British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by John H Grieve
The Dinner Party
HRH Crown Prince Arrives
'A dinner invitation, once accepted, is a sacred obligation. If you die before the dinner takes place, your executor must attend' - Ward McAllister

In November 1957 His Royal Highness Abdul Illah, Crown Prince of Iraq, and entourage stopped over in Hong Kong for three days on their return to Iraq from a state visit to Japan. Mike Todd, the film producer and his newly married wife, Elizabeth Taylor, were also staying over in Hong Kong on their honeymoon, having come from Sydney. His Excellency the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Alexander Grantham, GCMG, invited the Crown Prince, two of his generals and the film couple to a formal dinner at Government House.

The dining table seated 36. 34 guests were invited and accepted, making a total for the dinner of 36 including the governor and Lady Grantham. As the governor's aide-de camp I was responsible for making the arrangements, which included the formal precedence-seating plan at the dinner table, for the governor's approval. There was a different protocol for seating the guests in the drawing room after dinner, which also had to be planned and adhered to meticulously. The governor approved the arrangements and my secretary typed the plans.

On the morning of the dinner I was in the governor's office at 7.45 am for our daily briefing when the phone on his desk rang. The caller was an eminent businessman who told the governor that the previous evening there had been an incident in a Chinese restaurant in Kowloon when the Crown Prince and his two generals who were the guests of honour, had quit the restaurant abruptly during the meal when they became aware that one of the guests was a Jew.

The Dinner Party
Sir Alexander Grantham
The governor immediately phoned the husband of a Jewish couple who had been invited to our dinner, explained the situation and suggested they might not wish to attend in the circumstances. This was perfectly well received and understood. I was told to adjust the dinner seating plan and re-plan the after-dinner seating arrangements. (I would take all day to do this.) As Sir Alexander had not mentioned Mike Todd or Elizabeth Taylor I reminded him that on marrying Todd, Taylor had changed her religion to that of her husband, the Jewish faith. (This had been in the newspapers.) He thought for a few seconds then said that they should remain on the guest list but that I should keep the Crown Prince and his two generals apart from the Todds. Dunk!

As the guests arrived at Government House I met them at the door and assisted by the other ADC showed them the seating plan and briefed them who they were to escort or be escorted by into their dining seats. I conducted them to the drawing room, announced them and introduced them to the governor, Lady Grantham and then to each of the other guests individually. Last to arrive were HRH the Crown Prince and his two generals.

When Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor arrived at the entrance to Government House I said I would announce them as 'Mr Michael Todd and Miss Elizabeth Taylor', as Sir Alexander Grantham, ever considerate, had specifically wished me to do. Mike Todd said, "Oh, no. Please announce us as 'Mr and Mrs Michael Todd'", which I of course did. Sir Alexander gave me a quizzical look but I explained to him afterwards.

The critical time for me was when the guests were mingling in the drawing room with their pre-dinner drinks, my attention being mainly focussed on keeping the Iraqi and American parties apart, which I managed to do with some manoeuvring. The revised arrangements for the post dinner seating back in the drawing room and the moving around of guests at that time also worked smoothly. Lady Grantham and Elizabeth Taylor wore tiaras, the men in evening dress with decorations. The Crown Prince expressed eloquent thanks to the governor on his departure.

Postscript

This dinner party has been mentioned in at least three books. Each gives a differing version of what occurred. The funniest is Arthur Hacker's account in The Hong Kong Visitors' Book, A Historical Who's Who: "...this glittering social event seemed doomed for absolute disaster. Fortunately, Grantham was a skilled and devious diplomat ... and suggested that it might be rather amusing if Todd pretended to be Scottish for the evening. This deception appealed to Todd's sense of humour. He took the part with unexpected relish". Had I missed something? Hacker then quotes from Sir Alexander Grantham's autobiography: "The party went off very well", wrote Grantham. "The handsome Prince, in a dazzling array of decorations could not have been more charming and agreeable. Elizabeth Taylor was breathtakingly beautiful and Todd was at his most vivacious".

Within six months of the dinner HRH the Crown Prince of Iraq and Mike Todd were both tragically killed. The former was murdered in Baghdad by thugs of the Ba'athist Party and his body dragged through the streets behind a car. Mike Todd was killed when his private airplane crashed in the United States.

Hong Kong 1970 Map
1970 Map of Hong Kong
Hong Kong Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 92: October 2006


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