Leavey's Corner

Back to Writers' Corner index page

James Leavey, British correspondent of FORCES, is the Editor of The Forest Guide to Smoking in London and The Forest Guide to Smoking in Scotland, left British Telecommunications in 1990 after a decade in international marketing and PR and has since written from a growing list of publications including the European, Daily Express, the Independent, Daily Mirror, Radio Times and ES magazine.

He has also broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Breakaway, Going Places and Pick of the Week and worked as stagehand with the English National Opera, been a West End cinema doorman, a coconut ice maker and trained as an actor and teacher.

In 1995, he edited Taylors Corporate Northern Ireland, the first major independent business guide to the province and now edits The Humidor, a cigar newsletter published by JJ Fox (St. James's) Ltd.

Write to
James Leavey

Sharing an Ashtray with...

About James Leavey

The End of the World

Passé the port - James Leavey passes over the cigars in this week's column.  Instead he explores the myriad of pre and post-pandrial libations that contribute to fine dining.  What's in, what's out.  Which do avoid if a hangover is anticipated and which will impress.  Just don't offer James a shot of tequila.

Notes on the Underground - In Vienna, touring the site of a pivotal scene from the classic movie "The Third Man,"  James Leavey found that the aroma from a Montecristo No. 2 was very welcome indeed to a bunch of non-smoking movie buffs.

Staging a smoke - Mummies and daddies always warn their offspring not to become mixed up with the theater crowd.  James Leavey didn't heed the warning.  Rather than the lurid pleasures and decadent thrills, however, all he got out of the experience was a love of fine cigars.

Life's a gamble - As gambling expands from elegant casinos, as defined by Monte Carlo, to the humdrum world of studio apartments wired to the Internet, is the sophisticated, cigar-smoking gambler a relic of the past?  Not according to James Leavey who looked askance at virtual gambling and found that it serves as a sort of training wheel for subsequent, real action.

Clubbing in London - While England has had for a very long time an admirable reputation for circumspection and a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity, it acquired a reputation of upscale hedonism in the 1960's that spoke to that era and continues to this day.  James Leavey's report on London night life provides a guide to those who plan visiting the swinging capital city.  We're please that, at least for now, the Puritan anti-smokers have been thwarted in imposing prohibition completely upon London and the rest of the country.

On the borderland - They're everywhere!  Humorless, puritanical and relentless, the Californian anti-smokers carry their negativity to the furthest corners of the globe and, in James Leavey's nightmare, beyond.

The First Time - Ah, to be young and experience the first time all over again.  Who wouldn't revisit if possible?  The breathless anticipation, the heart-pumping excitement, the throw up all over the floor.  Huh?  James Leavey takes us back to his days as a newspaper cub investigating the allure of Italian forbidden fruit and a big fat cigar.

Saints and sinners - James Leavey's  natural exuberance was dampened on a recent trip to Dublin.  No, the abundant rain didn't douse his spirits, although it does come into play.  What got him down is the "success" of prohibition in Ireland.  Where feisty independence once reigned a somber compliance is the mode.  Of course noncompliance can cost the free sprit 3,000 euros and a stay in jail.  No wonder the road and rails to Belfast in Northern Ireland are crowded as Irish smokers find they must cross the border to enjoy themselves.  The "new" Ireland leaves must to be desired.

Humidors - One of the charms (and, to be frank, annoyances) circulating about cigar smokers is the ornate nature of their pleasure.  Cigars don't come in packs, are often purchased in specialty shops, are not easily lit and take a very long time to smoke.  More mysterious are the various devices that are required to cultivate the art of cigar smoking.  The humidor is such a device.  Why are they needed?  What do they do?  Why are they so expensive?  James Leavey sheds some light on these objects of beauty that keep their precious items safe.

Heinrich Villiger –  in love with cigars - Most cigarette smokers these days connect Switzerland with tobacco only so far as the provider of cheap smokes, purchased online, with that country's formidable guarantee of privacy. 

