will be widely known by Bond aficionados that Dikko Henderson was based on Ian Fleming’s friend Richard Hughes, an Australian journalist, and a larger-than-life character who had been reporting in Asia since the 1940s. When Fleming came to Japan to undertake research for You Only Live Twice Hughes, who was then living in Hong Kong, flew to Tokyo and the two of them travelled together. (A vivid description of the trip can be read in Hughes’ book A Foreign Devil, first published in 1972.)

So who was this Richard Hughes in real life? Was he, in any way, like Dikko Henderson? The bare facts in themselves suggest an interesting man.

Born Richard Joseph Hughes in Melbourne in 1906, he died in Hong Kong in 1984 having spent most of his working life in Asia as a highly regarded journalist, writing for publications such as The Times, The Economist, the Far Eastern Economic Review the New York Times, and various Australian newspapers. Along the way he married three times, and was awarded the CBE.

He was one of four siblings and the eldest child of Richard Hughes and Katie, née McGlade. Hughes Snr was a sometime furniture salesman but also a popular and celebrated Melbourne ventriloquist. Little is known of his paternal forebears other than they hailed from Wales and were Baptists, and apparently the family were none too happy when the Protestant Hughes married the Catholic McGlade – whose family were originally Irish farmers.

However the marriage was a success and Richard Hughes Senior established himself as a leading ventriloquist. He wrote at least two books on the subject, the first being Ventriloquism Ancient and Modern, and in 1902 he authored How To Become A Ventriloquist (Art Of Voice Throwing). (His trusty sidekick by the way was Tommy Squarehead.) However, some years later he gave up show business because his wife Katie, as a strict catholic, and a very dominant woman, objected. Thereafter Hughes Snr would sometimes confess that he thought he had failed in life by giving up what he thought would have been a lucrative career.

Richard 'Dikko' Hughes

Richard ‘Dikko’ Hughes

Hughes Junior clearly inherited his father’s humour, oratorial skills, stage presence and, relevant for later in his life, a love of reading and in particular, the Sherlock Holmes stories. Tall, solidly built, and imposing, Hughes was later described by the journalist Pat Burgess as `fleshy and pale with a big head and a noble dome with thinning silver hair’. Robert M. Shaplen, once a Hong Kong-based Far East correspondent, said that Hughes was a big, robust man with a dry wit, ‘a terrific storyteller, a raconteur with a raconteur’s big laugh, a tremendous fund of knowledge and an incredible memory.’  Fellow journalists variously described him as gregarious, generous but also complex and someone who wanted to be in control and the centre of attention. In his younger days, Hughes was an amateur boxer.

After a peripatetic start to his career – when Hughes variously worked as a poster artist, a railway shunter, and in public relations – he moved into journalism in 1934 working for the Melbourne Star before moving to Sydney to work on the Telegraph papers.

By this time, his first wife had committed suicide by cyanide poisoning and the widowed Hughes decided when leaving Melbourne that his own son be left behind and raised by Hughes’ parents.  (That’s right: there was Richard Hughes Snr, Richard Hughes Jnr, and Baby Richard Hughes.)

His qualities as a journalist were soon recognised and, by 1939, he had been promoted to principal assignment editor for both Telegraph papers. A year later, in 1940, he travelled briefly to Japan for the first time.  He had actually taken long service leave to do this as he held the belief that Asia and Japan were part of the future for Australia and he wanted to be where the action was.

He settled in Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel and began to trawl the city for contacts. One of these was Richard Sorge who was then Head of the Soviet spy ring in Asia but who was most likely a double agent also working the Nazi government. Hughes described him as the greatest spy of all times. Hughes was adept at quickly assessing a situation and sniffing out stories, and he was soon sending despatches back to the Telegraph many of which centred on his increasing belief that Japan was edging towards war, and that the Australian Government needed to be better prepared.  In one article for example he summed up Japan’s Armed forces as: Navy – Powerful; Army – tough but weak in mechanised forces; Airforce – poor and also air raid defences also very weak.

By the time Japan did go to war, Hughes was safely back in Sydney – but not for long. In 1943 he was assigned as a war correspondent to North Africa but this was unexpectedly short-lived as he had to be shipped home after developing severe rheumatic fever in Cairo.

After the War he returned to Japan to cover the occupation. However for one reason or another his rather short-sighted employers back in Sydney decided that they no longer needed a full time foreign correspondent in Tokyo and, after a couple of years, summoned him back. Instead he resigned, took up freelancing and also had a stint as the manager of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

At the same time as Hughes was in Tokyo, Ian Fleming had joined the Kemsley newspaper group (which owned The Times and Sunday Times) as Foreign Manager. Here he set up the Imperial and Foreign Service, a global network of foreign correspondents. It was quickly nicknamed Mercury – its cable address – and provided articles across all the Kemsley newspapers. Many years later it became known that it provided cover for more than one British secret service agent. For example Antony Terry, the Sunday Times reporter in Bonn, doubled as an intelligence officer in Vienna and Berlin.

