Tuesday, August 08, 2006


A Cigar Is Never Just A Cigar

Some of the performers at this years Edinburgh Fringe have had the temerity to attempt to get into character for their roles. One, Mel Smith, who is playing Winston Churchill in the play 'Allegiance', had the nerve to actually presume he could smoke a cigar during his performance. After all, Churchill was famous for his love of cigars, booze and good food, all of which would of course immediately disqualify him from standing for office in these enlightened times. Still, portraying his character as, you know, his character couldn't be any harm, could it?

Not a bit of it. The artistic director of the venue pointed out:

'"I was told before his first performance on Monday by the council's chief enforcement officer that if Mel had smoked on stage I would have been given a £1,000 fine and he would shut down the entire premises."'

'"It was an extremely serious situation because he said he would also never give me a licence again."'

Welcome to authoritarianism. An unelected council busybody could propose a staggering fine and the permanent closure of a theatre because an actor had the temerity to smoke a cigar, as the real-life character he played did. Favourite lines:

'Mel Smith hit out at the Scottish Parliament last month, saying the smoking ban would have delighted Churchill's arch-enemy Adolf Hitler.'

I think even Hitler would have drawn the line before this.

Of course, the actor had to back down, but this is absiolutely staggering. What kind of a country do we live in? It reminds me of a line in the epilogue of 'Thank You For Smoking', where the crusading anti-smoking senator proposes editing the smoking out of old films:

Interviewer: 'What do you say to the accusation that you're changing history?'
Senator: 'I don't think so . . . [pauses] . . . I think we're improving history.'

Probably the most depressing part of the smoking ban. It's actually fairly creepy. The idea that a dispensation for a lit fag/cigar/pipe can't be made for theatre is absurd. It's not about health by this point anyway. It's about neutering the influence of tobacco, even as a prop of some historic significance.

"Heres Winston Churchill" they'll crow, "Look how we fixed it so he looks completely absurd puffing on an unlit stogie. Don't you see the message we're sending out here?"
We had a similar row when a FDR exhibit had the balls to show pictures of the man smoking his effete little cigarettes through the effete little holder, and, good God! in his wheelchair.

The future is safe if we only scrub the past enough.
The council's argument was that they don't draw real blood when they fight on stage, so why must they smoke real smoke? Following this line, why should they use "real" people in plays - why not just have the whole things done with shadow puppets. Council muppets!
Ill Man - That is exactly right. It's long since not been about health - if it ever was. It is about control, pure and simple, and the desire these petty bureaucrats have for homogenising and standardising our lives. One of their best tactics is the neutering of history, and that's what's happening here.

SafeT - To think! A man with polio who wasn't totally reliant on other's to make the 'right' choices! For shame!

Kieran - Lol! God, how I hate local council types. First against the wall, etc etc.
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