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The Golden Age of Luggage

The Golden Age of Luggage

Cobmaster (2)Millets and Army & Navy Stores were the main suppliers of camping equipment in 70s Britain. Rucksacks were either army surplus, canvas with metal A frame or the popular Cobmaster brand in primary colours and distinctive external frame. Both had limited storage capacity designed for bedrolls and sleeping bags to be tied to the frame or under the flap. Water bottles, shoes and even pots and pans could be seen dangling from backpacks.

Youth hostelling, camping and caravaning were popular and foreign holidays generally meant package tours. Solo travel before the internet and the gap year was for the well off or modern day tramps on the hippie trail. Experienced backpackers identified themselves by sewing colourful patches from youth hostels, camp sites and country flags onto their rucksacks. For Scouts this was anathema, only amateur outdoorsmen would ruin the nylon waterproofing and clothing was always packed inside dustbin liners.

During the era of travel from the 1920s to the 1960s shipping companies, railways, hotels and airlines designed luggage labels to stick on guest’s steamer trunks and suitcases. Globetrotting travellers would leave them on luggage as a souvenir of their visit and a status symbol to show off their adventures. These miniature works of art are now highly collectible either as ephemera or on vintage brown leather suitcases. The most famous collector was Gaston-Louis Vuitton who joined his family trunk making business at 14 and spent a lifetime collecting hotel luggage labels.

In 1946 two ex-wartime pilots, Australian Sydney de Kantzow and American Roy Farrell purchased several Douglas DC-3s forming Cathay Pacific Airways (CPA) in Hong Kong. Two years later John Swire & Sons Ltd. became the major shareholders and the airline developed from an air freight operator to a scheduled passenger service. Britain’s key carrier – British Overseas Airways Corporation dominated the most important routes from London leaving Cathay confined to its home region (‘the airline that knows the Orient best’). In 1961 Cathay bought its first pure jet Convair 880M but it was not until 1980 that they were allowed to fly to London and in 1983 to cross the Pacific.

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Cathay Pacific’s first reservation office was located inside the Peninsula Hotel. The flight network can be seen displayed on the paneling. A shuttle bus was provided to transport passengers between the hotel and Kai Tak Airport that operated from 1925 to 1998.


In 1953 Cathay Pacific Airways was a regional airline operating services from Hong Kong to Manila, Singapore, Bangkok, Saigon, Haiphong (then French Indo China), British North Borneo (now the country of Brunei, two Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak and the Malaysian federal territory of Labuan) with connections to Taipei, Tokyo, Rangoon, Kuching and Jakarta.


The company purchased a Douglas DC-6 in 1954. The routes were then being operated by DC6, DC4 and DC3 aircraft. By the end of 1957 Phnom Penh, Vientiane and Kuala Lumpur had been added. The first DC-6B used by Cathay is still flying today ferrying cargo around Alaska for Everts Air Cargo.

Luggage labels were mainly developed by the ‘Grand Hotels’ and the legendary hotels of Asia are still open for business on these airline routes from Hong Kong.


Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel opened in 1928 opposite the quays (now Ocean Terminal) where ocean liners once disembarked and close to the last stop on the trans-Siberian rail link. On December 25th 1941 the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Young surrendered to the Japanese on the third floor of the hotel.


In 1994 the hotel was extended by adding a 30 storey tower and helipad on the roof.


The Manila Hotel located along Manila Bay was opened in 1912 at the northwestern end of Rizal park opposite Intramuros the historic walled area. Construction of the walled city began in the late 16th century and was considered by the Spanish to be the entire city of Manila. The label depicts the watchtower of the Baluarte de San Andres on the defensive wall.

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Intramuros was destroyed during the 1945 Battle of Manila . The moat was later filled in and is now a golf course.


The Manila Hotel’s penthouse suite was the residence of General Douglas MacArthur whilst Military Advisor of the Philippine Commonwealth from 1935 to 1941. The hotel was set on fire by the Japanese during the Battle of Manila and the shell of the building was reconstructed after the war. According to legend the airline’s name was chosen by Farrell and some foreign correspondents at the hotel bar.



Singapore’s Raffles Hotel was established in 1887 by the Armenian Sarkies brothers. The National cocktail the Singapore Sling was invented in its Long Bar in 1915 and the latest refurbishment was in 2019.

Hotel Luggage Labels Majestic Kl


Kuala Lumpur’s Majestic Hotel opened in 1932 and is located directly across from the historic railway station.

Hotel Luggage Labels E And O Penang

Penang’s Eastern & Oriental Hotel was established in 1885 by the Sarkies brothers. The label depicts the view from the hotel garden to Kedah Peak / Gunung Jerai on the mainland.


Orientalluggage Label

Bangkok’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel located on the Chao Phraya River opened as The Oriental in 1876. The elephant is the national symbol of Thailand representing royal power and has a special significance for buddhists.

Oriental Hotel Bangkok

The original 19th century Authors’ Wing. The famous Bamboo Bar was opened in 1947.


Ho Chi Minh City’s (formerly Saigon) Hotel Continental is located in the central business district next to the Opera House.

Saigoncontinental (1)

During the Vietnam War the hotel renamed the Continental Palace was popular with journalists who nicknamed the ground floor bar ‘The Continental Shelf’. Graham Greene stayed in Room 214 where he began work on his novel ‘The Quiet American’.


Yangon’s (formerly Rangoon) Strand Hotel was built by the Sarkies brothers and opened in 1901. The label shows the old palace moat at Mandalay around 575km from Yangon.

Mandalay Palace Myanmar Wall Moat

The old palace moat at Mandalay. Mandalay Hill is 240m high and the area was devastated during fighting between the Japanese and the British Fourteenth Army in 1945.

Strand Hotel

The Strand Hotel, Yangon.

Grandtaipei (2)

Grandhotel (2)

Taipei’s Grand Hotel established in 1952 at the request of Chiang Kai-shek was Taiwan’s first five star hotel. Dragon motifs are incorporated throughout earning the hotel the name ‘The Dragon Palace’. South facing rooms offer a panoramic view over the Keelung river and Taipei City.


Tokyo’s original Imperial Hotel dates from 1880 but more famous was the second hotel (1923-1968) designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was demolished and replaced with a high rise structure in 1968 but part of the central lobby wing was disassembled and rebuilt at a museum near Nagoya.

Imperialtokyohotel (1)

The third Imperial Hotel is a modern 17 storey hotel tower that opened in 1970.



Jakarta became the national capital of Indonesia in 1950 after full independence from Holland. The Hotel Indonesia opened in 1962 was the city’s first five star hotel. In Bandung 150km from the capital two heritage hotels – the Grand Hotel Preanger & the Savoy Homann are still operating. The Grand Hotel Preanger, opened in 1897, has been rebuilt whilst retaining the art-deco style facade and the Asia Afrika Wing.


Hello from the 1950s !

Bottoms Up

Bottoms Up

 Thanks to Simon Ostheimer for posting one of my stories on his blog – Tales of the Orient under the heading ‘Bottoms Up’. Simon is a travel writer and blogger who grew up in Hong Kong and is now based in Cambodia.



James Bond 007 was arrested outside the Bottoms Up club by British agents posing as Royal Hong Kong Police officers in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’.

The Bottoms Up club was a Hong Kong topless bar that operated from 1971 to 2004 in a basement at Hankow Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. It became famous after featuring in the 1974 James Bond film – ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ starring Roger Moore. One of the original managers was Pat Sephton, a former Windmill girl and colourful Hong Kong character.

Print the Legend

Print the Legend

” With all my heart I still love the man I killed….”    Bette Davis in ‘The Letter’, Warner Bros. Pictures 1940 (Source: Getty Photos)

Colonial Malaya’s most shocking murder case

Long Read

In 2003 Hong Kong’s ‘Milkshake Murder’ was a brief distraction from the SARS outbreak that dominated the news. Sixteen years later COVID-19, a more deadly respiratory illness, escalated to the level of a global pandemic. For Malaysians lockdowns, curfews, Movement Control Orders (MCO), Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and social distancing became part of their daily vocabulary. Domestic travel was restricted and jogging, walking and cycling the only recreational activities allowed. It was the perfect opportunity to explore Kuala Lumpur on foot, from the modern city centre defined by the PETRONAS twin towers to the old city centre.