Fleming despatched Cedric Salter of SOE to Barcelona, Ian Colvin (close links to the Secret Intelligence Service) to Berlin, and Henry Brandon, an agent to Washington. Donald McCormick, formerly of Naval Intelligence, became Fleming’s stringer in Tangier. In fact in his office, Fleming had a large map on the wall with pins in it showing the locations of all the correspondents he was running. If nothing else, and Fleming was never explicit about its dual purpose, it was an informal network of spies that could be called upon to deliver incidental intelligence.

Around 1948 (the date is not known precisely) Hughes was taken on as Fleming’s man in Japan – although he continued to write despatches for a variety of publications, was also on a retainer for his ex-employers in Sydney, and would also lecture at the Royal Institute of International Affairs Far Eastern Group on developments in Japan.

In February 1956 he achieved a major scoop when he obtained an all but exclusive interview in Moscow with the Soviet spies Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, the two great Soviet moles within the British establishments. On the verge of being arrested these two had defected to the Soviet Union and then disappeared. It was Fleming who had sent Hughes to Moscow to gain one of the first interviews with Nikita Khrushchev ahead of his first state visit to the U.K. This failed to materialize and he was about to fly out when he was called by telephone to go to Room 101 in the Hotel National where he and a Reuters man had the briefest of interviews with the two traitors. Their rediscovery set London buzzing and, as Hughes later said, it was possibly his biggest story ever before admitting that, ‘most good stories depend on a pressman being in the right place at the right time and that was me with this story.’

Diplomatic Mystery Ends: Burgess and Maclean Tell All

Moscow. Sunday: Last night I met with Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess in the Hotel National overlooking the Red Square and Hotel National. Thus ended four and half years of mystery and doubt of their whereabouts…

Richard Hughes in Sydney in 1955 (Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)

Richard Hughes in Sydney in 1955 (Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)

It was after Moscow that Hughes moved to Hong Kong, as he perceived – correctly – that in the future China would become of greater global interest. He would remain there until his death.

Hughes was appointed CBE in 1980, He wrote several books, including The Chinese Communes (1960), Hong Kong: Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time (1968), and his autobiographical Foreign Devil (1972).  And not only did he appear in You Only Live Twice but he was also the inspiration for ‘Old Craw’ the Hong Kong based MI6 agent in John le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy. le Carré’ had met Hughes when visiting the Colony, and later described him as ‘a kind of journalistic Eiffel Tower.’ Hughes was famous: he appeared on the Michael Parkinson show, and was introduced as ‘the doyen of that most glamorous breed of journalists, the Foreign Correspondent’ and he also was a subject of the Australian version of This Is Your Life.

On 4 January 1984 Richard Hughes died in a Hong Kong hospital of a liver ailment.

Hughes had been portrayed in two novels as a spy. Did that reflect the reality in his own life? Well, the same year that Hughes died, his son revealed that his father had been a double agent for MI6 and the KGB.

It was said that the Russians at a Tokyo cocktail party had recruited Hughes in 1951, although this was not unusual as most competent journalists in Asia were approached by such organisations during the Cold War and, as noted earlier, it might well have been the case that Fleming’s foreign correspondents were feeding information back to London.

Hughes told Fleming that the KGB had made overtures to recruit him. Fleming consulted British Intelligence who then told Hughes to accept the offer. British Intelligence provided Hughes with false information to feed the Russians.

This aspect of Hughes’ life has been much reported on, with the added spice more recently that he set up his own network of informants under the guise of a Tokyo-based Sherlock Holmes appreciation society called the Baritsu Chapter.

We know that along with twenty-five others, Hughes was a founder member in 1948. These included the then Japanese Prime Minister, other leading foreign journalists, and members of the Japanese establishment and literati. (Hughes wrote an article for The Sunday Times, published February 26, 1950 that explained the setting up of the chapter in Tokyo but noting its absence in Russia, ‘The philosophic observer may well speculate on the significance in current international affairs of the continued absence of any branch of the Baker Street Irregulars in Moscow and of the stubborn refusal of Joseph Stalin to read any of the Sherlock Holmes adventures.’)

