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Matchstick man

As chief representative in Tokyo in the late 1970s it fell to me to conduct seemingly endless negotiations with KDD, the Japanese overseas communications company, to get permission for our Monitor service in Japan (long after it was up and running in many other countries). The main sticking point was that Monitor was technically illegal under Japan’s then antiquated telecoms law, designed mainly for telex.


Len Ryan sometimes joined me on visits from Hong Kong where he was Asia technical manager. During one gruelling session he asked for a short break. On a single sheet of paper he produced a diagram purporting to show the line from Tokyo terminating at the Reuters tech centre in London and, a few metres away, the main Monitor system with a little matchstick man running back and forth with tape in his hand to feed Japanese data into Monitor and vice versa.


A total fiction of course, and the highly sophisticated head of the KDD team clearly knew that. He merely smiled and nodded and said he would take Len’s drawing to the deeply conservative Telecoms Ministry. Because it purported to show the Japanese line duly separate from the world, the ministry decided to accept it at face value and Monitor was in, much to the relief of the Japanese Finance Ministry, numerous Tokyo banks, KDD itself, and of course Reuters.


Meeting in Thailand some 30 years later and both retired, Len and I were still expressing relief that the Japanese embassy in London did not send anyone to check that the man was indeed dutifully running between two properly separated terminals. ■