The signposted colonial walk taking in the historic buildings around Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) was a good starting point and reminded me of a more famous murder case.

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The Sultan Abdul Samad Building constructed entirely of brick was completed in 1897 and formerly known as Government Offices.  The clock tower first chimed to coincide with Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Parade in June 1897.

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Map of Kuala Lumpur in 1895 that could be used to navigate the heritage centre today. The Malay quarter developed at the confluence of the two rivers, the Chinese quarter to the south around the market area and British residences and government offices on the left bank. Victoria Institution was located within the bend of the river but re-located in 1929 due to frequent flooding. The course of the river was then straightened. (Source: Old Kuala Lumpur, J.M. Gullick)


The Jamek Mosque built in 1909 at the Y shaped confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers from which Kuala Lumpur (‘muddy confluence’) got its name.


1900s Kuala Lumpur Victoria Institution (2)Established in 1893 the Victoria Institution is the oldest secondary school in Kuala Lumpur and until 1929 was located in a loop of the Klang River facing High Street (now Jalan Tun H.S. Lee). The school’s first headmaster, serving for 28 years, was Mr. Bennett Eyre Shaw. In January 1911 he went on leave to England and appointed William Proudlock as acting headmaster. Proudlock, his wife Ethel and their three-year-old daughter moved from the Brickfields area (now Little India) to the headmaster’s bungalow in the school grounds.

The headmaster’s bungalow prone to flooding was demolished during redevelopment. The block  (above) was destroyed by a fire in 1999.

William Proudlock born in 1880 was the son of a millwright and educated at a state school in Cambridgeshire. After being awarded his teacher’s certificate he was recruited by the Victoria Institution in 1900. Proudlock a hardworking teacher enjoyed a full program of Williamproudlock (3)extra-curricular activities; he was a gymnastics instructor, choirmaster at St Mary’s, president of the Selangor State Band, Lieutenant in the fire brigade, member of the Malay States Volunteer Rifles and played football and rugby for the school.

In the early years some teachers kept rifles in their classrooms overlooking the river  taking shots at crocodiles lounging on the banks whilst pupils liked to throw stones at them. Even in 2017 the public were advised to be cautious fishing in the Klang River after the sighting of a two metre long crocodile near Kota bridge.

William Proudlock (second row centre) with members of the school’s First Eleven. (Source: Syndics of Cambridge University)

Eric Lawlor in his book ‘Murder on the Verandah’ stated that Ethel was probably Eurasian, the illegitimate daughter of Robert Charter and pregnant when aged 19 she married William. Their wedding on April 25th 1907 was a hurried affair, her father was absent and the couple left immediately for Penang to catch a ship to England. Lawlor suggested Robert disliked Proudlock feeling his daughter had wed beneath her station. It’s also possible he was glad to see her married off and distanced from his legitimate family.

Proudlock Wedding (2)

The Singapore Free Press & Mercantile Advertiser 2nd May 1907 – ‘Kuala Lumpur Notes 25th April 1907’


On the boat home Ethel had been very ill suffering from anaemia and neuralgia and after a difficult birth didn’t return to Malaya until October 1908. She settled into a comfortable middle class lifestyle amongst Kuala Lumpur’s small British community. Apart from visits to the club and shopping trips to John Little’s department store she spent most of her time at home engaged in needlework, writing letters and reading Punch. In 1909 she qualified for the annual tennis tournament at the club. She was also a member of the Selangor Ladies Rifle Association, the amateur dramatic society and worked as a teaching assistant at the Methodist Girl’s School.

In early 1910 Ethel gave up most of her interests and disappeared from Kuala Lumpur’s social scene. In fact she was involved in a clandestine affair and her health problems were a convenient cover.

Williamsteward (3)Little is known about William Crozier Steward. He was originally from Whitehaven in Cumberland, around 34 years old and working as a mining engineer. He kept to himself, occasionally drank in the club, played rugby and was acquainted with William Proudlock. Until 1910 Steward ran Salak South mine about 10km from the city centre. When the ore ran out he was appointed consulting engineer with a Singapore firm F.W. Barker and Co.. In this new role he kept his bungalow in Salak South but spent most of his time on the road trouble shooting for mines and rubber estates in Selangor.

On the 23rd April 1911 Ethel shot and killed Steward. She was the only European woman tried for murder and sentenced to death in British Malaya.

William Crozier Steward probably on the steps of his bungalow. (Source: Topham Picturepoint)


The trial of Ethel Mabel Proudlock charged with the murder of William Crozier Steward opened at Kuala Lumpur’s Supreme Court on June 7th before Mr. Justice Sercombe Smith who was assisted by Messrs P.F. Wise and Kindersley as assessors. Mr. Hastings Rhodes (Legal Adviser Federated Malay States) and Mr. Hereford (D.P.P.) appeared for the prosecution. Mr. Pooley and Mr. Wagner appeared for the defence. Jury trials had been abolished in Malaya because the pool of available jurors, confined to Britons, was too small.

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Contemporary postcard showing the Supreme Court overlooking the present Chinatown area. Ethel first appeared in Court on Monday 24th April 1911 when she was formally charged with causing the death of William Steward. Following a preliminary hearing on May 1st she was remanded in Pudu Jail.


The prosecution presented evidence that the Proudlocks were on friendly terms with the deceased and that on April 23rd Steward went to visit Mrs Proudlock at nine o’clock. They asked the Court to draw an inference this was due to prior arrangement with Mrs Proudlock on three grounds:

  • Steward was the consulting engineer for Sione Estate near the Batu Caves 15km from Kuala Lumpur. On the Sunday morning he went there around 11am leaving at 310pm. Steward declined an invitation to stay for dinner saying he had an appointment in town.
  • Steward was present in the Selangor Club reading room at 630pm. The church service concluded at 645pm and the Proudlocks went directly to the club.
  • After leaving the club he crossed the road to dine with friends at the Empire hotel but left abruptly when he realised it was 9pm.

There was no evidence of any conversation between accused and deceased in the club:

Mr. Pooley: “Is there any truth in the suggestion that you made an appointment with Steward to come round that night?”

Mrs Proudlock: “There is not.”

                            Dataran Merdeka (2)

Looking across Merdeka Square to the Royal Selangor Club (1884) and on the right St Mary’s Cathedral (1894) where the Proudlocks were married. The Empire Hotel was directly behind the club. Steward and the Proudlocks went separately to the club after church on the 23rd April.  


The former Loke Hall operated as the Empire Hotel from 1910 to 1919, now gazetted as a heritage building. On the night of his death William Steward was dining there with Mr. D.W. Gilmour of the Chartered Bank and Mr. Keer of the Planters Stores. While the pudding was being served the clock on the Government Secretariat building struck nine. Steward excused himself saying he had an appointment and took a rickshaw to the Victoria Institution. On foot it is an easy 20 minutes walk but it was raining heavily that evening. (Source:

TAM Ng-tee, the rickshaw puller who conveyed Steward to the Proudlock’s bungalow was a key eyewitness  for the prosecution:


Regarding the murder weapon evidence was given that Ethel bought a webley revolver from the Federal Dispensary on April 18th as a birthday present for her husband. The gun was for self-defence as their previous home in Brickfields had been burgled but William also enjoyed taking pot shots at the crocodiles.

On the Saturday evening they stayed home and William told his wife that he would be dining with his colleague Goodman Ambler the following night. Next day she was not well. She had expected to be unwell but was well enough to join William for taget practice with the revolver. The revolver was re-loaded but looking at his watch he saw it was 525pm and time for church so he handed the revolver to his wife. She placed it on the bookshelf where it remained as she was distracted by the sound of cats from the nursery.


