Fionnuala McHugh, The Daily Telegraph, November 29, 2013
In December, Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel turns 85. The Grand Old Lady is the offspring of a business started by two brothers, Ellis and Elly Kadoorie, who came to China from Iraq in the late 19th century. Consolidating various ventures, they founded Hongkong and Shanghai hotels, the former colony’s oldest, officially-registered company, in 1923. Five years later, the Peninsula opened on a dubious piece of land, across the harbour from Hong Kong island, called Kowloon. Having been acquired by the British in 1898, Kowloon was imperial territory but, still - it had a slightly seedy reputation.
That changed when the Colonial Secretary, Thomas Southorn, was invited as guest of honour to the opening. Archive footage of him, and a great many beaming grandees, can now be seen in a 45-minute documentary film, Tradition Well Served, which was premiered in the hotel on Thursday by the company’s chairman and Sir Elly’s grandson, Sir Michael Kadoorie.
It was produced by Elaine Forsgate Marden, who made a shorter version in the 1990s, after being given 28 rolls of film from a local Chinese family’s private collection. The up-dated version, directed by Libby Halliday Palin (no relation to Michael), includes additional archive material and modern, behind-the-scenes events from all nine Peninsula hotels.
The international coverage is also pretty compelling. There’s a clip of William Holden presenting the Oscar to Grace Kelly in the Peninsula Beverly Hills section, which must have come as a surprise to Stefanie Powers, who attended the Hong Kong screening and was Holden’s former lover – but it’s the black-and-white images of pre-war Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong that seize the heart. Like the young Chinese ladies, giggling and prancing their youth away in hotel salons, those three cities now bear only the faintest, whispered resemblance to their past.
The film is available to all Peninsula guests . Anyone seeking searing historical analysis, however, will have to look elsewhere. There’s no mention of the British surrender to the Japanese at the Hong Kong Peninsula on Christmas Day 1941, and certainly no reference to Sir Michael’s childhood in a Shanghainese prisoner-of-war camp.
But there’s a jolly snippet of conversation between Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and Lord Kadoorie, Michael’s father, in which they compare ages. Lord Kadoorie, then 86, wins by six years. Deng, having negotiated the handover of Hong Kong with Margaret Thatcher the previous year, willingly concedes that point of history.