Gingle Becomes Tweedie – Ernest Gann’s Soldier of Fortune

I was made aware of Gann’s account of his meeting with Gingle by the poster IDJ on the Gwulo website.

Gann always calls him ‘Gingles’ but the best sources have ‘Gingle’. I’ve kept Gann’s references as they are while using ‘Gingle’ in my own text.

In my last post I quoted Ernest Gann’s autobiography to show that he decided to use Gingle’s restaurant as a locale in his novel because he found it provided the right colour for a story of intrigue, romance and double-dealing. I also suggested that consciously or unconsciously he’d decided to get his revenge on Gingle for the reception he’d accorded him – it seems that the restaurateur suspected he was an agent of the American Government sent to spy on him, and threatened him with dire consequences if he didn’t leave Hong Kong fast. Gann had stayed around, but first arranging for a police bodyguard to protect him from any harm that Gingle might have tried to make come his way.

In Soldier of Fortune Gingle is called Tweedie and his restaurant is therefore Tweedie’s Place. Fiction enables Gann to rewrite the real-life plot – which a hostile reader might describe as ‘genuine Yankee hard man sees off thinks-he’s-tough aviator who runs blabbing to the Brit police and gets himself babied around until he slinks out of Hong Kong’! Seriously, Gann obviously was a courageous man, and an accomplished writer (although I think this is best seen in his autobiography rather than his novels, if Solider of Fortune is anything to go by). He was obviously sensible to take Gingle’s threats seriously, and few writers have been above using their fiction to take their revenge on insults dished out in real life. In the novel this revenge comes when Tweedie/Gingle meets his nemesis: the super-tough eponymous Soldier of Fortune Henry (‘Hank’) Lee.

Hank had deserted from the American Navy in the last months of the war and drifted into Hong Kong where he makes an excellent but risky living selling embargoed ‘strategic materials’ to the Reds. He’s so tough everyone’s scared of him and so clever the police can’t touch him. But he has a heart of gold underneath and he’s bringing up two children as a single father. Then a lady walks into his life.

Jane Hoyt is very different from Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson in most ways, but she’s like her in one big thing: without being conventionally very attractive, she effortlessly makes almost all men fall in love with her. Which is lucky, because without Hank and other admirers she’d have no chance of fulfilling the mission which brought her to Hong Kong – rescuing her husband Louis, a photographer held by the Reds after he slipped into China in search of career-making shots.

‘Tweedie’s Place’ lies almost hidden on a side street off Kowloon’s main thoroughfare, Nathan Road, and like its real-life counterpart enjoys a ore than local fame – Tweedie’s place catered for sailor men and flying men and so was known all over the world.

There are no fights here – anyone who raised a fist was banned and this was the ‘worst thing’ that could happen to a sailor or flyer in search of ‘easy company.’ Tweedie always points out it’s ‘a gentleman’s place’, and he keeps a ‘two-by-four’ (a piece of lumber of those dimensions) behind the bar to make sure it remains so.

Gingle was still alive when the novel was published, so, to provide a defence to a possible libel charge, Gann changes the restaurant owner’s striking appearance by squeezing upwards: the fat becomes an elongated neck, and he’s known to his intimates as ‘the Giraffe’ – a name given him when he was a cook in the barque ‘Penang’, which he ‘jumped’ in the 1920s, staying in Hong Kong ever since. (For the varying accounts of Gingle’s arrival in the 1930s after a career as a naval cook see

Gann seems to have confused ideas about the fate of Hong Kong civilians during the war, but his account does seem to echo Gingle’s experience of the Ma Tau Wai in Kowloon:

The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong was a particularly difficult time for Tweedie, who, along with all held prisoner with all other white civilians was held prisoner in the compound on Nathan Road.
Ernest K. Gann, Soldier of Fortune, Companion Book Club, 1956 (first published 1954), 43.
Hereafter Soldier.

Gingle, of course, was first in Stanley and then had a couple of years ‘free’ before internment in Kowloon (

I’m not sure how far the description of Tweedie’s place reflects its real life model. It’s got wicker chairs to make any fights that do break out less lethal – a photo on this sight shows this wasn’t the case at Gingle’s in 1949:

But, we’re told that Tweedie used chequered table cloths – because he thought they were homey and they cut down on the laundry bill because you could spool a lot without having to change it – and such a cloth can be seen in the photo (from the late 1940s) I put at the head of the last post ( I suspect that the table in that photo is the original of Tweedie’s personal table, at which he holds court to invited guests only from mid-afternoon to late at night. (All these details, Soldier, 43)

We’re also told that there’s a smaller more intimate room with photos of ships and autographs of the famous and near famous who have frequented the restaurant. This sounds highly likely to be based on fact, but I’ve not yet been able to find any proof that such a room existed at Gingle’s.

