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« Oi, you, put that fag out! | Main | The Smoking Years tonight on BBC4 »

The BBC thanks ... Cecilia Farren

Last night's The Smoking Years on BBC4 was the proverbial game of two halves.

The first half was an interesting and occasionally unexpected slice of social history. I certainly didn't expect to hear a former president of the British Medical Association (filmed in 1999) say:

"Monty [Field Marshal Montgomery] went round handing out cigarettes to the soldiers. He encouraged everyone to smoke and certainly in the war we smoked and it really was when you were rather short of food, and food was rather boring, smoking was quite a help, I must say."

The academic from Birmingham University (I didn't catch his name) was measured and articulate. So too was Chris Snowdon (Velvet Glove Iron Fist) and when other familiar faces – cigar loving Simon Chase (Hunters & Frankau) and James Leavey (Forest Guide to Smoking in London) – appeared on screen I gave a silent cheer.

The second half was far less balanced. Pubs, for example, were portrayed (even by smokers such as Leavey) as so fuggy that you could barely see the bar. We've all been in pubs like that but even before the smoking ban they had become the exception rather than the norm.

Likewise, according to Stuart Maconie (another smoker), you had to feel your way around the top of a bus when people were smoking.

At times it felt like a different programme and the final third could best be described as the Cecilia Farren Show. We learned that Farren (the founder of GASP) is an ex-smoker who was converted to a life without tobacco when she met a man who was both "fit and fit!". He was a clean living guy, apparently, and snogging him was such a life changing experience Farren not only gave up smoking, she became an ardent anti-smoker.

Cue lots of still photos and videos of Farren as a young woman and campaigner. (I assume this was why she got a special credit at the end, under the heading "The BBC thanks". None of the other interviewees was honoured in this way.)

There was something rather hippyish about these images. Farren was portrayed as an ingenue fighting the dark forces of Big Tobacco on behalf of a grateful silent majority. No mention of the fact that GASP is now a highly successful commercial enterprise. Or the role of the pharmaceutical industry in the relentless drive towards an intolerant and illiberal 'smoke free' world.

In fact, there wasn't a single dissenting voice against the tobacco taliban. Instead The Smoking Years concluded with the narrator declaring:

The smoker, a breed for too long favoured and catered for by society, is now being hounded. Forbidden to display the traits for which it was celebrated, as the singular animal amongst the herd, the smoker today is a diminished, anguished, exhausted creature.

A culture once shockingly in love with the American leaf is fading away, its lost aroma too nostalgic for some, too acrid for most, profitable for the few.

The smoker is a truly endangered species yet it seems to be accepting its fate to live in a smoke free world.

This was truly bizarre because it bore little relation to the initial tone of the programme, which was far more neutral. It was as if two scripts had collided and been welded together.

The Smoking Years wasn't bad but it could and should have been so much better.

Verdict: a wasted opportunity. Oh, and I'd to know why the BBC felt the need to "thank" Cecilia Farren. She should be thanking the BBC for the exposure!!

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Reader Comments (4)

and in a democracy, minorities are catered for - not stigmatised, marginalised, abused and excluded.

Both sides of this debate were catered for before the ban which was about culture change and not health. If non smokers have rights - then so do smokers!

In democracy - their right to clean air - if such a thing exists anyway - ends where our right to free association in public with our own kind starts.

Anti-smokerism is regressive because it ignores technological solutions to smoke in favour of keeping the problem of smoke or banning people from communities that it despises

Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 18:42 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Of course, in this democracy people could go and sign the petition to have smoking rooms debated in parliament, couldn't they? How's it going?

Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 20:03 | Unregistered Commentersimon (nsc)

Give us your side's funding and we'd show you. Smokerphobia harms you and others around you.

Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 21:36 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

It's a shame, isn't it, that smoking is not a de rigueur aspect of Islam. We'd have none of these bans if it were.

Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 22:05 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

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