Prejudice and Prohibition

Road To Ruin?

Search This Site
The Pleasure of Smoking

Forest Polling Report

Outdoor Smoking Bans

Plain Packaging

Share This Page
Powered by Squarespace
« Government to target smokers and ‘problem’ drinkers | Main | 2018 in brief »
Friday
Jan042019

It was 20 years ago today

I don’t normally do work anniversaries but I’ll make this an exception.

Twenty years ago today I started working at Forest.

Prior to Christmas (1998) I had spent a week being ‘inducted’ by my predecessor Marjorie Nicholson - who was so well-organised it was quite intimidating - but my first day as director was Monday January 4, 1999.

I was living in Edinburgh, sharing an office with Brian Monteith, Forest’s spokesman in Scotland, when Marjorie announced she was leaving. She had been at Forest for ten years, I think, five as director.

Brian knew I wanted to return to London - I had already been offered another job that I was mulling over - and it was he who suggested I apply for the position.

I was interviewed by Marjorie and Lord Harris of High Cross (Forest’s chairman) at Audley House, 13 Palace Street, a short walk from Buckingham Palace and Victoria station.

The small ground floor office occupied a corner position with large sash windows on two sides. Built in 1905, the building had been refurbished to a good standard.

Marjorie and her three full-time staff had moved there in 1998. It was a big improvement, so I was told, on their previous rather shabby office, also in Victoria.

I don’t remember anything about the interview but I do remember being invited to stay for lunch.

‘Lunch’ was a selection of sandwiches that had been laid out on a coffee table that was dominated by an enormous metal ashtray.

Directly above the table, on the ceiling, was a large air filtration unit, one of four in the office.

Marjorie (cigarette) and Ralph Harris (pipe) were both smokers and each time they exhaled the smoke would rise and then magically disappear into the unit above.

I had never seen anything like it. It convinced me that technology was the solution to the issue of smoking in the workplace.

Marjorie thought so too because her new job was with an air filtration company!

When I was offered the Forest job a few days later I accepted without hesitation. Privately, though, I did have one or two misgivings.

After six years in Edinburgh I was keen to move back to England but after 15 years as a self-employed journalist I was concerned that being tied to an office, and having to commute (because we couldn’t afford to buy a house in London), might be a bit of a culture shock.

(In 1969, at the same age, my father had gone in the opposite direction, giving up a daily commute of three hours for one of just 30 minutes. He never regretted it.)

On the other hand I was almost 40 and had never managed even a small team of people. If I rejected the opportunity it might not come again.

Another issue was money.

Having been offered a salary that was a small increase on what I was previously earning, I discovered that the budget had changed and I would have to take a pay cut before I had even started!

To put this in context, we still had to sell our house in Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, so initially I would have to rent a room in London and commute each week from Edinburgh. In addition my wife would have to give up her job in Scotland and find a new one down south.

I wanted the job so we compromised. I accepted a smaller salary while Forest agreed to pay my travel and accommodation for a maximum of six months, and on Sunday January 3, 1999, I travelled to London from Edinburgh and moved in to a room on the top floor of a house in Notting Hill.

The owner and only other occupant was the sister of a former Labour MP who was a member of the House of Lords. She contacted me after I placed a classified ad in the Spectator but, typically, I can’t remember either of their names. (He died, I think, a few years ago.)

‘Notting Hill’ (the movie) was released while I was staying there and I watched it twice at the local cinema. It was a weird experience because some of the locations were right on our doorstep.

I enjoyed living there but I spent very little time in the house because on weekdays I would leave early, catch a Circle line train to Victoria, have breakfast (toast and coffee) in a local cafe, and be in the office by eight.

In the evenings I generally worked late (because there was nothing else to do), or I’d meet friends for a drink, or eat alone in a pub or pizzeria.

Every Friday after work I'd catch a train to Edinburgh, spend the weekend at home (my children were four and two at the time) and return to London on the overnight sleeper, leaving Waverley station at 11.00pm on Sunday, arriving at Kings Cross at 7.00 the following morning.