However, in a paper written by Ian Wilson for the Australian Journal of Communication, it is concluded that while it was possible that Hughes did work as a spy this is only through inference and the case, even if highly likely, is unproven. Hughes never once admitted it publically and within his collected papers kept at the National Library of Australia there is, as Wilson writes, no smoking gun. Wilson also concludes from his research that even if he was working with British Intelligence through Fleming, they in fact decided that Hughes should not be a double agent and told him to decline the Russian’s offer.

On the other hand his biographer Norman Macswan is convinced Hughes was acting as a double agent but was unable to use this information in his book because Hughes placed an embargo on it.

These stories perhaps place too much emphasis on Hughes as spy in the James Bond mould. British Intelligence was not alone in using journalists as a source of information that would be fed back to the intelligence officers in the embassies. Any good pressman would have a range of contacts and Hughes’ despatches were renowned for their depth and insight. However these officers would also use intelligence gathered by local agent operatives in the field, by British companies (who might well have their own intelligence network), and British businessmen working in the country; in other words a veritable network was used and the term spy should only be used in the most generic sense.

The idea that Hughes was a double agent is definitely open to question. Hughes was not at the heart of an Establishment, and he was not privy to secrets directly in the Burgess and Maclean mould. We should also discount the idea that the Baritsu Chapter was set up as a spy network: the Japanese Prime Minister would attend a meeting to spill secrets? Beyond unlikely. In any case Hughes was a co-founder and while a leading light was not the only one responsible for its continued existence.

As Fleming highlights in You Only Live Twice, it was the Americans who were the prime intelligence gathers not only in Japan but across Asia, and the British largely relied on the Americans passing on relevant information. In fact the reason Bond goes to Japan is to try and persuade the Japanese to give them intelligence that the US are withholding.

In the end it doesn’t matter if Hughes was a spy or not as the man generated enough remarkable stories to fill a library of books and, as his son once said about his father, ‘he was a man of mystery, and it was a role he relished.’

NB: The London premier of You Only Live Twice was fifty years ago on 12 June 1967 followed in Tokyo on 17 June.

Postscript – How to be a Foreign Correspondent

As Richard Hughes wrote in his memoir Foreign Devil:

For reasons completely unconnected with espionage, I cannot resist quoting the nine precepts which Ozaki – a far better journalist than Sorge was, or thought he was – laid down as a guide for intelligence agents:

1. Never give the impression that you are eager to obtain news: men who are engaged in important affairs will refuse to talk to you if they suspect that your motive is to collect information.

2. If you give the impression that you have more information that your prospective informant, he will give with a smile.

3. Informal dinner parties are an excellent setting for the gathering of news.

4. It is convenient to be a specialist of some kind. For my part, I am a specialist on Chinese questions, and have always received inquiries from all quarters. I was able to gather much data from men who came to ask me questions.

5. My position as a writer for newspapers and magazines stood me in good stead.

6. Because I was often asked to lecture in all parts of Japan, I had an excellent chance to learn general trends of local opinion.

7. Connections with important organizations engaged in the collection of news are vital. I was affiliated with the Asahi Shimbun and later with the South Manchurian Railway.

8. Above all, you must cultivate trust and confidence in you on the part of those who you are using as informants in order to be able to pump them without seeming unnatural.

9. In these days of unrest, you cannot be a good intelligence man unless you yourself are a good source of information.

The reason I list the Ozaki precepts, with respectful salute to one communist at least who was an idealist as well as a realist, is because they constitute a perfect guide to all young foreign correspondents. Every successful foreign newsman I ever knew followed and follows, consciously or instinctively, those same rules – especially Precepts 1, 2, and 9.

Journalism is who, what, when, where, and why. It is all about information.

Incidental Intelligence

Bondo-San in Japan: Interview with Graham M. Thomas

Richard Hughes Obituary (New York Times)

In Conversation with Richard Hughes

Buy Foreign Devil by Richard Hughes

The extraordinary untold Japan story of ‘You Only Live Twice’

2 thoughts on “Richard Hughes: Ian Fleming’s Man in the Orient

  1. Fascinating article.
    Tom Cull is to be congratulated for curating this excellent site.
    It is absolutely the best of all the Bond/Fleming cyber halls.
    The quality and variety of articles is endlessly fascinating and this piece by Graham Thomas is a classic example.
    I had no idea that Richard Hughes was also the inspiration for ‘Old Craw’ in Le Carre’s ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’.
    This is one of my favourite novels of all time and when I did visit The Hong Kong Sporting Club a couple of years ago (it features in ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’) and it was easy to imagine them all sat there, drinking and swapping all of their secrets and everything else for that matter.
    Great stuff.

  2. Gotta give it to ya, Graham Thomas. For a synopsis of such a great man’s life that deserves to be remembered all round, this was not only informative & noteworthy but also stimulating at the same time.

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