Mrs Proudlock stated that she was writing letters on the verandah and not expecting any visitors. Assuming Steward had come to see her husband she told him he was dining in Brickfields a mile and a half away. Noticing that Steward was reluctant to leave she invited him to sit and making small talk asked whether he had attended church that evening. He replied that he rarely attended and Mrs Proudlock went to fetch a book that she thought might interest him:


William Steward’s “frightful injuries were a testimony to the terrible execution of the Webley revolver.” Dr. Cooper  who carried out the postmortem examination said: “One bullet entered the skull above the right ear, a second bullet  entered the skull behind the left ear. A third entered the nape of the neck, a fourth entered at the angle of the left jaw  and there was a fifth wound an eigth of an inch below the last. The last bullet entered the right breast.”


William Proudlock was summoned by his cook and returning home quickly he met his wife staggering across the grounds muttering “Blood, blood. I’ve shot a man.” The only signs of struggle were an overturned table and chair and some displaced books. He then ran to the police station and summoned Inspector Wyatt.

Mr. Pooley outlined the defence saying he referred the Court to one exception in the murder section of the criminal code that said culpable homicide was not murder if a person was deprived of self control by grave and sudden provocation and caused the death of another person by accident.

The provocation was indeed grave: ‘the most serious a lady could receive at a man’s hands’. If they believed this there would be no shadow of a doubt the accused was entitled to acquittal on the charge of murder.

The defence therefore relied on medical evidence showing the accused was an emotional, hysterical woman and that shock might have caused loss of knowledge of her actions. The press reported that she looked very white and pathetic when she entered the box, her hands were trembling and she answered in a weak, tearful voice. Dr. McGregor described her as a virtual invalid, a delicate girl racked by pain and often confined to bed.

‘But she plays tennis,’ Hastings Rhodes reminded him.

The prosecution countered that it was for the accused to convince the Court beyond reasonable doubt that she was justified in acting the way she did. Mr. Rhodes said the Court would have to be convinced that the attempted rape story was true. It seemed to counsel there was considerable doubt about it. The question was: “was the accused justified following the deceased up, after shooting him on the verandah, and doing him to death when her sole object was the defence of her person?”

Steward was fully clothed when his body was discovered and there was no medical evidence of rape or attempted rape after  examination of both the accused and deceased.

The Judge appeared to make much of the fact that Mrs Proudlock had changed into a low cut, green, tea gown but according to her husband she always dressed like this in the evening even when dining alone.

The defence sought to introduce evidence of the deceased’s moral character but this was struck down by the Judge:




The Judge concluded there was not a ‘tittle’ of evidence to prove a liaison between the accused and the deceased. He then finished his summing up by quoting authority to the effect that an accused person could be convicted of murder without the necessity of proving a motive.

Public opinion was now sharply divided with many of Mrs Proudlock’s supporters aware of the rumours that she had killed Steward in a jealous rage when he sought to end their affair.

The Court considered in public for three minutes and then the Judge asked Mr. Wise:

“Have you considered your verdict on the charge of murder?” Mr. Wise: “My verdict is that she is guilty”.

Mr. Kindersley and the Judge concurred. The accused had nothing to say.

The Judge:

“The sentence of the Court upon you is that you hang by the neck until you be dead, and God Almighty have mercy on your soul”.

The Judge announced that a strong recommendation for mercy would be conveyed to his Highness the Sultan of Selangor.

                               PUDU (2)

Pudu Jail completed in 1895 and demolished in 2012. Part of the exterior wall and main gate were preserved and incorporated into the Mitsui Lalaport Mall. On July 8th 1911 Ethel was released at 9pm and met outside by her husband, mother and father. The Malay Mail reported: ‘She was in a highly nervous condition, and to avoid the possibility of a breakdown was advised to retire at once on her arrival at her destination.’


In June Mrs Proudlock announced that she was abandoning her appeal against conviction and would seek clemency from the Sultan of Selangor. The Sultan sitting in council together with the acting British Resident and Sercombe Smith granted his pardon on condition that Mrs Proudlock leave Malaya. Sercombe Smith opposed the decision arguing that her conduct pointed to revenge rather than human frailty and stated that the court had ‘utterly disbelieved her evidence’. He was overruled and Mrs Proudlock was released on July 8th. She boarded a Japanese ship in Penang reaching England on August 22nd.

William Proudlock whether from genuine conviction, compassion or to protect his own good name steadfastly stood by his wife throughout her trial and continued to protest her innocence.

On October 10th Bennett Shaw returned to Kuala Lumpur and was met on the station platform by Proudlock. He was fully aware of the ‘the murder on the verandah’ case and Proudlock’s continued presence at the school had clearly become an embarrassment. On 24th October Victoria Institution announced he had resigned his post. One month later William left Malaya to join his wife and never returned. Unable to secure a suitable appointment they moved to Canada before splitting up; Ethel moving to the USA with her daughter Dorothy whilst William settled in Argentina working at St George’s School in Quilmes where he died in 1958. Ethel died in 1974.


William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) one of the most popular writers of his era was to Anthony Burgess the creator of some of the best short stories ever written. ‘The Casuarina Tree’ published in 1926 was a collection of six, including ‘The Letter’, all set in the Federated Malay States of the 1920s. They were inspired whilst travelling in the Far East for six months in 1921 and four months in 1925. The British community in Malaya were outraged at his scandalous depiction of their lives and felt he had betrayed their hospitality. Victor Purcell in his ‘Memoirs of a Malayan Official’ wrote that even in the 1960s mention of his name enraged some old Malayan hands whilst others were just as miffed they hadn’t been included. In his preface to a later collection of stories Maugham emphasised the vast majority of colonials were decent, ordinary, hard-working people who drank moderately, played bridge and did a little shooting but:

‘they are not the sort of people I can write stories about.’

The Letter’ was inspired by the Proudlock case as told to him by Ethel’s lawyer.

In his story Ethel becomes Leslie Crosbie facing trial in Singapore for killing her husband’s friend Geoff Hammond. It opens with Leslie’s lawyer confident of a not guilty verdict :

He tried to rape me, and I shot him.’

Hammond is damned because of his association with a Chinese woman:

‘that robbed him of any sympathy which might have been felt for him.’

The revelation of an incriminating letter from Leslie to Geoff Hammond puts a different complexion on the case forcing the lawyer to pay for its return. She later breaks down and admits that Hammond had been her lover and she shot him in a jealous rage:

till the revolver went click, click and I knew there were no more cartridges.’

Leslie is acquitted but condemned to live life knowing she killed the man she truly loved.



Alhambra (2)

The movie had a midnight premiere at Singapore’s Alhambra on June 3rd 1941. The Alhambra on Beach Road was the first air conditioned cinema in Singapore with a seating capacity of 3,500 and its own live orchestra. (Source: The Straits Times June 1941)

In 1940 Warner Bros. released a film version of Somerset Maugham’s ‘well known story of the East’ starring Bette Davis as Leslie Crosbie and Herbert Marshall as her husband. Apart from Bette Davis superb performance as the cool, calculating killer the film is famous for its opening scene. The silent two minutes long tracking shot is suddenly broken by a gunshot from inside the bungalow, a man staggers onto the verandah followed by Davis who cold bloodedly pumps five more shots into him.

The Letter premiered in Singapore in June 1941 with the local press praising the authentic Malayan background all the more impressive as it was filmed entirely on sets. The Asian characters speak Cantonese and Malay while the court scenes were accurate including the wigs and robes of the judge and counsel.

The ending of the film tells us as much about Hollywood in the 1940s as the Proudlock case reveals about the attitudes and prejudices of colonial society. In the golden age of Hollywood studios were bound by the Production Code consisting of guidelines of what was morally acceptable in films. Maugham’s ending with Leslie returning to the husband who knows she doesn’t love him was unacceptable as murder was seen to go unpunished. A weaker ending was added, Davis paying for her crime with her own violent death. The suggestion that her lover was living in sin with a Chinese woman was also rejected so she became Geoff Hammond’s Eurasian wife.


‘The case was the sensation of the day and it was discussed in all the clubs, at all the dinner tables, up and down the (Malay) Peninsula, from Singapore to Penang.’ – The Letter

Largely forgotten after two world wars and the end of Empire, Maugham’s fictional version of the Proudlock case proved more enduring than the true story. Interest was revived in 1991 on publication of ‘Out East in the Malay Peninsula’ by G.E.D. Lewis, a member of the Malayan Educational Service from 1938 to 1963 and former headmaster of the Victoria Institution. Lewis first heard of the case in 1956 from an elderly lawyer and former pupil. Since the story had been covered in the Straits Times, Malay Mail and UK’s Sunday Observer in 1976 he felt free to discuss it in his memoirs.

