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An evening out with Roy Thomson

Roy Thomson, the barber’s son who became a press magnate, is back in the news after the deal between Blackstone and Thomson Reuters.

Soon after I was posted to Bangkok in 1962 I got a letter from David Chipp, Reuters manager for South East Asia, saying that a member of the Reuters board was coming to my parish and asking me to “extend the usual courtesies”.

The VIP was Mr Thomson, proprietor of the Kemsley group of newspapers including The Sunday Times, and grandfather of David Thomson, chairman of Thomson Reuters.

I met Mr Thomson, his daughter and a woman friend at the lobby of the Erawan Hotel and asked them what they would like to do.  he women said they wanted to see Thai classical dancing and would book through the concierge. Mr Thomson had other ideas. “I want to see some striptease,” he said.

We arranged to meet that evening and I phoned our Thai stringer at the Bangkok World newspaper to ask where we could go. He gave me an address but advised me to sit near an exit door “in case of a police raid”. Thailand’s military government was at the time conducting one of its periodic morality campaigns.

Arriving early at a seedy little cinema to make sure we got seats near an exit, we found ourselves among sweaty singlet-clad drivers of samlors, the three-wheeled motorbikes used as taxis in Thailand.

Strippers appeared on stage but the main feature was a titillating shadow play with a man and a woman performing instead of puppets. The woman breathlessly called her lover Prapart, which also happened to be the name of the Thai interior minister, General Prapart Charusathien, overseer of the anti-sleaze campaign.

In the taxi on the way back to the hotel, I asked Mr Thomson what he thought of the show.  “Interesting,” he said, “but tame compared to the Crazy Horse in Paris.”

He became Lord Thomson of Fleet two years after we met. When he died in 1976 the adjective most often used to describe him was “down-to-earth”.

Attached is a photo that best portrays Lord Thomson as I remember him. ■