And that was pretty much my life for five months. We accepted an offer for our house in February but didn’t move out until May.

In March 1999 I took a week off work to look for a new house. I explored villages in Kent and Essex before stumbling on some new housing developments in Cambridgeshire. (A new house seemed the best option because it avoided the risk of getting caught in a chain.)

The train service from Huntingdon to London seemed relatively quick and reliable (the round trip to Victoria was three hours door-to-door via Kings Cross) so we bought a house in a nearby village and have lived there ever since.

Did I think, when I began, that I would still be working for Forest 20 years later? Of course not.

So what happened? Events, dear boy, events. (But that’s another story involving the smoking ban, plain packaging, David Hockney and much much more.)

I have no regrets though. I recognise that I’m lucky to have a job I still enjoy, despite the obvious frustrations and failures, and is still a challenge.

I’m grateful too for having met and worked with some wonderful people. It would be unfair to name some ahead of others but I must mention Lord Harris, chairman of Forest from 1987 to 2006, when he died aged 82.

What a fabulous sounding board he was. Ralph endured some terrible tragedies in his life but he was the most positive, jovial, inspiring and supportive person you could wish to meet.

I must also pay tribute to everyone I’ve worked with, some of whom dedicated years of their lives to Forest and didn’t do it simply to pay the mortgage (as Nicky Campbell playfully suggested to me on Five Live last year).

This week on Twitter an SNP councillor, responding to my appearance on Reporting Scotland on Wednesday, argued that we are simply lobbyists for the tobacco industry. It may look like that to an outsider but he couldn’t be more wrong.

Having been freelance for 15 years before I joined Forest I would never have taken a job where I was effectively working for a third party.

I did that when I worked for a PR company after I left university and I hated it.

The freedom to make my own decisions on behalf of Forest, and no-one else, is priceless.

Forest supports adults who choose to smoke not because it benefits the tobacco companies but because we believe in freedom of choice and personal responsibility.

In these cynical times it’s hard, I know, to credit people with some integrity but in my experience the overwhelming majority of people who have worked for Forest have done so because they genuinely believed in the cause.

That said, I’m very happy to acknowledge the support we’ve had from the tobacco companies and, 20 years on, I'm proud to be part of the global tobacco 'family'.

Above: With Antony Worrall Thompson at his restaurant in Notting Hill in, I think, 2001.

Below: From March 2010, a little contretemps with Deborah Arnott, CEO of Action on Smoking and Health

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (4)

I have been aware of the war building up against smokers since the mid 1980s but first heard about Forest and ASH in a politics class in college in 1989. I don't remember Forest ever being as vocal or as active before you took the helm. You do a great job. Thank God for Forest. Who would stand up for tobacco consumers without you. I think we know that no one would. That's why the anti smoker industry hates you and defames Forest as much as it does. Without you, they would have excluded us long ago and criminalsed us by now.

Friday, January 4, 2019 at 12:40 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Congratulations Simon for your integrity and commitment to personal choice and autonomy, in the face of those who know best how others should live. When will Australian FOREST be established? Our government has been waging an endless passive aggressive war against smokers for decades. I would be a strong supporter. 👍

Saturday, January 5, 2019 at 1:43 | Unregistered CommenterMark Jarratt

Simon congratulations and thank you for your service to liberty. The persecution of smokers is accelerating and the media ignores balance in reportage. FOREST has become nearly the only voice of reason and balance against the relentless propaganda, exaggerations, and lies promulgated by the tobacco control cartel. Please keep up the work countering the persecution of smokers! And like Mark Jarratt, I hope FOREST expands its voice to cover other parts of the globe--Australia, Canada, and South Africa come to mind as the assault on smokers increases in those areas. Keep up the good work.

Sunday, January 6, 2019 at 20:57 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Sadly Vinny, Big Tobacco is on the side of Big Public Health and Big Vape. It would not fund Forest to fight for us abroad when it wants to force us all to quit or switch to one of its own vaping products.

Big T benefits from the bullying of smokers as much as other industries. The only losers are always the industry pawns, smokers themselves.

Monday, January 7, 2019 at 13:48 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>