In March 1976 the story ‘Crime of Passion’ appeared in the Straits Times. The writer admitted that only Maugham’s story was common knowledge at that time so he believed the real case had occurred in the 1920s. Only a chance remark in a Singapore bar and interview with Delmar Morgan, former manager of the Europe Hotel, led him to search back through nine years of local newspapers.

In 1999 Eric Lawlor’s ‘Murder on the Verandah – Love and Betrayal in British Malaya’ was published. He acknowledged that few sources were available and drew heavily on reports in the Malay Mail, Kuala Lumpur’s popular daily newspaper of the period.

Researching his book ‘Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China’ author Paul French described his eureka moment when he finally found a photo of his story’s victim – 19 years old Pamela Werner. The black and white photo showed a young, attractive woman in an evening dress. French had realised that without a photo or with a less photogenic victim his story wouldn’t have had the same emotional impact and might not have been published. The fatal weakness of Lawlor’s story is that he wasn’t able to discover even one photo of Ethel Proudlock.

Recently a photo has appeared online purporting to show William Proudlock with an unknown woman at the Batu Caves outside Kuala Lumpur but the source is unknown. Could this be Ethel Proudlock?


In 2012 Mary Kilcline Cody of the Australian National University was awarded a doctorate for her thesis ‘The Trial of Mrs Proudlock: Law, Government and Society in British Malaya, 1911’. It hasn’t been published and she didn’t respond to an enquiry but the abstract is revealing.

Part of it reads:

The melodrama of the criminal trial reveals much about the regressive feudal fantasy that colonialism had built for itself in Kuala Lumpur, a power structure and set of institutions that harked back to the imagined stable and vertiginous hierarchies of feudal England. In this medievalist revival fantasy, colonial authority was maintained by the daily reinforcement of white prestige…Both prosecution and defence framed their narratives against contemporary, widely held and yet contested views of true femininity,’

The UK National Archives in Kew has 8 records for public viewing under ‘Ethel Proudlock’ including copies of statements, trial transcript and the correspondence of William Proudlock. I was informed the collection had been withdrawn for condition assessment after a sample had shown traces of historic insecticides and so was not available for viewing. For reporting of the trial I therefore relied on Lawlor’s account and online newspaper records from Singapore’s National Archives.


The original Block One of the Victoria Institution burnt down in 1999 but was rebuilt in the same style and is now the Taman Budaya Cultural Centre.

The Shield

The Shield

Early 1900’s postcard – British bobby on the Shanghai bund


THESHIELDA Hong Kong Police detective badge sold last month on eBay for £3,913.75. The King’s crown, gilt metal, blue enamel badge bears the Chinese characters for investigator and GR Royal cypher dating it to between 1910 and 1952. There are no lugs at the back so it was probably carried as a shield in a wallet instead of worn on a cap. The only other example I’ve seen is in the Hong Kong Police Museum. It prompted me to read again Ex-Chief Inspector Kenneth Andrew’s ‘Hong Kong Detective’ published in 1962 by The Adventurers Club. In his book Andrew mentions carrying both warrant card and detective’s badge when on duty.

Kenneth Andrew was born in 1893 and died in 2000 at the age of 106. He joined the Force as a Police Constable in 1911, served in the RAF in 1918 then resumed his career in Hong Kong before retiring in 1938. He went on to write six books about his experiences and re-joined the RAF during World War 2. He was awarded the King’s Police Medal for Gallantry following a shootout with Chinese armed robbers and admitted to hospital 34 times for everything from dysentery to malaria.

The buyer was probably from China where collectors have an insatiable demand for related antiques. Although scarce it isn’t the rarest police badge and when Kenneth Andrew was on the Hong Kong beat there were Britons patrolling more far-flung locations on the China coast.


China Map (2)In the eighteenth century European trade with China was confined to Canton but in 1842 four other so-called Treaty Ports were designated by the Treaty of Nanking after the first Opium War. The defeated Manchu government opened Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo and Shanghai to British trade. The treaty provisions also ceded Hong Kong island in perpetuity to Great Britain. Other Western powers demanded similar rights and by 1941 there were 75 Treaty Ports many inland far from any navigable river. The system effectively ended when the Japanese invaded China and control was formally relinquished in agreements with Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist Government in Chungking in 1943.

In the British ports control was exercised by Municipal Councils who ran police forces with British officers and British, Chinese or Indian lower ranks. Concession areas that maintained British Municipal Police forces were Shanghai, Kulangsu, Tientsin, Chinkiang, Hankow and Weihaiwei along with a British Legation Police Force at Peking. Western businesses, offices and warehouses were concentrated on a ‘bund’ – a long narrow strip of land facing the waterfront of which the Shanghai bund was the most famous. Chinese sovereignty was nominal and foreigners enjoyed extraterritoriality under the control of their own consuls and not subject to Chinese law.


SHANGHAIMUNICIPAL POLICE (4)The Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) was the police force of the Shanghai Municipal Council which governed the Shanghai International Settlement from 1854 to 1943. Apart from the Japanese occupation period all of the Commissioners were British. Winter uniforms were dark blue serge with khaki drill and pith helmets worn in summer. Until the early 1900s European officers wore the custodian or ‘bobby’s’ helmets after which all officers wore peaked caps.

Professor Robert Bickers of Bristol University is the recognised authority on the history of the SMP publishing ‘Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai’ (2003) and maintaining a China Families website with records of 2,800 men who served in the SMP. Published SMP memoirs include: E.W. Peters ‘Shanghai Policeman’ (1937), Maurice Springfield ‘Hunting Opium and Other Scents’ (1966), Ted Quigley ‘A Spirit of Adventure: The Memoirs of Ted Quigley’ (1994) and John Sanbrook ‘In My Father’s Time: A Biography’ (2008).

Shanghai Municipal Police, silver and enamel officer’s cap badge – Omnia Juncta in Uno – All Joined in One (Source: Karl Spencer collection)

None of these publications mention the Shanghai River Police who appear to have been a separate unit, independent of the Shanghai Municipal Council. According to Frederic Wakeman in his ‘Policing Shanghai 1927 – 1937’ they were formed in the early 1900s funded by subscriptions from commercial houses to protect commerce and shipping from attacks by robbers and pirates.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation posted the story of a Shanghai river policeman Joseph Munz who ended up in San Quentin in 1904 that can be viewed here.


Shanghai River Police cap and collar badge (Source: Karl Spencer collection)


Ejner Richard Dyrby, Chief Inspector of the Shanghai River Police in winter uniform (Source:


Sikhpoliceshanghai (2)In 1940 the SMP was a multi-racial force consisting of 470 European, 524 Sikh, 3,629 Chinese & 278 Japanese officers. The Sikhs with their own mounted section, red turbans and beards featured prominently in parades, postcards, photographs, newsreels and movies of the period. They were a reminder of the Raj and represented Shanghai in the same way as the Metropolitan Police or guardsmen at Buckingham Palace represent London today. The SMP started to recruit Sikhs from the Punjab in 1885 being cheaper than European officers and regarded as more trustworthy than the Chinese with whom they were unlikely to form any improper association. Classified by the British as ‘a martial race’ and with their imposing appearance they were deployed mainly on anti-riot and traffic control duties.

Despite the perceived advantages of the Sikh Contingent negative stereotypes of them have persisted. Josef Von Sternberg’s 1941 ‘The Shanghai Gesture’ opens with a Sikh traffic policeman accepting bribes to settle an argument in the street. Along with petty corruption there are also references to Sikh officers running money lending rackets to supplement their low pay. In cartoons by westerners like Friedrich Schiff of the North China Daily News, H.W.G. Hayter in ‘The Rattle’ or Hergés Tin Tin adventure – ‘The Blue Lotus’, Sikh police officers are depicted treating Chinese brutally. With their traffic directions ignored and frustrated by language difficulties Sikhs are shown using their striped batons to beat rickshaw pullers and coolies. They were also remembered with hatred for their role in the May 30th 1925 incident when nine Chinese students were shot and killed in a riot outside Louza police station. The Chinese nickname for them translated as ‘red headed number threes’, a reference to their turbans and perceived position in a racial hierarchy behind the Europeans and Chinese.