While the alpine location is hardly conducive to the cultivation of tobacco, there are some cigar manufacturers that are well known and appreciated by European cigar aficionados.  North American smokers soon will be able to enjoy a premium product from the pristine mountains of Switzerland.

Making cigars; a family affair - Like father like daughter in this tale of a familial team whose love of fine cigars provides the clue that holds a venerable cigar manufacturing concern, perhaps the oldest in Great Britain, together.  Through war, changing tastes and Puritanical bossiness, Jemma Freeman and her dad kept their firm on the cutting edge of flavor and quality.  Now the daughter is on her own but confident that his lessons and their love of fine cigars will see her company through its second century.

A cut above the rest - While anti-tobacco is fond of intoning portentously that cigarettes are the the only product in America that, when used as directed, kill its customers, keen observers will note that packs of cigarettes are quite devoid of any directions at all.  Smoking a cigarette is quite easy with the only tricky part knowing which end to light.

Smoking cigars, however, is another matter.  A cigar in the hand of a clueless novice is a mysterious artifact.  Does one leave the attractive band in place?  How long does it take to smoke such a solid tube?  Why is the paper golden brown?  And, most of all, which end is lighted and which end is puffed? 

James Leavey comes to the rescue, along with the "politically incorrect Jewish Texan singer" and fellow cigar aficionado Kinky Friedman.  Between the two of them you will know the differences among Guillotine, Scissors, Punch, V and Screw.

Quick on the draw - Cartoon art is a vivid mirror of the times we live in – as well as bringing the near and distant past alive…such as those halcyon days when we could smoke in peace…

The day James Leavey first met Kinky Friedman - …actually took place about four years ago.  We have occasionally bumped into each other, since, which is all just a pathetic excuse to write this crappy introduction that doesn't really justice to such a brilliant writer…Oh well, here goes nothing... It was a far more interesting week than I envisaged when it first started. On Monday I got an unexpected call from Kinky Friedman, who had just arrived at a hotel in Bloomsbury, across the road from the offices of his London publishers, Faber and Faber.  

All choked up with healthy advice - “Before I met the author of The Forest Guide to Smoking in London and champion of every smoker's right to be treated with tolerance and courtesy, I was determined to be firm. That was the idea, anyway. What actually happened was that Mr Leavey greeted me in his sunny little garden in Cowes, poured himself a glass of whisky, stuck a whopping great cigar into his smiley mouth, invited me to share his ashtray and the next thing I knew, I was addicted to the man.”

The Blues 'n' the Booze

...My problem was, having sipped several cognacs too many by the late night arrival of the main headline event, some of those sculptures looked remarkably like ashtrays, and I had to restrain myself from using them for unloading the ash from my Havanas. Eventually, a thoughtful press officer found me a spare ashtray and I reclined on the grass on that summer night in France, my double corona resembling a large chimney pointing at the constellations in the sky above me, while I breathed in the atmosphere created by all that lively music, exhaled cognac fumes, and bonhomie.

Viva Havanas

Several months ago, I was invited to an exhibition in Paris to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the S.T. Dupont lighter. Arriving early, I nipped into a nearby cafe for a couple of espressos and Montecristo No.3s, which I shared with Martin Winters, Managing Director of the famous French company’s UK division. Not only were the Havanas almost half the price I would normally pay back home in London, they offered something I hadn’t experienced for some time from a Cuban cigar - an easy, pleasant draw. We connect to Whisky World.

Firing Up

You’d think, given the current climate of fear, global terrorism, potential for World War Three, and impending recession, that smoking would be pushed to the back-burner. Surely we have more important things to concern ourselves with?

Schubert, scheese and schigars

When they told me I would be hiking up one of the Austrian alps for the first time in my long, mountain-avoiding life, I gave them the short answer, similar to the one Mariah Carey had used, when the producer of one of her recent concerts in London asked her to make an entrance by descending a tall flight of stairs on stage. "I don't do stairs," she replied. "And I," I politely told my Austrian hosts, "don't do mountains."

