The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT)

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

The renowned U.S. late night TV comic, Jay Leno, always jokes that: “If my mother hasn’t heard of you then you aren’t famous.” We have exactly the same gold standard to measure famousness here: If you haven’t given a speech, made a presentation, done an author’s book launch, sat on a discussion panel, or made a “personal appearance” at the FCCT, then you are not famous.

For anyone who “is someone”, or wants to “be someone”, must come to the FCCT to speak. There is not one spot in all of Thailand that has witnessed, or even remotely boasted of, more history, glamour (with the possible exception of the annual Miss Tiffany International Pageant down in Pattaya), serious gravitas plus locally and internationally famous people congregating than inside the FCCT (with the Author’s Wing of the Oriental Hotel a distant second). The FCCT has always been ground centre zero for rubbing shoulders with all the beautiful people, the powerbrokers, the influential, the well connected, the high-and-the-mighty, the big movers-and-shakers, the all powerful, journalists and journalist wannabes plus anyone who wants to see real history in action.

The FCCT has been as peripatetic, interesting and varied as any early organisation in Thailand’s modern history including the Siam Society that has periodically moved from venue to venue, until they both finally came to rest in a permanent home where they now reside.

The FCCT informally coalesced in the mid 1950s at a place on Patpong Road called Mizu’s Kitchen when a highly colourful group of journalists and correspondents gathered to trade stories. This group of noteworthy characters, the earliest denizens of the FCCT, included Alexander MacDonald, founder of the Bangkok Post, Jorges Orgibet, the first Associated Press (AP) bureau chief, Alex Wu, U.S. Information Agency (USIS), editor Prasong Wittaya of United Press (UP) and Darrel Berrigan, Bangkok World newspaper founder.

Newspaper reporting and journalism in Bangkok in the 1950s and 1960s were not an overly glamourous career. In fact, the whole place was considered basically a backwater of news media. The FCCT congregated in the Oriental Hotel as some of the world famous lodging’s allure rubbed off on the members, since anyone who was anyone had to stay at the Oriental Hotel on their sojourn to or through Bangkok: Jackie Kennedy, Somerset Maugham, Grace Kelly, Peter Ustinov, Gore Vidal, James Michener, Pat Boone and other great international illuminati of the era. It was only in mid 1975 with the collapse of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to the Communists marking the end of the Vietnam War did the regional journalism scene get a great shake up with many war correspondents being abruptly shifted to Bangkok. It was now to be the main regional press hub, a position it has not relinquished nearly half a century on. It remains the largest press club in SE Asia.

After its sojourn at the Oriental Hotel, the FCCT continued its itinerant journey over the years to other locations, mainly hotels and other buildings, including the Dusit Thani Hotel, now demolished. However, 1997 brought earth shattering economic collapse to Asia, and that devastating event opened up many rental spaces at giveaway prices in Bangkok. The FCCT quickly moved into the Maneeya Center penthouse on Ploenchit Road, close to the highly venerated Erawan Shrine.

The list of stellar luminaries and important notables who have graced the premises of the FCCT includes the truly famous, the famous, the great, the nearly great and those famous-for-being-famous. It would fill many books or at least dozens of magazines. Robin Williams, Jackie Chan, the Dalai Lama, most of Thailand’s prime ministers including Prem Tinsulanonda, Anand Panyarachun and Yingluck Shinawatra, William Golding, and Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk have all come to speak.

Lively panel discussions cover the latest newsworthy topics such as the new changes to Thailand’s immigrations laws, the future of Thailand’s tourism, the plight of local migrant workers, Thailand’s new national charter, and a post-mortem discussion on Cambodia’s democracy.

 

Membership is more over 700. There is about 20% of the members who are active journalist or professional media people. But due to a dramatic seismic shift in how news is delivered the number of news professionals has fallen.

The FCCT has continued to be the place to see and be seen.

Parts of this article were borrowed from an article by FCCT Past President Dominic Faulder that first appeared in April 2015 in Number 1 Shimbun, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan (FCCJ) club magazine. My special thanks go to FCCT Manager Richard Holt for his kind assistance in producing this article.

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