The two tough bar staff that Gann encountered in real life have become three, and they serve as odd jobs men and intelligence gatherers for Tweedie. They’re always there, relics of his ‘lustier days’ and not liking his increasing preference for ‘respectability’. They’re called Gunner, Big Matt (who was an ex-marine guard at the US legation in Peking) and Icky (a man whose age cannot be pinned down more precisely than between 55-75 years). They collect rent from his three tenant farms – we know the real Gingle had one in the New Territories, presumably the Sunnybrook Farm on which he died.

In the old days merchant seamen and sailors from battleships were his only customers, now Tweedie going upmarket, welcoming airmen and their wives. (Soldier, 45-46) Unaccompanied women are not welcomed, though – Tweedie thinks all women are ‘whore’, forced by circumstances to go after men whether through marriage or direct prostitution. He understood this, and thought there was nothing wrong with it, but just didn’t want them seeking such ‘employment’ in his ‘Place’ (Soldier, page 46) So when he sees Jane Hoyt there on his own, he goes to expel her, his reluctance being tribute to her extraordinary attractiveness. Luckily, another admirer the chancer Marty Gates interveners, and Jane now has a companion who can give her useful knowledge of Hong Kong’s shadier circles. (Soldier 47-49).

Tweedie tells Jane her husband’s dead and when she meets Inspector Rodman (a tribute no doubt to one of the real life British police officers who kept Gann safe from Gingle’s attentions) he can’t understand why she can talk about the matter so calmly – Tweedie has good sources and, although he didn’t know everything, there was ‘a great deal he did know’. He hadn’t Rodman thinks, (Soldier, 75) made all that money running a restaurant. It’s worth noting that the Marine Police sent a wreath to the real Gingle’s funeral! ( Either this was a joke, he’d mended his fences in later life, or Gann’s account of him is inaccurate.

Rodman, of course, ends up doing what he can, but all this had been leading up to the big meeting been the irresistibly feminine Jane and the ‘real man’ Hank. Rodman tells Jane about the man she’s heard might be able to help her – ‘Your Henry Lee is a brigand, a pirate, a smuggler and a traitor. He will do anything to make a dollar, and has’. When Jane asks the obvious question as to why he wasn’t in jail then, Rodman replies ‘I neglected to say that he is also extraordinarily clever’. (Soldier, 74.) What woman could resist such a modern-day Lord Byron? And Hank hardly makes even a token effort to avoid falling prey to Jane’s attractions, and is soon on board as Captain of the team being gathered to rescue Louis from the clutches of the Reds. The first thing he needs to do is to get the truth out of Tweedie – why is he so confident the missing man is in fact dead? Hank knows all about Tweedie’s activities, and for a deserter who smuggles forbidden items to the communists, takes a rather high-minded attitude to them:

Tweedie is the worst of the lot, with his racket. The Commies have a sure way of getting American dollars by simply putting the bite on Chinese families in the States. Pay up…. or goodbye to your relatives. Taxes they call it. But a couple of years ago the U. S. government wised up and made such pay-offs illegal. That’s when Tweedie moved in with his messenger service. They send the money to Tweedie and he supposedly gets the relatives in China off the hook. Sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn’t. If he finds out the relatives are already liquidated he keeps the money. Whatever happens, he takes his cut. He’s a crook and that restaurant is only a blind.
Soldier, 104-105

Gann had heard similar things about Gingle and his remittances service – ‘by the time (he) took his cut….very little of it ever reached the relatives’ (Hostage, 481) I should stress that no other account of the real life Gingle mentions such an operation. In any case, I very much doubt that the restaurant was anything other than a legitimate and profitable business; he’d been running a ‘place’ in Kowloon before the war, long before it was possible to make money from remittances sent home by Chinese immigrants in Hong Kong.

Hank decides that he’s going to rescue Louis so that he can take Jane from him man-to-man. By now we would expect no less of him. His first move is to go to Tweedie’s Place and find out from the owner why he told Jane that Louis was dead. Luckily Tweedie’s been scared of Hank ever since he beat up Big Matt – causing $HK3,000 damage to the restaurant in the process. Matt had been sent by his boss to look over Hank’s godowns with a view to extracting information that might give ‘leverage’ to Tweedie in future negotiations about joining Hank in business, but Hank saw this reconnaissance expedition as mere spying (Soldier, 137). Now, this reverses the situation in which Gann was suspected of spying for the US Government by Gingle and is forced to get police protection. Gann’s fictional surrogate is going to get ample revenge for the less than heroic figure cut by his creator.

