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Sunday
Jun252017

Revolt in Style: Forest at The Savoy

Bookings have now closed for the Forest Freedom Dinner at Boisdale of Canary Wharf on Tuesday.

We have 160 guests including MPs, parliamentary researchers, journalists and supporters.

Think tanks and trade associations will be represented. We also have guests flying in from America, Lisbon and Brussels.

Last year's speaker, Rod Liddle, proved so popular we've invited him back and this time we'll film him properly!

I'll post a report after the event.

In the meantime tomorrow sees the publication of a new Forest report concerning the impact of the smoking ban on Britain's pubs.

Next Saturday (July 1) marks the tenth anniversary of the ban in England. We have new figures that show the net loss of pubs in England in the intervening decade, broken down into regions (London, Midlands, North West, North East etc).

I'll post details, with a link to the report, tomorrow.

As it happens it was on June 25, 2007, six days before the ban was enforced, that we hosted our very first Freedom Dinner.

The full title of that event was Revolt In Style: A Freedom Dinner. It was a nod to a track on Sound-On-Sound, the 1979 album by Bill Nelson's Red Noise that, lyrically at least, featured several allusions to George Orwell's '1984'.

'Revolt Into Style' was released as a single on blue vinyl. The previous single, 'Furniture Music', was released on red vinyl. I still have them somewhere.

Given the venue, the magnificent ballroom at The Savoy Hotel in London, and the nature of the event, which was promoted as a "last opportunity to eat, drink and smoke in an enclosed public place", Revolt In Style seemed an appropriate name.

In 2007 I had known Ranald Macdonald, MD of Boisdale Restaurants, for less than a year. We approached him about organising a dinner to mark the smoking ban because we wanted to do something on a reasonably grand scale and given the price I thought we'd have to charge I didn't think we'd get very many people if Forest tried to do it alone.

Ranald was happy to help. Initially however he wanted to host the event at Boisdale of Belgravia which has a capacity of 90 covers. It's also a rather strange shape with lots of nooks and crannies that don't lend themselves to the sort of event I had in mind. I thought we could go bigger.

What I wanted was an event in a larger venue with a proper stage. (Boisdale of Canary Wharf, which has a stage and can accommodate up to 200 diners, didn't open until 2011.)

So we approached The Savoy, organised a meeting with the events department and booked the ballroom for Monday June 25, 2007.

The only problem was, we had less than a month to organise and promote it and our target was 200 guests with tickets priced at £99 each.

Thankfully tickets sold remarkably quickly. Within ten days we'd reached our target of 200 and tickets were still selling.

We eventually sold well over 300 and including comps to MPs, journalists and special guests, a grand total of 390 people attended the event, just short of the ballroom's 400 capacity.

Some, like Claire Fox of the Institute of Ideas, and Rod Liddle, will be with us on Tuesday.

Claire was one of three speakers in 2007. The others were TV chef and Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson, and Andrew Neil, our principal speaker.

Antony was great, Andrew was a revelation. But he wasn't our first choice. That was Boris Johnson.

We contacted one of the agencies that handled Boris's public speaking engagements. Curiously, when quoting his standard price, they issued a gentle warning.

Their client, they said, had a habit of turning up shortly before he was due to speak (ie missing dinner) and leaving very soon after. For this (and a 20-minute speech) we would be charged £10,000.

As it happens we subsequently received word that Boris couldn't do the dinner because Monday was the one evening he apparently kept free so he could more spend time with his family. Or so they said.

In hindsight I think we had a lucky escape. In contrast to Boris Andrew Neil arrived at 7.00 for the pre-dinner drinks. Within minutes he was chatting with other guests.

The only person I've seen work a room so well was Margaret Thatcher – and that was at The Savoy too.

Maggie and Denis arrived together and the policy seemed to be, she would do one side of the room while Denis did the other. If you were a guest you were almost certain to speak to one of them. It was hugely impressive.