Hayter (2)


Shanghai Municipal Police winter uniform



Kulangsu Municipal Police Badge (2)

Kulangsu Police cap badge (Source:


Kulangsu Police junior ranks cap badge and tunic button (Source: Karl Spencer collection)

Amoy island now Xiamen was captured by the British in 1841 during the First Opium War. Too large to garrison effectively a small force was left to hold tiny Kulangsu island until the Treaty of Nanjing when Amoy became one of the first ports opened to British trade.

The city of Amoy fronted a narrow strait seven to eight hundred yards wide that divided it from Kulangsu only two square kilometres in area. In 1903 Kulangsu became an international settlement governed by a Municipal Council consisting of six foreign and one Chinese member. On the Amoy side the British concession was marked by its bund and backed by a row of foreign businesses. Most of the foreign residents commuted daily from their homes in Kulangsu almost entirely residential apart from various Consulates, post offices, Municipal Council offices, telegraph and telephone companies’ agencies. The Council employed a foreign superintendent of police who was also secretary to the Council and a small force of Sikh police. The British Concession on Amoy rented from the Chinese Government  also had a Municipal Council with a British inspector of police and a small force of Chinese constables.


Mr.  C. Berkeley Mitchell was Capt.- Superintendent of the Kulangsu Police after 22 years military service including Egypt, South Africa, Ceylon and Hong Kong.



British Municipal Police Tientsin cap badges (Victorian Crown on right) – Comitas Inter Gentes – Civility between nations (Source: Karl Spencer collection)

Tientsin became a Treaty Port in 1860 after the Second Opium War when it was formally opened to Britain and France. Between 1895 and 1900 they were joined by Japan, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Belgium in establishing foreign concessions each with their own prisons, schools, barracks and hospitals. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 the concessions were besieged for several weeks. Following this Western troops were stationed in the city until the Japanese occupation in 1941.

Reference to the Tientsin Police is made in Paul French’s book: ‘Midnight in Peking; How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China’. In 1934 Richard Dennis, a Detective Sergeant in the Metropolitan Police was appointed Chief Inspector of Police by the British Municipal Council of Tientsin. During his tenure Dennis investigated the murder of Pamela Werner in Peking in January 1937. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor he was arrested by Japanese soldiers and held in solitary confinement in Victoria Road police station. In August the Swiss Consul secured his release and Dennis was repatriated via Shanghai and Portuguese East Africa. After the war he was assigned to the United Nations War Crimes Commission and in later life ran several pubs and hotels in London.


Richard Harry Dennis, Chief Inspector of Police, British Municipal Council Tientsin (Source


Victoria Road in British Concession, Tientsin (Source: Historical Photographs of China,



Chinkiang on the banks of the Yangtze river, 156 miles upstream from Shanghai, is probably the least remembered of the Treaty Ports. It was opened in 1860 under the Treaty of Tientsin and retroceded to Chinese control when the Nationalist KMT forces entered and most of the foreigners had fled to Shanghai. By that time Chinkiang was a backwater, its importance as a trading centre overshadowed by Hankow 500 miles further upstream.

Chinkiang Municipal Police cap badge (Source: Karl Spencer collection)

The small foreign community was dominated by the British made up of Consular staff from Shanghai, Imperial Maritime Customs officers, missionaries and the junior employees of Western companies like BAT and Butterfield & Swire (known as ‘sugar and tobacco travellers’). Law and order was maintained by a small force of British officered Sikh policemen said to despise the Chinese and equally feared and disliked by them.

An extract from the Shanghai Mercury in 1887 described Chinkiang as it appeared to a visitor:

‘Few ports in China would seem to be better situated for trade than Chinkiang, a few perhaps have been more disappointing. The first glimpse of the port is eminently reassuring, as the fine bund, at the time of the year bosomed (sic) in trees, the conspicuous houses topped by the British Consulate, and the goodly array of hulks connected by handy bridges with the shore make a picture surpassed in our picturesqueness by none. The hum of traffic and the cry of coolies permeates the air; the familiar aspect of the Sikh policeman appears at the corners of the British Concession: the concession roads are wide and well kept, and, what is unfortunately unusual in China, the enterprise of the foreign residents has succeeded in acquiring a system of good riding roads penetrating the country in all directions as far as from four to six miles from the central point.’

First impressions soon wore off for the foreigners consigned to Chinkiang. Boredom, frustration, disease and fear of the Chinese masses  led to cases of mental breakdown and suicide.

Mob violence and riots could be sparked by minor incidents and foreigners were easy prey for bandits and pirates. Chinkiang’s most notorious incident – the riots of 1889 were blamed on heavy handed policing. The following extract is from ‘The Graphic’ dated May 4th  1890:

‘Early in February last (1889), a terrible riot occurred at Chinkiang, a port on the Yangtse River. For some time past it appears that bad blood has existed between the Sikh Police (who are employed by the Municipal Council of the Foreign Concession, and are nicknamed by the populace ‘Red Heads’, on account of their red turbans) and the inhabitants of the native city. Some of these policemen were accused of ill-treating a man who is variously described as a street-beggar and an interpreter employed at the American Consulate. The man fell down as if dead, but on being examined by a doctor and a police inspector was pronounced to be shamming. However, the mob declared that he had been killed, and at once commenced a furious attack on the Station. The few constables who were within fled for their lives; whereupon the infuriated crowd poured in, and pulled the building to pieces, scarcely leaving one stone upon another. Then, after smashing the windows of the houses of some members of the Municipal Council (the BRITISHCONSULATECHINKIANG (2)occupants all having escaped), the mob turned towards the British Consulate, which is on a bluff overlooking the Settlement. The Consul, Mr Mansfield, his wife, and two young children, had barely time to fly, when the building was in flames, the rioters piling up the inflammable stuff all around it. Everything was destroyed, the building and its contents being reduced to a heap of ashes’.

Former British Consulate in Zhenjiang

The foreign community managed to flee to one of the hulks in the river and escape by steamer to Shanghai. In typical Treaty Port fashion order was restored with the arrival of the Royal Navy and the landing of troops.

The following year the British Consulate was rebuilt and it now forms part of the Zhenjiang museum. Strong double riot gates made of iron were installed so that the whole width of the bund could be barred when closed.

In December 1925 Shanghai policeman Maurice Tinkler made a weekend trip to Chinkiang for a Masonic installation and in his letters described the port as: ‘a glimpse of ‘the good old China’ of the earlier white men, when hospitality was the keynote of everything.’ The ‘uncrowned king’ of the concession was U.J. Kelly, ‘secretary of the Doric Lodge, Chief of Police, Fire Department, Secretary of the British Municipal Council and of all the Clubs’ and even that meant ‘very little work’ claimed Tinkler. Kelly supervised thirty Chinese policemen who made sure that the gates of the British Concession were locked every night.


Hankow along with Wuchang and Hanyang was one of the three towns that merged to become the modern day city of Wuhan. Hankow on the left side of the Yangtse river was where foreigners settled when the city opened as a Treaty Port in 1861. The British, Russian French, German and Japanese concessions were much smaller than in Shanghai and limited to an area near the river. In Hankow’s British Concession a British Municipal Council ran a police force, a hospital and a militia – the Hankow British Volunteer Corps. The activities of the council were documented in their annual reports and budgets which if extant should contain information on the policing of Hankow. Photos on the internet show that like the other Treaty Ports the police force employed both Sikhs and Chinese.




Government House (Source:

Weihaiwei on the northeastern coast of China was leased to the United Kingdom from 1898 until 1930. The territory, controlling the seaward approaches to Peking, covered 288 square miles with Port Edward as the capital. The port served as a summer anchorage for the Royal Navy’s China Station, occasional port of call for Royal Navy vessels and a holiday resort for British expatriates. The Weihaiwei Regiment was formed in 1898, saw action during the Boxer Rebellion and on disbandment in 1906 some of the soldiers formed a permanent police force with three British Colour Sergeants as police inspectors. In 1910 the police force comprised three European Inspectors and 55 Chinese constables.