Book Running or No tome unturned

Years ago, George Orwell and Dylan Thomas used to earn extra cash from book running in London, selling old books to the capitol's second-hand bookshops. I got into it 30 years ago by accident when I went to a local jumble sale in London and bought a pile of paperbacks. I kept the ones I liked, sold the rest to a Charing Cross Road bookshop, and found myself ahead by a few quid. [...] And yes, I have found that most of London's second-hand bookshops are smoker-friendly, unlike the new bookshops (many owned by American companies), even those that sell my smoker's guides to London and Scotland. If in doubt, look for the ashtrays and ask for titles about 'London - the Big Smoke.'

The Big Smoke

London is Europe’s largest city, with over seven million inhabitants. Long known as the Big Smoke, it attracts 28 million tourists every year, at least a quarter of whom are devoted to nicotine. Despite growing opposition by the anti-smoking lobby to what they claim is a filthy, unhealthy, anti-social habit, and the British government’s absurdly high tax on tobacco, about 25 per cent of London’s adult population continues to smoke. 

Marlene Dietrich – The Berliner Angel

Marlene Dietrich first found fame in the role of Lola Lola in Josef von Sternberg’s film, ‘The Blue Angel’, in which she created an icon for the modern age: the self-confident, erotic and financially independent woman. On April 1, 1930, the day of the film’s premiere, Dietrich boarded a train in Berlin and headed for the USA, where she began her international career.

A cigar smoker's guide to Brazil

When the man from Bahia asked if I wanted to spend ten days touring the tobacco plantations, cigar retailers and smoker-friendly fleshpots of Brazil, it was all I could do not to bite off his arm. Then I thought, "What! Only ten?" 
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. My journey really started in 1873, when Geraldo Dannemann, born in Bremen, Germany, found a second home in Sao Felix, Brazil, where he started to fulfil his dream of making some of the finest cigars in the world. The town subsequently honoured Dannemann by making him its first mayor.

Lighting Up in the Big Apple

A couple of years ago, I asked Harvey Keitel if he would be the subject of a 'My favourite cigar' ' article. He politely refused, on the grounds that as a major Hollywood star, he didn't wish to be seen encouraging smoking. All this from a noted cigar aficionado who had just appeared as a Havana-chompin' New York cigar shop owner in two films, Smoke and Blue in the Face.

In Germany, Every Day is Chrystmas Day

If there’s one country that knows how to celebrate Christmas, it’s Germany.  Indeed, the Germans love Christmas so much, they exported various aspects of it to the rest of the world so that we could join in the fun. ... Like von Willemer, I believe that Christmas still brings out the best of us.  Which is a good enough reason, I say, to celebrate it every day.  Especially with a fine cigar.

I Was raised as a Vampire

'My mother always told me, "Vlad, drink your soup before it clots." And I did. I usually lapped it up through my hollow canine teeth which acted as straws. Sometimes I was given a Bloody Mary to savour, and other times, the special treat of a Bleeding Annie to rip and slobber over.' ' "OK, Mummy. Can I have another Havana cigar?" "Certainly my dear little Vlad," she said, handing me a Montecristo No.2 from Daddy's humidor, after cutting the end and lighting it. "And never forget. It's better to fill your tummy with smoke or pure human blood, than those nasty genetically-modified foods." '

Espresso Yourself

The perfect espresso coffee is percolated in no more or less than 30 seconds. Once brewed, it must be drunk immediately. If not, the foam shrinks, collapses, and dries out on the walls of the small heavy china cup it is usually served in, just above the liquid. Smoothness of taste is lost and acidity increases, as does a certain saltiness.

A walk in the Black Forest

There was once a writer living in London who decided to fly to Germany in search of something as rare as a cigar-smoking unicorn in California. "And what it is that you are seeking, Herr Leavey?" inquired the customs officer at Bremen airport. "The German sense of humour, bitte," replied the writer. "So," exclaimed the German official, suppressing a Wagnerian belly laugh, "you must be planning a very long stay!"