Andrew Neil not only turned up well before dinner, he stayed long after too. (He left after 11.00, I think.)

He also gave a brilliant speech despite having warned us in advance that he couldn't be political because of his BBC contract.

In the event it was one of best 'libertarian' speeches I have ever heard and he got a standing ovation.

Revolt In Style also featured live music by the Boisdale Blue Rhythm Band who sat on stage looking extremely swanky.

A few months earlier they had recorded a special CD for Forest. It was called 'You Can't Do That!' (after the Lennon-McCartney song) and subtitled 'Songs for Swinging Smokers'.

It featured 19 songs including 'Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette', 'Giving Up Giving Up', and 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes'.

To mark the smoking ban it also featured 'I'm Going Outside', a new song with lyrics by playwright Alan Plater.

Plater, who was one of Britain's most successful dramatists, described the Labour government’s anti-smoking crusade as "hypocritical", "puritannical" and "sanctimonious".

He wrote the lyrics after he and his wife found themselves standing outside every time they wanted to light up on a trip to Orkney where a smoking ban been introduced (along with the rest of Scotland) in March 2006.

"I’m 71, it’s minus four degrees, and I’m going outside!" he told me.

Plater and his wife Shirley Rubinstein were among our special guests at The Savoy and I think they were genuinely touched when 'I'm Going Outside' received its first live performance.

Sadly Alan died of cancer, aged 75, exactly three years later. His death was reported on June 25, 2010.

The current Freedom Dinner was launched in 2011. It's never achieved the scale of the dinner that inspired it because that was a one-off event that heralded a well-publicised milestone in British history, the introduction of a national public smoking ban.

In 2007 we had film crews from twelve countries including Russia, Greece, Hungary, France, Germany and the UK and I think many guests saw it as a genuinely historic occasion that might never be repeated in the UK.

But the 'success' of Revolt In Style was bittersweet because it marked the introduction of a policy we had fought, with relatively little support, for several years.

Today, ten years on, it remains to be seen who is still opposed to the smoking ban. We know (because polls tell us) that opposition to separate smoking rooms in pubs and clubs is outweighed by those who support the idea.

But what about the pub industry not to mention politicians and groups who purport to support a socially 'liberal' society?

People and organisations are judged on words and deeds so it will be interesting to see who has the guts or inclination to speak out on the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban.

Politically there may be more important issues. Culturally and economically however the smoking ban had a devastating impact on many pubs and individuals that continues today.

I don't doubt that many people have adapted to the smoking ban but that doesn't make it right.

It's important therefore that those who believe the ban to be wrong continue to speak out. If we don't it will be extended to other 'public' areas including beer gardens and al fresco drinking and dining areas.

Silence shouldn't be an option but it seems some people can't be arsed to fight anymore.

More fool them.

See:
Smokers in last-gasp stand on ban (BBC News, June 24, 2007)
Huffing and puffing: Adam Edwards joins a pack of rebellious smokers and pipemen for a last-gasp celebration of tobacco at the Savoy (Daily Telegraph, June 27, 2007)

PS. I had completely forgotten, until I saw these pictures a few minutes ago, that we had also hired some actors to play the role of 'smoke police' at The Savoy.

Goodness, what else have I forgotten about that night?!

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Reader Comments (3)

I wish I'd known about it then.

Sunday, June 25, 2017 at 22:22 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Peel

I agree, it is important to challenge the smoking ban at every opportunity. Smoking bans must be repealed or amended to allow separate, designated indoor smoking areas. The persecution of smokers must stop.

Sunday, June 25, 2017 at 22:57 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

I've rarely been out in 10 years so no, not all smokers have adapted. To go into any pub, club or restaurant is to say I accept the ban and I won't, not when choice for both is morally right. Anything else, especially blanket bans, is discrimination. Some people may have adapted to that and accepted discrimination. I never will.

Monday, June 26, 2017 at 13:19 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

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