"Would you shoot somebody?"
"The testing ground of true leaders" trumpeted the advert. A dashing European inspector with Chinese constables posed in the bright lights of Kowloon. That looks like fun.
Another advert promised a hectic social life, always an attractive offer. I was soon filling in the application slip from the back of Sunday Times. Then the invite arrived for me to attend an interview at the Hong Kong Government Office in Grafton Street, London.
I got on my suit, polished my shoes, sorted out a tie and headed south again. Using a map ripped from an old atlas, I navigated my way from King Cross Station to Grafton Street. It’s October 1979.
On arrival, shepherded into a waiting room with about ten other chaps, I noted most appeared older than me. It was clear that one or two were serving UK police officers. As I surveyed the room, I was beginning to have some doubts.
First, I knew little or nothing about Hong Kong. Second, when someone mentioned training in Aberdeen, my morale hit the floor. I knew Scotland well and did not fancy nine-months up there, especially in winter.
Then into an interview. Before me sat Ms Annie Calderwood, a recently retired senior superintendent. On one side was Dick Lidster, a serving superintendent and the other, a man from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
After introductions, I'm invited to speak about my interests. I'd rehearsed this. I covered the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, adventure training, boxing and my dodgy academic results. I offered up that I'm bored with education, was seeking some adventure and a challenge.
"Would you shoot someone?" Ms Calderwood asked. Bloody hell, I did not see that one coming.
“Yes,” I blurted out “Well, depends on the situation.” Nice recovery.
"I presume the training covers that, rules of engagement and such. But yes, if my life or that of another is threatened." The knowing nods from the panel. I'd aced that one.
"What about the Chinese. Can you get along with Chinese people?." Lidster was now asking the questions.
"Well Sir, I did share a room at University with a Malaysian Chinese student for a term. We got along fine.” More, nods of agreement. The FCO chap asked nothing.
For the next 20 minutes Ms Calderwood lectured me about Hong Kong. She took in the local culture, food and unique status of the place. I left the interview feeling that that went well.
Next, I'm presented with a map and directed to visit three locations for medical screening. A test, I thought. Urban navigation or something similar. At the first stop, a chest X-Ray, the second a hearing and eye test, and at the third a range of motion tests.
I'm disappointed that no one tried to ambush me on route. Occasionally, I’d ducked into doorways, to make sure no one was following me.
Next back to Grafton Street to complete some forms, claiming a travel allowance in the process. Not bad. I'd had a paid job interview. I headed home not expecting much.
Several weeks later I'm called back to Grafton Street. More interviews and testing no doubt. Arriving mid-morning, I joined about 20 other candidates for a lecture on Hong Kong. A movie followed about the work of the police. By lunch-time, Dick Lidster suggested we head to the pub down the road.
Wanting a clear head, I paced myself having only one beer, as I anticipated another interview. Lidster and a couple of the others were getting stuck into the ale. Lunch dragged on with Lidster regaling us with stories of his adventures in Hong Kong.
Eventually, we headed back to the office. Next up, a serving inspector on leave in the UK gave a talk, answering questions from us. The boozed-up group is struggling to stay awake.
One by one we're called out of the room. Here it comes I thought. More tests or bad news. I entered a small office where a female Chinese clerk asked me “When can you leave for Hong Kong?”
"Sorry, is the next stage of interviews in Hong Kong?" I'm confused.
"No, you've passed" she retorted "When can you leave?"
I did some quick thinking, as Christmas is approaching "Early next year, I suppose."
"OK, you start at the end of March. I'll send you details by post."
Stunned. I'd taken three questions at the interview. I was heading to Hong Kong to train as a police inspector. Several years later in Hong Kong, I served with Dick Lidster. I asked him why he'd recruited me.
"You had a smart suit, polished shoes, a tie with a decent knot and seemed like a confident lad. Although, I was a bit concerned you didn’t drink.”
That was it!