Low laughter at high tide

' So let's have more cartoons about the anti-smoking born-again puritans, who should be dismissed as a joke, instead of being taken so bloody seriously by our placid, non-questioning, intolerant world. '

A beacon of hope in Northern Ireland

' Not only has the Europa remained smoker-friendly, it also displays a remarkable little sign on the tables in its restaurants, lobby, bars and rooms, entitled "Courtesy of Choice."

Underneath the heading are the following words, "The concept and symbol of Courtesy of Choice reflects the centuries-old philosophy that acknowledges differences while allowing them to exist together in harmony." '

Opera, the new rock 'n' roll

"Opera is a heady combination of music and drama that for decades was off-putting for many people, who associated it with social-exclusivity, i.e. snobbery, and extravagance. At the very least, the tickets were notoriously expensive, and black tie was the norm. And anyway, who wants to sit through three hours of an opera just to hear a couple of well-known arias."

...My neck still resolutely unpunctured, Leake encouraged me to try on Christopher Lee's long black cape lined in red satin, from Hammer's Dracula films. It's heavy enough to give a satisfying swirl as you round on a victim but a large, sharpened wooden stake from Rumania leans in one corner, unused, discouraging any thoughts of a liquid lunch.

  1. Give them time.
  2. Give them space.
  3. Give them enough rope.
  4. Make time to talk to them, if you can stand it.
  5. Maintain eye contact. For some minorities, such as the Ku Klux Klan and ASH, this is not appropriate, because lack of eye contact is - for them - a mark of respect.

The way things are going, some of us will eventually be walled up inside our own homes for daring to enjoy tobacco. And even that's not safe. There is already a case of a smoker in America whose neighbours are trying to get him evicted from his apartment on the grounds that he has broken a no-smoking tenancy clause.

Not that long ago, I wrote and edited a couple of the first ever travel books for smokers - The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London and The FOREST Smoker's Guide to Scotland. Instead of the gratuitous vilification I expected, they ignited serious, widespread debate by the world's media, much of it surprisingly positive.

As a result, two polite requests landed on my doormat, next to the cat's ashtray.

Barcelona is not only a city of two cultures - Spanish and Catalan - it is also, like most places, yet another battleground of smokers versus anti-smokers. The bad news is that Iberia has banned smoking on all of its aircraft, and most of the city's museums and galleries are smoke-free. The good news is that the Catalans are more relaxed about smoking than many other Europeans, and virtually all of the city's bars, most of its restaurants, airport, train station, smaller shops and hotels will still allow you to light up freely.

They may be thinking of banning tobacco advertising in Britain's media, but at least they're leaving our tastebuds alone. And jumping on the let's-all-get-politically-incorrect bandwagon is a growing host of fine, smoker-friendly restaurants in London to cater for famished cigar aficionados, many of whom have been elbowed out of less tolerant eating establishments.

"The only course of action I can recommend is option 1, i.e. the immediate cremation of the patient. This, of course, is in breach of the medical code of ethics but I'm sure we are both of the same view that the patient's wishes should be paramount, and Malcolm would no doubt welcome respite from his unfortunate condition by voluntary, or indeed, involuntary euthanasia."

GAY SUPERCILIOUS WAITER: Excuse me, sir. Would you mind putting out that cigarette?
WAITER: I'm sorry sir, but you are sitting in a non-smoking area.
BOGART: Not any more, I'm not. What do you think, Sam?

If you can't get there by powered sail, a 20 minutes' taxi ride from Havana will take you seven miles east down the Cuban coast to the sleepy fishing village of Cojimar where Ernest Hemingway used to dock his famous boat, Pilar. 'Papa' also immortalised the local fishermen in his Nobel-prize-winning novel, The Old Man and the Sea.

Judith Hatton, co-author with Lord Ralph Harris of Murder a Cigarette (Duckworth, £7.95), an eloquent look at the smoking debate, told me that her father was in Burma at the turn of the century and described the country's female inhabitants as: "the most beautiful women in the world but they would smoke cigars all the time and never took them out of their mouths."