During the seamen’s strike of 1922 in Hong Kong 50 Wehaiwei men were recruited as Hong Kong Police constables. They were known as the D Contingent and their service numbers were pre-fixed with letter ‘D’ to differentiate them from the European ‘A’, Indian ‘B’ and Cantonese ‘C’ Contingents.

Weihaiwei was returned to Chinese rule on October 1st 1930 apart from Liugong Island that was leased for a further ten years. It was occupied by the Royal Navy until the Japanese landed in 1940.

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Inspectors Whittaker, Crudge & Forcey, Weihaiwei Police (?) undated (Source: The Stewart Lockahart Photographic Archive)


Schiff cartoon (Source: Maskee, A Shanghai Sketchbook)

In a 2000 article Robert Bickers asked the question ‘Who were the Shanghai Municipal Police and why were they there?’. There is no official history of the SMP but in ‘Empire Made Me – An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai’ (2004) and his website he gave us the answer.

‘Empire Made me’ is a biography of World War One veteran and Shanghai Municipal Policeman Richard Maurice Tinkler. After demotion for being drunk on duty he resigned and took on a series of dead end jobs that ended in June 1939 when he was bayoneted by Japanese soldiers. A former colleague described Tinkler as ‘a nasty piece of work’ and his racism towards the Chinese is partly explained by the realisation that in Shanghai he was at the bottom of European society. Most SMP recruits of the period were demobbed soldiers, UK police officers or working class manual labourers. Sharing a similar social background many shared the same prejudices.

The only contemporary police account – ‘Shanghai Policeman’ (1937) by E.W. Peters is a ghost written memoir aimed more at re-habilitating Peters’ reputation than to entertain. In 1936 Peters faced a murder charge with another officer for removing a beggar from the streets and throwing him in a creek. Despite strong evidence both foreign sergeants were acquitted by the jury and compulsorily resigned from the force.

The story of the Shanghai river policeman Joseph Munz and incidents provoked by the Sikh detachment remind us that the SMP and other Treaty Ports policemen were there to serve and protect the interests of the western business community and their Municipal Councils. The Chinese masses beyond the concession boundaries were a source of disease and danger best kept at arm’s length.

The Shanghai Municipal Council’s London agents, John Pook & Co. ensured a steady stream of recruits to the SMP and thanks to the power of the internet and genealogical research their stories have survived. In the smaller Treaty Ports there were only a handful of European police officers recruited from locally retired soldiers or seconded from London and Shanghai. They seem to have left no stories, letters or diaries but who knows what forgotten records are still to be discovered in attics around the world.


Friedrich Schiff cartoon (Source: Empire Made Me)


Hong Kong Detective (1962) Kenneth Andrew

Empire Made Me (2004) Robert Bickers

New Frontiers Imperialism’s New Communities in East Asia 1842-1953 (2000) Edited by Robert Bickers Christian Henriot

The Raj on Nanjing Road: Sikh Policemen in Treaty-Port Shanghai, JSTOR November 2012, Isabella Jackson

Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai and other Treaty Ports of China (1908) edited by Arnold Wright




Let’s Go Brandon

Let’s Go Brandon

HONGKONGKILL (2)From the 1920s until the 1950s China’s largest and most cosmopolitan city Shanghai (‘The Paradise of Adventurers’, ‘The Paris of the East’, ‘The Whore of Asia’) was the exotic backdrop for pulp fiction, novels, magazine articles and studio bound Hollywood movies. Arguably the best films were ‘Shanghai Express’ (1932) and ‘The Shanghai Gesture’ (1941) both directed by Josef von Sternberg. In May 1949 the city fell to the communists and six months later the founding of the People’s Republic was declared in Beijing. Chiang Kai-shek and the remnants of his nationalist army fled to Taiwan. Foreigners were never officially expelled but living and working in the city became unsustainable and by the early 1950’s most had left.

The Chinese civil war resumed at the end of World War 2 and between 1945 and 1951 refugees fleeing to Hong Kong increased the population from 600,000 to 2.1 million. The relocation of businesses from Shanghai to Hong Kong is now seen as the basis for Hong Kong’s economic success. As the bamboo curtain descended Hong Kong took over Shanghai’s role as ‘The Port of a Thousand Dangers’, ‘The World’s Worst Spy Nest’ and one of ‘The Sin Capitals of the World’. Cheaply produced black and white B movies including; ‘Target Hong Kong’ (1953), ‘Flight to Hong Kong’ (1956), ‘Hong Kong Affair’ (1958) and ‘Hong Kong Confidential’ (1958) capitalized on the city’s cliched reputation. Publication of Richard Mason’s novel ‘The World of Suzie Wong’ in 1957 and a hit stage play reinforced the image. In March 1958 Ian Fleming released his sixth James Bond novel ‘Dr No’ with an Oriental villain and the first in the series to receive literary criticism. Paul Johnson of the New Statesman opened his review, ‘Sex, Snobbery and Sadism’, with: ‘I have just finished what is, without doubt, the nastiest book I have ever read’.

Hong Kong was becoming world famous for the wrong reasons and also in 1958 Bryan Peters chose the city as setting for his first spy novel – ‘Hong Kong Kill’.


Tangier…Frisco…Tokyo…Macao…Hong Kong. By 1956 Shanghai no longer made the cut as one of the world’s  ‘Sin Capitals‘.


BRYAN PETERSBryan Peters was a pen name of Peter Bryan George, RAF officer and author, who wrote nine novels between 1952 and 1965. He is best known for ‘Red Alert’ a 1958 Cold War thriller that was the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 black comedy ‘Dr Strangelove or; How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’. George was born in Treorchy, Wales in 1924. During World War 2 he served as a Flight Lieutenant and navigator flying missions over Malta and Italy. He reenlisted in 1951 and began writing crime fiction and spy novels often with the threat of nuclear annihilation as a recurring theme. On June 1st  1966 George’s wife found him dead in his chair, a discharged shotgun between his knees. It was reported that he had been depressed and unwell. The author Brian Aldiss wrote later that George was ‘a victim of the demon alcohol. He would start with a sip of whisky and wake up a fortnight later in a Glaswegian gutter.’ Aldiss also stated that George was ‘suffering fear and pain about the threat of nuclear war’. Two of his spy novels – Hong Kong Kill (1958) and The Big H (1961) featured British agent Anthony Brandon and CIA operative Jess Lundstrom battling Chinese assassins and Russian drug dealers.


Hong Kong Kill opens with Anthony Brandon, agent in the Far East section of ‘The Department’, waiting for another mission. His background is vague, presumably to be revealed in later novels, but:

‘from Malaya eastwards… that was his own piece of jungle. He knew it, and its human animals, and the language they spoke’.

Like Bond he is in ‘splendid physical condition’ despite a diet of rare steak, draught Bass, three packs a day of Pall Mall king size cigarettes and all night poker games. When a fellow agent is tortured, killed and dumped in the sea by the Chinese Extermination Section (code name – Yellowknife) he gets his mission:

‘I want the Yellowknife organisation in Hong Kong identified and smashed. I want the head man of it, preferably alive. I’ll accept him dead if I have to.’

With a .357 Smith & Wesson Magnum in his briefcase, Beretta Bantam in his shoulder holster, half a million dollars credited to the Chartered Bank and customs clearance waived Brandon is on the next British Overseas Airways Corporation (B.O.A.C.) flight to Hong Kong.

Bantam Beretta

The lightweight Beretta Bantam. Bond also favoured a Beretta until Dr No when he was ordered to replace it with a Walther PPK.


Cat (2)In October 1959 Ian Fleming flew B.O.A.C. 7,000 miles from London to Hong Kong via Zurich, Beirut, Bahrain, New Delhi and Bangkok in 26 hours. He enjoyed the service as did Brandon who after landing heads for the Kai Tak terminal bar where he pulls up a stool next to two Civil Air Transport (C.A.T.) stewardesses and orders:

‘a cold bottle of the beer he considered to be the finest lager in the world.’

