'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
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 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.
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.