What’s Tweedie up to while his reputation is being so foully besmirched by the moralistic smuggler? Well, there’s one of Hong Kong’s many typhoons raging outside, and while everyone’s stuck in doors, the aging Madame Dupree and Tweedie’s sidekick Icky find love and, most conveniently, an (albeit defrocked) Methodist minister is on the premises to marry them. (Soldier, 134). Tweedie discovers ‘new-found paternal emotions’ at his protégées improvised wedding. (Soldier, 136). But this softening does him no good. Trouble is on the way.

Hank erupts into Tweedie’s place – HE’S not kept waiting as Gann was – and as part of his generally uncompromising interview technique throws at the hapless restaurateur the leading question, ‘Are you still swiping money?’. This elicits a denial of any ‘swiping’ and a self-delivered tribute to the ‘humane’ nature of the remittances operation. To justify his ‘cut’ Tweedie points to the expenses involved in keeping up his network of informants, and Hank tells him that it’s indeed information he’s after. (Solider, 138-139).

When Tweedie proves rather reticent about Louis Hoyt, in best tough-guy fashion Hank lifts him two inches off the floor and shakes him until his eyes pop. (Soldier, 140). It’s what I would have done, and it has the desired result. Tweedie admits that he set up Hoyt with a junk owner, and that it was the owner who’d reported him dead. He doesn’t know if the report’s true or not, and Hank gives him two days to find out, while refusing to pay for this service – ‘use the dollars you got from Louis Hoyt’ (141). Tweedie, assaulted and humiliated as he’s been, is forced to admit to himself that ‘Hank Lee (is) one hell of a man’. He sets about his task, even enjoying the competition provided by a man of this quality and hoping that nay information he might acquire might also be used to ‘skewer’ him (142).

In fact, Hank finds out that Louis is alive and where he is from other sources, but Tweedie does give him the information that Jane’s probably in Macao and in trouble. The villainous Fernand Rocha has proved strangely impervious to her charms, and has in fact drugged and robbed her when she went over to the Portuguese colony in search of information. He’s been seen cashing her traveller’s cheques at the casino in Central Hotel owned by a powerful figure called Lobo (Pedro Lobo was in fact a real and important figure in Macao). In return for this information, Hank makes what for him is an effusive speech of gratitude and reward:

All right. Thanks. You’re off the hook, Tweedie.
Soldier, 213-214

Hank rescues Jane, administering a well-deserved beating to the villainous Fernand in the process, and packs her off to safety to wait for her husband to be delivered to her. His team consists of a loyal and resourceful Haka (usually Hakka) crewman and a British policeman, Inspector Rodman, who he rather implausibly kidnaps in order to get the help he needs manning the bofors gun with which he’s thoughtfully equipped his motorised junk. Rodman’s presence – he’s jolly sporting about being kidnapped and expected to take part in a life-and-death battle with the Chinese navy – enables Gann to assure his American readers that, although the British are forced to deal with the commies, they are not in fact Red themselves and CAN be relied on if it comes to a fight. Rescuing Louis, who’s naturally facing execution that very day, from a Canton (Guangzhou) prison is a piece of cake, and so is seeing off the pursuing gun-boat. Louis has always known that Jane, although a loving and faithful wife, would one day meet her real soul mate, graciously concedes to the better man, but not without surprising him first: he refuses to eat because he’s saving himself for a steak at Tweedie’s – ‘He may be a crook, but he serves the best food in Hong Kong’ he explains to the incredulous Soldier of Fortune (271).

There’s a final kick at Tweedie in the book’s closing review of the main characters; he sits with Gunner and Big Matt the long table staring at the ceiling and mourning the ‘loss’ of Icky. (286) or all his dreams of ‘skewering’ Hank, Tweedie ends as one of the novel’s losers.

Soldier of Fortune was extraordinarily successful and immediately (1955) made into a Twentieth Century Fox film starring Clark Gable and Susan Hayward( This adaptation didn’t leave out the character of Tweedie, who was played by Tom Tully. So, to the best of my knowledge, Edward Gingle is the first person from the Hong Kong war to have been portrayed (albeit indirectly) on the big screen!


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