, which dated his demise at 31 March 1993. So it was with some trepidation that I shook hands with Christopher Lee, biting my tongue to avoid blurting out something obvious like, "Well, I see the sun's gone down, then.">

If you sit long enough on Sir Winston Churchill's favourite chair in the Fox Museum you will eventually see most of the most famous cigar lovers in the world wandering in to pay homage to Britain's oldest established tobacco shop. For if anywhere can claim to be the civilised heart of the cigar world, it is James J Fox at 19 St James's Street, which first opened for business in London as Robert Lewis in 1787, originally at 14 Long Acre, Covent Garden.

When I was handed this book to review, they asked what I knew about cowboys. "About as much as the next person," I replied, with a shrug I'd borrowed years ago from John Wayne.

It was the kind of response that could have been made by any of the millions of people around the world who have never been near a ranch or a branding iron.

A friend recently asked how I was planning to celebrate the millennium. "I won't be doing anything different to my usual routine," I replied. "But then every day is a celebration for someone who enjoys sailing, fine malts and hand-rolled Havana cigars."

Later, I wondered if a better answer to his question was to relive one of those special moments I have been privileged to enjoy.

If comedy is the new rock 'n' roll, sitcom writers must be the equivalent of Lennon and McCartney. What a great job - make the nation laugh every week and earn loadsamoney. With this in mind, a couple of years ago I worked closely with Dennis Main Wilson, the most influential and rebellious BBC comedy producer-director who helped create, among many other things, The Goon Show, Hancock's Half Hour and Till Death Us Do Part. We had decided to turn Giles' Grandma cartoon character into an animated British rival to The Simpsons.

"Oscar Wilde, the noted smoker and wit, once said, "It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances." His less imaginative Victorian contemporaries would have insisted that the only two articles of a man's clothing permitted to shine are his left shoe and his right shoe. Nowadays, a smart accessory, produced in the right circumstances, can be a good conversation opener - and a potent status symbol for the successful macho male manager or executive who dares to be different. If you're one of those sad business bastards trying to stand out from the rest of the squabbling herd, all scrambling for success, read on."

Leavey takes a break from his usual tobacco-and-travel topics for a peek at the latest innovations in high-tech home entertainment. While smokers fight to reclaim their rightful place in public entertainment venues, they may want to unwind with some of this wizardry at home -- and light up without being heckled.

James Leavey gives us more information about beautiful British Pubs where smokers and cigars are welcome and appreciated

Throughout the recorded history of mankind, virtually every civilisation has enjoyed playing a game with a club and a ball; probably because it made a welcome change to being beaten over the head. Many cultures claim to be the originator of golf - such as the Chinese with Ch'ui Wan. The Roman scribe, Catullus, recorded the game of Pangea - an ancient forerunner of modern Hockey, Celtic Shinty and Hurling. In Holland, Het Kolven was an early version of Ice Hockey.

Howard Hodgson is the chief executive officer of Colibri UK Ltd, who in his relatively short time in the tobacco industry has become one of it's leading personalities. Indeed, Hodgson has been described by some pundits as the Robert Redford of the world of lighter - rugged, handsome and occasionally fiery. He was interviewed by James Leavey at Colibri's UK headquarters in Esher, Surrey, in, ironically, a non-smoking meeting room.

Nicholas Freeman is the Chairman of Hunters & Frankau, the sole importer of Havana cigars into the UK. He is the fifth generation of a London tobacco merchant who rolled and sold cigars in the early 1800s. James Leavey interviewed him at his offices in St James’s Street, the heart of Britain’s cigar-friendly capital.

There you are in a Scottish doorway, puffing away in the rain while the non-smokers remain inside, dry, hard at work or trying to enjoy themselves. Your only consolation is the pleasure gained from whatever you’re smoking and the comradeship of fellow nicotine-lovers.

According to the English writer and caricaturist, Sir Max Beerbohm (1872-1956), “Mankind is divisible into two great classes: hosts and guests.” If this is true, their epitome must be Claridges.

