James Leavey's Sharing An Ashtray With... Russ Abbot

Russ Abbot

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James Leavey's Corner
  By James Leavey
The comedian and Britain's former Pipesmoker of the Year tellsJames Leavey how he lights up.

JL: Where did you first start smoking"

RA: In the back of the bike sheds, at Chester City grammarschool, where I remember being caught. We used to stand on thecorner of the playground, which was sort of L-shaped, and Iwas down the end, keeping a lookout in case any of the mastersof prefects came along. The following morning, the headmasterat assembly called out a big list of names, myself included,and he questioned us. He said, "You're known as the 'SmokingGang'." We didn't know that where we were standing was thecorner of the gym, you see, and the gym had a flat roof, andthere was a master on the roof, looking over the top. We'dlook around, backwards and forwards, but never thought oflooking

JL: Do you smoke cigars as well as a pipe"

RA: Yes, I do.

JL: What cigars do you actually smoke"

RA: Davidoff No.3s, which is like a torpedo. I used tosmoke Montecristo No.2s.

JL: How many pipes do you own"

RA: Oh gosh, at a guess I would say about eight, but onlyabout three are in use.

JL: What's your favourite pipe"

RA: The one I've got in my pocket at the moment, anAstley's briar. I've also got two pipes which belonged toGeorge V.

JL: Have you"

RA: Yeah. A pal of mine I was playing golf with bought themin a job lot. He didn't smoke pipes and he said 'Would youlike them"" They've got the 'V ' on the silver band. One's aMeerschaum and one's a little curved pipe.

JL: So you could do the 'Gentlemen, you may smoke' sort ofthing, couldn't you"

RA: Yeah. After the loyal toast.

JL: What pipe tobacco do you smoke"

RA: Condor Mild.

JL: Have you always smoked it"

RA: Yes. I smoke St Bruno occasionally. It depends if youcan't get the brand. It's not everywhere which stocks CondorMild. Then I'll smoke Bruno Rough Cut, or some Errimore maybe.

JL: Why do so many comedians smoke"

RA: I don't really know. I'm not a heavy smoker, certainlynot with a pipe. Because with a pipe you don't start untillate in the day.

JL: Is that because it takes so long to light it"

RA: Well, I suppose because it's quite satisfying. When Iused to smoke cigarettes I'd wake up the next day and spend anhour over the sink, coughing, first thing in the morning. Butnow, with the pipe, I can go all day without one (a smoke).

JL: Do you ever smoke during a performance"

RA: No, I've never done that.No, I tell a lie. I've smokeda Church Warden pipe in a musical, because it was to do withthe character.

JL: You've not used a pipe in the same way George Burnsused cigars, for timing"

RA: No. I smoked a pipe in September Song, only because Ithought the character I was playing was a pipe smoker.

JL: What do you say when someone asks you to put your pipeout"

RA: I'll put it out if it offends anybody. It doesn't upsetme.

JL: You're not bothered, even if you're in a smoking area.

RA: No. The thing is nowadays most places don't allowpipesmoking, anyway, which I think is rather bizarre, becauseI think they're probably more pleasant-smelling thancigarettes.

JL: So where do you smoke"

RA: Occasionally, you can find a restaurant which allowspipesmoking. If I'm in a restaurant which allows cigarsmoking, I'll smoke a cigar.

JL: Who would you like most to share a smoke with - aliveor dead"

RA: I suppose, because of the pipe connection, I wouldn'tmind a smoke with Eric Morecambe.

JL: Do you ever share a smoke with him"

RA: No. I met him on occasions.

JL: Would you like to have got to know him better"

RA: Yes. He was such a great wit. I remember being at thePalladium to see 'Singing in the Rain'. My second son, who wasa teenager at the time, about twelve or thirteen, his mum hadbought him a leather suit. He wasn't really keen on wearingthis particular suit, but his mum made him wear it. We wereordering interval drinks prior to the show in the bar and Ericwalked up behind me and said, "Russ. I see you've brought yourwallet with you." My son sulked all the way through theperformance.

JL: Is smoking cool"

RA: I don't think so. No. You mean in the sense of beingtrendy"

JL: Any sense at all.

RA: Nah.

JL: Do you smoke after sex"

RA: I've never looked.

JL: Have you got a better answer - that's the third timeI've heard that one!

RA: I don't think a pipe is very apt, do you" You can'treally sit on a bed and smoke a pipe. So no, I don't smoke inbed.

JL: Fair enough. Have you ever set fire to a bed"

RA: No.

JL: What is your favourite smoking moment"

RA: I wouldn't say it was a favourite moment, but Iremember setting the fire alarms off in the BBC televisioncentre at White City. I was just in the corridor smoking apipe. Security came round and sorted out what it was. Ithappened at Granada Studios as well, much to my dismay. And Ithought I was in the right place at the right time, you know,but it must have been very sensitive because the fire brigadeturned up for that one. The fireman came down, and he was onhis walky-talky calling back to base, and he said. "No panic.It's just some comedian, smoking a pipe." I was totallyembarrassed.

JL: Whose doorway would you like most to smoke in"

RA: Steven Spielberg's, I suppose. I'd be hoping he mightopen up and see who's out there, and let me in. Or any greatfilm director who'd think, "Where's the smell coming from""And offer me a part. Failing that, I wouldn't mind sharing asmoke with late Michael Williams.  Talking about films, Iused to tell a story of the time I went to see a 3-D film in acinema, when smoking was still allowed. I put the glasses on and was walking down the aisle when I bumped into a guy andsaid, "Excuse me, can you tell me where the smoking seatsare"" And the guy said, "Don't ask me, I'm in the film."

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