Wednesday 16 June 2010

The case of the missing cigar

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 Any modification of historical documents should be treated extremely seriously by a museum of all places.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.

The Churchill airbrushing was 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.]


Anonymous said...

Other examples:

- concerning a commemorative stamp issue, the US Post Office authorized the airbrushing out of a cigarette dangling from James Dean’s lips.

- “[i]n 1953 Dr Cardew had photographed a reconstruction of the laboratory bench on which Fleming discovered penicillin. [S]ituated on the bench was a Petri dish of cigarette ends (Fleming having been a heavy smoker). The reconstruction was located in St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington but as Dr Cardew relates: ‘The museum reconstruction in 1993 omitted the Petri dish on the grounds that the hospital had a no smoking policy….’”

Anonymous said...

A commenter under the Mail piece said he knew who had done it,; and that it was because of the low resolution on the huge poster - the picture looked better. I'm sceptical. Anyway the banners deserve some luck. Over the last week we've all seen several pictures of the England 1966 and 1970 world cup teams relaxing and smoking. In fact, apart from George Best (amazingly), it's very difficult to find a great footballer who didn't smoke: Charlton, Maradonna, Rooney, Fowler, Platini, Socrates, Kruyff, Garincha.
I'm not making light of this. It's very serious; but at least most of our press and media still appears to believe that history shouldn't be rewritten.

Anonymous said...

Dick's article about Chanel reminds me of a similar article I read in ASH UK's news. It was an account of Chanel's life, but I found it frustrating and puzzling that there was no mention of her age when she died. I clicked onto the original article from the Telegraph and found the missing sentence. I think she lived to 97.

Anonymous said...

Can't resist banging on again about the footballer/smoking thing. At a recent championship, a member of the public complained to the Croatia manager that his players were sitting outside the hotel and smoking as they drank coffee. His response was as might be expected from a man whose country had recently been involved in a war. "They are all international footballers, so it can't be doing them much harm."
The funniest film of a smoking footballer - probably available on You Tube, is the stylish Chelsea and Italy player, Gianluca Vialli, lying down in the sun by the bench and lighting up after being substituted during a world cup match

Anonymous said...

It just goes to show what a creepy bunch of people anti smokers are.

cornyborny said...

I emailed the museum, politely stating my disapproval of the airbrushing (and suggesting that W Churchill himself might have taken a dim view of it).

I suspect that the press/email bird there (Jan Rayment) has had a zillion such emails today, as the reply was a tad generic (and defensive):

"Thank you for your email. We would like to assure you; that we too at Winston Churchill's Britain at War Experience are firmly against "airbrushing out history" and any suggestion that this is what we have been doing is very wide of the mark.

It does appear that the image used above the main entrance has been altered from the original, although we were not aware of this at the museum, until the recent reports. We are sure that such an alteration would have only been made for essentially artistic reasons, such as not allowing a cigar to break up the outline of the face when displayed on a relatively dark street and certainly not with any hidden agenda, such as presenting Winston Churchill as a non-smoker.

When you visit the museum and I sincerely hope that you will, you will see many images, photographs and models of Churchill both with and without a cigar. You will see that we have tried very hard to capture the sense and essence of London during the Blitz with our displays and exhibits and the genuineness of these are central to the museum's purpose as a leading educational attraction, visited by thousands every year."

Yeah, right.

Anonymous said...

Angry Exile said...

Re Sherlock Holmes without a pipe. Bet Auntie Beeb didn't include his love of the Bolivian marching powder either, and if you think about it tobacco is following the pattern of personal vice being restricted and finally banned. The grandparents of today's whiny, sanctimonious, moralising banners were probably behind the drive to ban what everyone now thinks of as illegal drugs but which were once sufficiently mainstream that women used laudanum for period pains. I'm sure the big thing stopping tobacco joining cannabis etc is the large amount of tax revenue it brings in for governments. Their addiction to the money is far stronger than anyone's addiction to nicotine and they don't want the dosh to stop, otherwise the banners would probably have got their way by now. Odd thing to be grateful for, eh?