It is commonly believed that the birthplace of tobacco, a plant belonging to the genus Nicotiana (especially Nicotiana Tabacum and Nicotiana Rustica, cultivated for their leaves to make cigarettes, cigars, cigars, snuff etc), was somewhere in the American continent. How and when it was first discovered is unknown. Perhaps a native, cooking food on a leaf over a fire noticed that it gave off a particularly appealing aroma, and took his or her first sniff. Then threw the food away and settled down to a serious smoke.

James Leavey dogs the footsteps of one of the most famous smokers in the world from The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland which will be published in summer 1998 by Quiller Press, in the USA and the UK.)

Our contributor and friend James Leavey is back with an extract from The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland which will be published in summer 1998 by Quiller Press, in the USA and the UK.

"When you think of Ireland the image of the pub automatically springs to mind....Today, the unique (and usually smoky) atmosphere of an Irish pub can now be enjoyed in Moscow, Rome, Venice, New York, Paris and Lithuania. Ah well, you can never have too much of a good thing."

"...He was born without legs and has been getting around on artificial limbs for decades but I'd never have known until someone mentioned it. He never does. Last August he competed in the Paralympics in Atlanta, USA, the first time sailing has been included in this prestigious event, as helmsman and skipper of the UK's sailing team. ...Andy Cassell is the only smoker in the team, and enjoys the occasional King Edward cigar. Does it affect his skill or abilities in any way? 'To put it bluntly," he replied, "No.' "

" 'Like many other ancestral homes we now take paying guests as it helps to keep the estate going,' " said Samantha Leslie. " 'I suppose we could charge a lot more but we like people who can fit in and enjoy themselves. And we don't mind smokers, as long as they don't set fire to the beds.' "  

If the anti-smoking lobby has its way, sighting of smokers will become as rare as the apparitions reputed to haunt many parts of the world, especially Britain – a country steeped in ancient history and strange traditions.

James Leavey recommends some of the best pubs and restaurants around Britain where cigar smokers are made welcome.

Leavey's fitness presciption: Van Morrison on audio, Claudia Schiffer on video, and "beware of any movements towards the refrigerator or the nearest bar."

An interview with the Cuban photographer who captured one of the most famous images of the 20th century -- the Che Guevara picture so widely seen during the 1960s era of student protest. Today, 69-year-old Korda tours the world exhibiting his photographs -- and enjoys a hearty regimen of smoking and drinking.

"... we winged our way across Europe in search of the smoker-friendly Vienna immortalised in Carol Reed's The Third Man."

Ireland's Leopardstown racetrack offers character, history, 10 smoker-friendly bars -- and ample opportunities for those tempted to part with their money. "For years I believed the only people who could make money at the races were the bookies. Until I ran the gauntlet of tinkers hawking fresh strawberries and the 'complete racing guide' at Leopardstown's turnstiles."

James Leavey reports on a luxurious retreat for the cigar set -- the newly refurbished Alfred Dunhill shop. "While you're washing down a premium sample cigar with the free Dunhill Old Master Scotch whisky, they'll lend you a Sherlock Holmes-style dressing gown and steam press your suit."

"We wandered around, smoking Havanas unchecked, and dropping our illegally imported Cuban ash in the large glass ashtrays that are a fixture of every senator's office." An expedition to Washington, D.C. uncovers cigar-puffing anti-smoking politicans and other strange species.

A Viking invasion hits the London social scene. Leavey chronicles an evening of feasting, drinking, carousing, cigars and camaraderie. "The porter didn't bat an eyelid ... you have to admire the aplomb of somone who can face axe-wielding smoker-friendly Norseman in Mayfair."

In which Leavey recounts how he was seduced by sultry, surprising Cuba -- home of the Havana. "Despite the widely-held myth that all Havana cigars are rolled on the thighs of beautiful Cuban women, up to the early 1960s all cigar rollers were men."

FORCES is supported solely by the efforts of the readers. Please become a member or donate what you can.

Contact Info
Forces Contacts
Media Contacts
Links To Archived Categories

The Evidence
Inside Forces
About Forces
Book case