Winston Churchill, the obese, binge-drinking chain-smoker whose life was tragically cut short at the age of 90, has had his cigar airbrushed from the photo that hangs outside the Britain at War museum.
So whodunnit? No one is owning up. Staff at the museum insist that they were unaware of the change and are not saying who handled the image.
Intriguingly the museum, which gives all profits to charity, declined to name who put together the display and, crucially, who enlarged the image for the poster.
I trust they will find out and then name and shame the person responsible. Any modification of historical documents should be treated extremely seriously by a museum of all places. This kind of airbrushing is Orwellian and Stalinist in the literal sense (although it was the Nazis who first airbrushed a photo to remove smoking—in a poster of Stalin during the Nazi-Soviet pact). None of these are precedents to be followed and, regardless of context, altering the past is a line that should never be crossed.
spotted by a visitor to the museum, David McAdam, who said:
"Viewing the now disfigured image reveals just how unhinged the vociferous anti-smoking lobby has become. So much for the notion that only communist tyrants airbrushed history."
They've been doing it for years, of course. The Beatles, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, John Paul Sartre and Robert Johnson have all been subject to historical revisionism.
The anti-smoking lobby appears to treat history in the same casual manner as it treats science and economics. If it can be twisted to serve the overarching cause, it will. Back in 1996, an article in Tobacco Control called for an image of Franklin Roosevelt to appear sans famous cigarette-holder on the highly dubious grounds that the brain haemorrage which killed him was 'smoking-related'.
And when a US poster company airbrushed Paul McCartney's cigarette from a reproduction of the Abbey Road cover, there was no resistance from ASH. Quite the reverse.
Amanda Sandford, from anti-smoking group Ash, said: “We are happy to support this action. People who see their idols holding cigarettes are more likely to copy them and start smoking themselves.”
At the time, Simon Clark of FOREST said:
“This is pathetic. What next? We will have to remove pipes and cigars from pictures of Sherlock Holmes and Winston Churchill. These people should stop trying to re-write history."
That now looks a very prescient observation, particularly since the BBC went on to produce a Sherlock Holmes series in which the great detective never smoked a pipe. Seriously, this has got to stop.
[Dick Puddlecote has found an even older example of cigarette airbrushing.]