The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.

— Oscar Wilde, Irish poet and playwright

In 1977, I was sent from Kuala Lumpur to Seremban to become the staff correspondent for New Straits Times.

It must have been NST adviser Tan Sri Samad Ismail’s idea when he insisted I go with his famous last words: “Hantar itu Serani …” because I had already done well as a rookie with Malaysia’s top newspaper. In those days the Umno-owned newspaper’s policy was not only to provide jobs, but also a training ground for journalists, some of whom eventually became
politicians.

As the son of the police commissioner of Sarawak, and brother of Chief Inspector Richard of the Crime Investigation Department in Kuala Lumpur and a member of the elite Sarawak Police Field Force, I was well connected to the police fraternity.

In my first year on the newly-established Crime Desk headed by ex-police inspector Rudy Beltran, I had two major scoops during the “graveyard shift”, from 8pm till 4am.

Apart from key police stations, we had to visit the General Hospital’s mortuary, which I often did with famous cartoonist Lat, then a Berita Harian crime reporter.

My first “scoop” was on the demise of Malaysia’s first Inspector General of Police (IGP) Tun Salleh Ismael on the night of Jan 31, 1973.

Tun Salleh, who was a colleague of my father, had been rushed to the General Hospital by family members after a heart attack.

As he was in “sarong” and did not have identification papers, the clerk on duty would not admit him until I vouched for him. He was admitted but soon after the unfortunate delay, passed away. 

The second “scoop” was when I discovered that Deputy Prime Minister Tun Dr Ismail was at the hospital and pronounced dead at 10pm on Aug 2, 1973. Both the Tun Saleh and Tun Dr Ismail stories were front page Malay Mail and NST stories with my by-line.

As heartless as it seems, reporters were not only bearers of good news but also harbingers of sad stories.

Within the first four years, I had covered the assassination of IGP Tan Sri Rahman Hashim, the Japanese Red Army’s raid on the American embassy in Jalan Ampang and wrote a popular weekly crime series, World of Thugs, which was terminated because it glorified gangsters.

When the time came for me to be groomed in the art of newspaper
management, I was sent to Seremban as my training ground.

As correspondent, my task was to cover official state and federal events and to work closely with the circulation department to increase the sale of our two newspapers, Malay Mail and NST. My first job was to call on the Yang Dipertuan Besar Tuanku Jaafar Tuanku Abdul Rahman or “Yamtuan of Raden” whose mother was Che Engku Maimunah Abdullah nee Dulcie Campbell.

Yamtuan was a close friend and cricket teammate of my father, John Ritchie, who had served as deputy chief police officer of Negeri Sembilan in the 1950s. A post-war Bachelor of Laws graduate from University of Nottingham, Tuanku Jaafar was a classmate of Tun Abdul Razak while studying at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar.

Yamtuan and I hit it off because I was a golfing “sharp shooter” with the Subang National Golf Club in Petaling Jaya and so he suggested I join the Seremban International Golf Club (SIGC) of which he was patron.

On the news front, I had a local stringer, Frankie de Cruz, who had been groomed by my predecessor Kek Soon Beng.

At the onset, Frankie and I did not get along — he had his way of getting things done, and I was a tyrant of sorts having been groomed by the ruthless crime “boss” Rudy Beltran.

There was no mollycoddling at the crime desk, and if you did not perform, you would be bullied until to either become a brainless reporter or rebel. In the meantime, I developed my golfing ties with the Yamtuan, won the two-day Malaysian Intermediate Championship in 1979 hosted at SIGC and became a regular “royal” golfing partner of Tuanku Jaafar.

In 1980, I featured Tuanku Jaafar posing on a “Yellow Buggy” on the front cover of “Golf Malaysia” — the inaugural golf magazine with Tuanku Jaafar’s signature is with Tun Ahmad Sarji. After carving a name for myself in Seremban, I found myself on the way to Sarawak. As usual, Pak Samad said: “Send Ritchie …” and in 1981 I was on my way to Kuching with an old typewriter and golf set.

Within a year, I had become champion of the Governor of Sarawak Tun Abdul Rahman Cup at the newly opened Sarawak Golf Club. In 1994, when Tuanku Jaafar became the Yang Dipertuan Agong, and during his official visit of Sarawak, we had time to catch up.

Frankie went on to become a self-made man; a top investigative reporter and multi-award winner before retiring as Malay Mail Editor emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.