One of the founders of C.A.T. in 1946 was General Claire Lee Chennault of the Flying Tigers who purchased war surplus planes, recruited veterans and flew CATmissions in support of Nationalist China. Headquartered in Taipei the airline was sold to the CIA in 1950 but the regular passenger service continued as a cover. At the end of the 1950’s the CIA retained the name for half its fleet naming the other half Air America. C.A.T. ceased operations in 1968 after the crash of a Boeing 727 near Linkou in Northern Taiwan.

Fleming’s 007 was the king of product placement but he would have turned his nose up at bottled beer. Brandon muses on a well-known local brand:

‘The cold beer coursed down his throat with the refreshing cleanness of a mountain spring…San Miguel beer, he thought was yet another reason for preferring Hong Kong to Singapore. The Chinese characters for the beer meant ‘life’ and ‘force. And that was just what it had. He drank the second glass more slowly, savouring the mild tangy flavour to which he always returned with fresh pleasure. The beer was brewed in the colony at a splendid modern brewery out in the New Territories. Brandon remembered it had always been a great favourite with the British troops out there – though it often acted as a trap for the unwary ones fresh from England who were deceived by its apparent mildness’.

In 1955 San Miguel Brewery installed Hong Kong’s largest neon sign on top of the China Fleet Club on Gloucester Road opposite Police Headquarters. Established in 1890 as a brewery in the Philippines the San Miguel Corporation started its international brewing business in Hong Kong in 1948. Ian Fleming declared the Hong Kong product: ‘a very unencouraging brew’. A few old hands swear by it but since the mid 1990’s it has been largely overtaken by sales of the Philippines brewed San Miguel.


The China Fleet Club Royal Navy.

Brandon takes the non air conditioned B.O.A.C. bus to the Peninsula Hotel and is amused at his fellow passenger’s reaction to the smell from Kai Tak Nullah. The nullah is a 2.4km watercourse collecting water from rivers and streams flowing from the nearby hills emptying into the Kwun Tong Typhoon Shelter. For many residents and returning visitors the toxic smell on a hot day was a more memorable reminder of their return than even the famous landing at runway 13/31.

After alighting at the Peninsula Hotel Brandon takes the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour and then a rickshaw to the Sunning House Hotel in Causeway Bay. In a nod to Suzie Wong Brandon flirts with two Chinese girls on the ferry who are inevitably wearing cheongsams and cracking melon seeds. In the 1940’s there were an estimated 100,000 rickshaw pullers in Shanghai but after 1949 rickshaws were banned regarded as a symbol of working class oppression. The last rickshaw license in Hong Kong was issued in 1975 and in 2017 only three old men were licensed one of whom posed for photographs on The Peak.

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Sunning House Hotel demolished and replaced by Sunning Plaza. The Sunning Restaurant opened in 1948 is now at Percival St.

Locking his firearms in the hotel safe Brandon heads out to Conder’s Bar to meet CIA contact Jess Lundstrom. Conder’s Bar at 22A Queen’s Road Central was run by the real life Jack Conder an ex-Shanghai Municipal Policeman who escaped from Japanese internment by trekking across China. The fictional Brandon had known Jack in Shanghai and now:

‘like so many Englishmen who had lived in Shanghai pre-war, he took Hong Kong as the only possible substitute for what Shanghai had once been’.

As they reminisce Brandon drinks a large bottle of San Miguel:

‘an enjoyment made more intense by the familiar sight of the alligator which hung suspended over the bar, a realistic replica of a human foot protruding gruesomely from between its formidable jaws.’

During a steak dinner at Jimmy’s Kitchen he learns about the mysterious Lily Wang head of the Chengtu Corporation a front for heroin smuggling from China to the US.

Jimmy’s Kitchen in Wyndham Street Central closed in 2020 after 92 years, a victim not just of the pandemic but also soaring rents, an over-priced menu and decline in quality. The writing was on the wall in 2018 when the restaurant closed temporarily with a new head chef acknowledging that its traditional food had deviated wildly from traditional recipes.

The founder of Jimmy’s Kitchen Aaron Landau was the son of a Jewish refugee in Shanghai and together with an American ex-sailor Jimmy James they opened a modest bar and restaurant. In 1928 Aaron moved his family and business to Hong Kong with the restaurant located in the 1950’s at Theatre Lane. In its heyday Jimmy’s Kitchen hosted celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Charlie Jk (2)Chaplin, Orson Welles, John Wayne and William Holden. The huge menu had dishes now seldom seen such as Mulligatawny Soup, Beetroot and Vegetable Borscht (from our Shanghai days), Dover Sole, Corned Beef Hash, Wong Beef Rice, Baked Alaska and Knickerbocker Glory along with a bowl of pickled onions on each table.

Undated newspaper advertisement – when both the food and the prices were special.

Hong Kong Kill meanders along with predictable guidebook locations thrown in; Mid Levels, the Peak tram, Boundary Street, Repulse Bay and more steak dinners at the Repulse Bay Lido and Champagne Room. The murder of his Eurasian girlfriend Susie Pereira finally spurs Brandon to violence and his showdown with Lily Wang.

                                 REPULSEBAYLIDO (2)

The Art Deco Repulse Bay Lido in 1955 front view with swimming section, sun deck, cabins & cubicles facing the bay. (Source: Jennifer Fresco Pinterest)


In the final part of the novel Brandon and Lundstrom race to San Francisco to arrest Mr Li mastermind of the heroin smuggling ring as he flees from Hong Kong.

‘From now on Li counted only as a source of information, as a man who could supply the details needed to crack open the Yellowknife organizations wherever they existed’.

Yellowknife, the Oriental SPECTRE, is left active as a plot device for further adventures.


The hardcover version of Hong Kong Kill begins with an Author’s Note omitted from the paperback version:

‘This story is fiction. Unfortunately, most of the incidents in it are not. Brandon exists, though not under the name I have given him. Lily Wang exists too, though that was not the name under which she operated either. But Brandon still lives. While he does, and all those other nameless people who voluntarily walk in that savage other world, we can feel reasonably content that the other world will not encroach on our carefully balanced, peaceful lives. That was not the reason this story was written, but it is its justification’.

It’s possible Hong Kong Kill was written without George setting foot in Hong Kong but his author’s note, introduction of the real Jack Conder and local detail suggests at least a brief visit either as a tourist or on official duty. A newspaper reference to the Suez Crisis and Brandon getting caught up in the Double Tenth riots dates the story to October 1956.

Hong Kong was the first stop on Ian Fleming’s ‘Thrilling Cities’ world tour and he wasn’t disappointed:

‘Hong Kong is the most vivid and exciting city I have ever seen…It seems to have everything – modern comfort in a theatrically oriental setting’.

Apart from a reference to Bond ending the war in Hong Kong as Commander RNVR he never went there in Fleming’s stories. Out of print since 1960 Hong Kong Kill fills in what Bond might have faced had he taken a flight to Hong Kong.

According to a 2021 Time Out list the top five books set in Hong Kong were: The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carre, Tai-Pan by James Clavell, The World of Suzie Wong by Richard Mason, The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum and Gweilo by Martin Booth. Hong Kong Kill probably wouldn’t make the top 50 but on closer reading it is a semi-accurate recreation of Hong Kong in the 1950’s.

In 1954 UK born Dan Waters was offered a teaching post in the Hong Kong civil service.

‘You’re going to the Far East?!’ an acquaintance exclaimed. ‘The communists have just acquired half Korea. There’s fighting in Vietnam and Malaya. Hong Kong will be the next to fall!’.

Waters, a veteran of the Eighth Army, was undeterred and went on to become a best-selling local author. Reminiscing for the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society he recalled the tense atmosphere in the post war period with frequent parades and shows of military strength to boost local confidence. Conscription was still in force; men in their 20’s joined the Royal Hong Kong Regiment (The Volunteers), those in their 30’s the Special Constabulary and older men Essential Services like air raid warden duties.

In 1949 Mao ordered the People’s Liberation Army to stop at the Shenzhen / Hong Kong border. Hong Kong stayed a British Crown Colony but the threat remained and along with the fresh water supply allowed the Chinese to apply pressure when it suited their interests. They decided ultimately on a long-term strategy not to overthrow or destabilise the Hong Kong Government because of the colony’s economic value.

