As July 1 draws ever closer and England prepares itself for its own ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces (such a ban is already exists in Ireland, Wales and Scotland), Mariella Frostrup explores what smoking has given entertainment and popular culture.
Where would Hollywood be without the lingering plumes of seductive smoke that helped convey intimacy, contemplation, bravery, rebellion, companionability and independence or a mixture of some or all of these? What would the likes of Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Joe Strummer and Pete Doherty do to convey that same sense of effortless nonchalance towards their craft if they were not able to have the ubiquitous cigarette dangling from their mouth, or propped in the machine head of their guitars.
And if the smoking bans begins to make an even greater impact on our habits, will the audiences of tomorrow lose a whole language of rich symbolism. When Sharon Stone crosses her legs in that famous scene in Basic Instinct and taunts her interrogator with “What are you going to do? Arrest me for smoking?” – will audiences of the future wonder why he hasn't already done that? Will they come away from Casablanca wondering why Rick's Bar hadn't been closed down by health and safety officers? Will they even be able to properly appreciate (and understand the subtleties of) the likes of Now: Voyager and The Big Sleep where cigarette smoke was not just an essential and beautiful part of the cinematography but also, clearly stood for sex.
Joined by the likes of old smokers, writers, artists and commentators like Terry O'neill, Peter York, Alan Coren, Guy Garvey, David Hockney and Sir Christopher Frayling, Mariella attempts to decode the symbolism and semiotics of smoking in the 20th century and asks whether we might be in danger of losing a useful prop in the 21st.
This is not be a celebration of smoking (or indeed a condemnation of it), rather it is a look at the special part cigarettes have played in the popular culture of much of the 20century… and a chance to explore where the likes of Dave Allen, Albert Camus, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Winston Churchill, Bette Davis, Pete Doherty, Serge Gainsbourg, Clark Gable, Lew Grade, the Joker in Batman, Maigret, Princess Margaret, The Rat Pack, Jean-paul Sartre, Cruella De Vil (the list goes on) would be without their little sticks of burning leaves.