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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Ciggies on the screen

Last night my wife and I watched a 1967 black-and-white BBC interview with actor Maggie Smith. It was reasonably interesting, but what really caught our attention immediately was that both she and her interviewer were happily smoking cigarettes on screen. Can you imagine that happening now? Of course not. Indeed, all BBC premises are now no-smoking areas and special permission has to be gained to light up a cigarette if one is required and artistically justified for a drama being shot in a studio.

The Maggie Smith interview took me back to the wonderful film Good Night, and Good Luck about the broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow. Murrow not only smoked during his program -- it was in the 1950s -- but it was sponsored by a cigarette company. Again, can you imagine, say, David Dimbleby puffing away on a cigarette during a live BBC television program? It would be out of the question.

When I worked as a journalist for BBC World Service, smoking was permitted in the newsroom for most of the years I was there. World Service news bulletins were then read at a rather leisurely pace to aid audibility on the shortwave transmissions. This allowed several of the tobacco-addicted newsreaders to smoke during a bulletin. They would inhale deeply between news items and breath out as they read each story. It was an astonishing sight, although many of my colleagues didn't seem to think so at the time.

Finally, on a thinly-related matter, there was once a music hall comedian born Vernon Watson. He wanted to have a more distinctive name, but couldn't think of a suitable one until one day he spotted a No Smoking sign. From them on, he was Nosmo King!

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