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British troops patrolling the New Territories (Source: LIFE Magazine).

In his novels George voiced his own fears about the cold war and threat of nuclear destruction through his characters. As Brandon walks across the baking concrete apron to the terminal at Kai Tak he observes the few RAF planes and wonders how long they would survive:

‘against the hundreds of Migs that could come screaming across the frontier’

in support of human wave attacks. The garrison’s only hope was to hold out long enough for carrier borne jets of the US Seventh Fleet to intervene. Behind the front line the civil authorities faced threats from fifth column activity, sabotage and Yellowknife’s plans to assassinate key defence personnel down to Chief Superintendent of Police and Lieutenant-Colonel level.

During World War 2 Hong Kong lacking effective air cover fell to the Japanese on Christmas Day 1941 after only 18 days of fighting. Three days into the battle on 11th December the Hong Kong Police received intelligence that triad gangs numbering around 60,000 were planning to murder all Europeans on the 13th to speed up the inevitable British defeat. The Commissioner of Police was forced to hold a meeting with representatives from five triad societies at which triad control of ‘protection’ rackets was conceded in return for the plot to be abandoned. During the Korean War in 1950 as UN forces moved rapidly towards China’s border on the Yalu River the People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) crossed over and entered the war. Thousands of Chinese soldiers launched deadly human wave attacks against U.S. and Republic of Korea troops driving them back to a stalemate at the 38th parallel.

In 1959 Ian Fleming, the former naval intelligence officer, was more optimistic about the remainder of Hong Kong’s borrowed time:

‘The fact that six hundred and fifty million Communist Chinese are a few miles away across the frontier seems only to add zest to the excitement at all levels of life in the colony, and from the Governor down, if there is an underlying tension, there is certainly no dismay. Obviously China could take Hong Kong by a snap of its giant fingers, but China has shown no signs of wishing to do so,’.

Today Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world but in 1945 there were only 600,000 residents. As a result of voluntary escape or forced expulsion by the Japanese around one million Chinese had left for the mainland. As the communist victory drew near this movement of refugees was reversed with an estimated 1.4 million people fleeing from Shanghai to Hong Kong. Many rebuilt their fortunes in textiles, clothing and other light industries like toy and plastics manufacturing. By 1956 Hong Kong had a population of 2.5 million and the influx of Shanghainese influenced not only the economy but many aspects of society from the entertainment industry to barber shops, fashion, food, and politics. Well known politicians with family origins in Shanghai include CHEONGSAM (2)Hong Kong Chief Executives Tung Chee-hwa and Carrie Lam along with Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan.

Brandon brought up in Shanghai speaking Mandarin is more comfortable with these ‘northerners’ as the Cantonese called them.  The characters he interacts with: Susie Pereira, Jack Conder, his Shanghainese hotel manager and childhood friend Superintendent ‘Bill’ of the Hong Kong Police are all refugees from happier times in Shanghai.

The cheongsam introduced from the mainland to Hong Kong and Taiwan by Shanghai tailors.

The two female characters Susie Pereira and Lily Wang are standard Asian stereotypes of the time. Susie, half Portuguese, half Chinese runs the shady Szechuan Palace Restaurant & Nightclub in Kowloon as a front for intelligence gathering. She has violence in her blood and the morals of an alley cat’ but a childlike devotion to Brandon. Susie’s violent death is the catalyst for action and justifies Brandon’s cold-blooded execution of Lily Wang. The theme of interracial romance was common in films and books set in the Far East but inevitably ended in tragedy for the heroine as a subtle reminder that east is east and west is west.

Lily Wang, ‘with lithe greyhound slimness…pride in her walk and arrogance in her glance’ is the standard evil ‘Dragon Lady’ character, mysterious and beautiful but ultimately deceitful and dangerous.

‘Beautiful,’ Brandon tells himself, ‘this woman I have come ten thousand miles to kill!’.


The ‘Dragon Lady’ stereotype popularised in the 1940’s comic strip ‘Terry & the Pirates’.

Han Suyin, the Chinese born Eurasian doctor and author is best remembered for her novel ‘A Many Splendoured Thing’ set in Hong Kong between 1949 to 1950. Apart from being a love story it is one of the best depictions of Hong Kong at that time and the racial attitudes experienced by the Eurasian community, not accepted by the Chinese and not fully trusted by the British.

In the 1955 film version; ‘Love is a Many-Splendored Thing’, American actress Jennifer Jones was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Han Suyin. With taped eyes and prosthetics to appear more Asian her performance is derided now as yet another example of ‘yellowface’. Acknowledging the prejudice from her family and colonial Hong Kong society she declares:

‘I’m Eurasian. The word itself seems to suggest a certain moral laxity in the minds of some people. People never think of the meaning of words. They only feel them’.

Hong Kong Kill’s violent climax takes place during the Double Tenth riots in Kowloon. Tensions were always high in October around the national holidays. October 1st is celebrated as the foundation date of the People’s Republic while October 10th is the anniversary of the Wuchang uprising which led to the establishment of the Chinese republic in 1912. This event is still commemorated by Nationalist supporters and in Taiwan.

On October 10th 1956 removal of the Republic of China flag and a large ‘Double Ten’ emblem by re-settlement officials at Lei Cheng Uk Estate triggered rioting that quickly spread to other parts of Kowloon. In Tsuen Wan four civilians were killed by the mob and the next day a taxi carrying the Swiss Vice Consul Fritz Ernst was overturned and set on fire in Nathan Road. Ernst survived but his wife and the driver later died from their injuries. Triad gangs began looting and three army battalions were deployed to assist the police.  Major disorder was suppressed by midnight on October 11th at the cost of 59 dead and 500 injured. Four convicted rioters were later hanged for murder. Enquiries concluded that the riots had been orchestrated by Nationalist agents provocateurs and affiliated triad gangs who had fled from China.RENNIESMILL (2)

Tiu Keng Leng / Rennie’s Mill or ‘Little Taiwan’. Widespread display of Nationalist flags was last seen in October 1996.

George’s sub-plot on heroin smuggling is also based on fact. Between 1947 and 1950 almost the entire Shanghai underworld including the notorious Green Gang migrated to Hong Kong. Their chemists began to produce high grade heroin not previously seen before in the colony.

Brandon and Bond are fictional characters but a story in Hong Kong’s Standard newspaper in 2014 – ‘High-profile funeral for James Bond’ suggested that maybe Hong Kong really was the ‘Berlin of Asia’ in the 1950s.

HK BONDThe funeral of John Tsang Chao-ko, vice chairman of Guangdong Provincial People’s Congress and former English professor at Jinan University was held in Guangzhou with 200 guests attending and a wreath sent by President Xi Jinping. In November 1961 Tsang had been deported from Hong Kong after discovery of a spy network he ran to steal and photograph secret colonial government documents about the colony’s defences and internal security. At the time he was the most senior Chinese officer in the Hong Kong Police Force, a former bodyguard of the Hong Kong Governor and Deputy Commandant of the Police Training School. He was dubbed ‘Hong Kong’s first spy’ because up to then none had been publicly named, the ‘Spy dragged in from cold’ and inevitably James Bond in the English language press.

Hong Kong Kill isn’t likely to be re-printed. If it was the author’s note would be replaced with a warning about outdated attitudes on race, gender and cultural stereotyping. For those interested in Hong Kong’s post war history it’s an easy read just about worth the cost of postage and packing.

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Hong Kong Kill (1958) – Bryan Peters

Thrilling Cities (1963) – Ian Fleming

The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (1972) – Alfred W.McCoy

Hong Kong in the 1950s and ‘60s: Reminiscences – Dan Waters, Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Vol. 42 (2002) – Commander – I: ‘The Life and Death of Author Peter George, alias Peter Bryant / Bryan Peters, co-writer of Dr. Strangelove; inc. Bibliography, 19thOctober 2012

‘High-profile funeral for ‘James Bond’’ – The Standard (HK) 30thDecember 2014

‘Jimmy’s Kitchen closes to restore standards and traditional recipes as head chef and manager vows to burnish restaurant’s legend’ – SCMP 23rdApril 2018

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