Blog: Pipe ploy for interviews

As pipesmoker, I was fascinated to see the BBC yesterday accused of being ‘Stalinist’ because it allegedly cut out images of the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s pipesmoking in a documentary to be screened tonight (Thursday).

The accusation is levelled by the late PM’s former aide Lord Donoughue, who claims producers were told to play down his former boss’s pipe smoking - a decision the peer describes as ‘politically correct censorship’.

I’m not sure why Lord Donoughue brings Stalin into it because Uncle Joe was just as avid a pipesmoker as Harold Wilson. Perhaps it’s because the Soviet leader tried to hairbrush from history the horrific oppression of millions of his citizens.

Whatever the reason, it’s rather an over-the-top remark which detracts from what is obviously the peer’s genuine beef about how Harold Wilson is portrayed in the documentary.

According to Lord Donoughue, Wilson was rarely without his pipe, finding it a useful tool when undergoing awkward interviews. Apparently, the PM would take out his lighter and light the pipe to give him time to think of an answer to a difficult question.

Sadly, in these politically correct times any politician would be roundly condemned for blowing acrid smoke into the faces of pesky interviewers to create a not-so-healthy breathing space.

Maybe such a ploy was why Harold Wilson earned the title Pipesmoker of the Year in 1965. The honour, awarded by the British Pipesmokers’ Council, was axed in 2004 because organisers feared it fell foul of new laws on tobacco promotion.

What a shame. While pipesmoking is by no stretch of the imagination a healthy pastime, it’s not as bad as cigarette smoking. Indeed, at the risk of being roundly condemned by the health police, I believe the pipe ought to be promoted as a positive alternative for those smokers who can’t quit but want to moderate their habit.

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