Memoirs Of A Cigarette, Channel 4

by | Jul 1, 2007 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

A wistful retrospective about the history of smoking that could never quite decide if it was a whimsical paean to a more ‘innocent’ time or an extended, laborious health warning waterlogged by the need for public accountability.

What was good about it?

• Seeing Bernard Manning and realising that nobody has ever really cared about what he has ever said or given merit to his opinions outside his immediate family. He could have been dead for 100 years and his views would have been regarded with the same apathetic glance.

• Little interesting facts that have probably been twisted to create the ‘Wow!’-factor (copyright Simon Cowell’s coal-black left testical) such as that Britain spent more on tobacco than on ships, tanks or planes. But given that John Major’s administration spent more on running Norman Lamont’s incompetence-stained bib through the washing machine than on schools this isn’t really so amazing.

• Observing how utterly dated and preposterous the blanket smoking in 50s films was. Lauran Bacall and Humphrey Bogart shared their first romantic liaison at the behest of her character’s nicotine addition but rather than looking like a screen siren calling her paramour on to her inviting lips it resembled a low-rent prostitute trying to stump up business for her grimy dilapidated bordello.

• The mendacious 50s adverts that claimed that, under initial duress from the medical industry, that cigarettes were perfectly healthy. Chesterfield’s laughably claimed that a study group puffed their way through 40 ciggies a day for six months and “their health was not adversely affected”. The only way the truth could have been twisted here is that they were usually getting through 90 a day.

• Donny Tourette’s enlightening claim that Olivia Newton John’s Sandy from Grease was the reason he wanted to smoke. Which might also explain his desire to mimic Grease’s diluted, frazzled facsimiles of music in his own atrocious band.

What was bad about it?

• Will Self’s self-conscious travails to metamorphose sticking a stick of tobacco in your mouth into some kind of intellectual pursuit akin to setting out with just a week’s supply of food and six huskies to hunt down every last word in Marcel Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past. “A more aesthetic version of eating,” he pontificated. “An almost perfect industrial product.”

• In all the films from the 40s, 50s and 60s of glamorous film stars finding something to with their hands, melodramatically punctuating dialogue, of British Tommies in the African deserts waging war against Rommel, or couples nervously courting one thought was running through our heads – did the human sense of smell evolve around 1967? What other reason could there possibly be for vast swathes of the 80% of Britons addicted to fags in the 50s not realising how vomit-inducingly rotten their breath stank?

• James Lance’s assertion that the best cigarette is just after sex, which indicated that this ex-smoker still is quite safe from the clutching claws from the illusions and myths perpetuated by advertising.

• Charlotte Rampling: “The attitude of smoking made us look cool.” Cool does not exist either in reality or as a natural human perception, it is an artificially capricious creation of corporate advertisers to flog rubbish to sanctimonious fools too wrapped up in balls of their own egotism to realise they are being duped.

• Lemmy’s claim that he would have given up smoking by now if there hadn’t been societal pressure to conform, but he instead persists with his habit. “I won’t be dictated to!” he declared; the rigid sentiments of a weak old man subsisting off his delusion that he is somehow still a rebel when he is in fact in utter thrall to vast uncaring multi-national conglomerates who make profits from selling slow-acting toxins.

• The uncomfortable narrative that on the one hand wanted to celebrate the mirages of social prosperity fostered by cigarettes but had to also act in a responsible manner so as to not encourage impressionable people to take up a potentially lethal habit.

• The phrase in the narrative: “The righteous anti-smokers lost patience, while the smokers remained defiant.” This evoked images of a maniacal zealot army slaughtering thousands of civilians for not adhering to their faith, while a heroic band stoutly resists the tyranny.

• ‘Smirting’ – people who smoke and flirt, to maybe one day develop romantic attachments, but who we would rather see celebrate their first date in the cosy confines of the local sterilisation clinic to prevent their sterile imagination being passed on to future generations.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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