Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Early Doors sticks two fingers up to Britain's Smoking Ban Nazis

It’s something to cheer, I suppose, that one of the precious few good shows commissioned by the BBC in recent years is back for a series of reruns.
Early Doors was always a brilliant, poetic, philosophical, character-driven sitcom.
I came home from work the other night, feeling knackered, and slightly down-hearted because, as everyone knows, there is never anything worth watching on telly on Tuesdays.
(EastEnders? I'd rather stick needles in my eyes. It is condescending twaddle about the working classes - clunkingly written in politically correct jargon beloved of middle class luvvies at the BBC.)
But Early Doors is quality. It's a gentle and slow-paced show set in a back street Northern English pub. It doesn't strain for laughs; it often makes you think profoundly about the absurdity of modern life and the lazy and corrupt characters you come across (such as greedy, bent police officers).
Old Tommy, who sits on his own, is my favourite character. His grimace perfectly sums up what I feel about contemporary British society ... utter weariness at the sheer stupidity of it all, occasional disgust, and a sure knowledge that life used to be better. Much better.
Meanwhile, Winnie the cleaner shows a sly wit, and Ken the landlord has much human warmth, masked by a gruff exterior. Though many of the characters are defective in many ways, collectively, you can't help but love 'em.
It is a show that benefits from perfect casting and writing .. .and you can't say that about many.
And watching it again as a repeat on BBC4 I was also seduced by the lovely smoky character of the Grapes pub.
Wreaths of curling ciggie smoke are part of the elegant beauty and the comforting atmosphere of the traditional British pub. When these programmes were made, the hated smoking ban in workplaces had not been introduced.
It made think again how very unfair that blanket ban was – and how much pleasure it has taken away from people.
The ban has also contributed in a big way to the huge wave of pub closures now under way in our country. That’s not good at all.
When a pub closes, you are not just losing a business but a focal point for the community.
Pubs are sacred to our memories. In each backstreet pub so many tender scenes have taken place down the decades: jokes have been told; tears shed; words of love spoken; baptisms, birthdays and weddings celebrated; and precious last cigarettes have been tenderly handed over to mates and loved ones.
To destroy all that with a total smoking ban on dubious health grounds was a hateful and sinister act by our tyrannical Labour Government.
To my mind, the smoking ban isn't even about health.
It's about freedom – which, actually, is much more important.
Because there is little point being healthy if you aren't allowed to be free.
Before the current "Ban It" madness infected our mainstream political culture, the only powerful people to be rabidly anti-smoking were the Nazis under Adolf Hitler.
They are the spiritual inspiration for the proscriptive anti-smoking martinets now infesting the UK Government and National Health Service.
It is strange that such a lovely and quintessentially British programme such as Early Doors should be such a powerful and eloquent reminder of just how beautiful and enjoyable smoking in pubs used to be.
Nearly all the show’s characters smoke. If a new series is to be made, then I suppose the Grapes will have to feature a wretched Smoke Hole in its yard, where the regulars will have to go and freeze their knackers off and get wet if they choose to spark up ... just like we have to do in real life.
A final thought ... three cheers to Coronation Street for not giving in the pressure from Britain's thin-lipped Smoke Ban Nazis to run "positive" stories showing the benefits of giving up the habit.


  1. Eh up Steve. Is anyone actually listening? Anyway, well done for carrying on regardless. Shall we send a joint letter to John Meehan suggesting he brings us back?

  2. Oh, err, Could I, or you, go back to being local newspaper columnists? It's a Big Question. As is: Do newspapers have a future?
    And: When everything ever written has been put on the web, will anyone actually care?