Jl:where Did You First Start Smoking?

Barry Cryer

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James Leavey's Corner
  By James Leavey

The British comedy writer and raconteur tells FORCES to…lighten up!


JL:Where did you first start smoking"

BC: Leeds grammerschool.  I am the cliché – behind the bike sheds.  Thought it wasclever. Dunhills, I remember, brown and white packet.  And thestories you remember of cigarette brands that nobody mentionsanymore.  Passing Cloud, Balkan Sobranie, strange, strange thingswith exotic names.  And who was it that used to do, “and four foryour friends”" They sold you a packet of twenty cigarettes, in whichthere were 16 little cardboard compartments, “and four for yourfriends.” I did have a pipe-smoking period.  I used to smoke Condor– they smelled like bananas. Seriously. I loved it but I was toolazy to be a pipe smoker, because of all that business with thepunch, the tamper, and the rocker – isn’t that the same thing astamper"  Haven’t heard that word used for years.

JL:What do you smoke now"

BC: Menthol cigarettes –Consulates. Been smoking them for years. Introduced to them by thegreat comedian, Norman Evans – who was asthmatic and had been toldto stop.  His doctor actually said to him, “Well if you’ve reallygot to do it, you madman, smoke menthol.” And Norman got it wrong,he thought he’d said "herbal". And he was smoking these and said tohis doctor, “It’s driving me mad.”   And his doctor said, “You aremad. I said menthol.”  I didn’t know Consulates had been going forso long, “Cool as a mountain stream.” Norman told me they were goingbefore the second world war.  Anyway, I’ve got the minty taste, andI love it. You’re either lucky or unlucky with Consulates. When youtake the packet out most people go, “Ooh no, no offense, no thankyou.” But there’s always somebody who says, “Ooh, I wouldn’t mindone of those.” And they keep coming at you.   But usually you can’tgive them away, so you’re safe.

JL:A lot of old comedians used to smoke for the timing.  Have youexperienced that"

BC: Yeah. Not now. Idon’t know a single smoker amongst the young comics.  Draw your ownconclusions.  I get angry when people say to me, at my age, “What doyou think of these young comics"”  Their voices give it all way,like, you think they’re crap and they don’t. Every generation is thesame – the current one is brilliant. Many of them are great friendsof mine.

JL:What do you say when somebody asks you to put your fag out"

BC: Well, I respect it. To be fair to myself, I haven’t lit up in a situation where somebodymight say this.  And I’m old enough to remember when you lit acigarette in somebody’s house, or someone’s car and never thoughtabout it.

JL:Who would you most like to share a smoke with, alive or dead"

BC: George Burns. He wasmy idol. I worked with George a couple of times and he did a doubleact with his wife, Gracie.  He was in his fifties when he startedand died when he was 100.  And Burns had been playing the ‘old man’for fifty years. Then I got the white hair.  Now, very luckily, Iwork with a lot of the young comics, all the time.  And I thought,what card have you got to play in this game" The old card – I’m theold man. I’m Uncle Baz to all the young comics.  It’s a thrill forme. I love it. And it was George Burns who gave me the idea.  So nowa lot of the young comics think I’m about 80! And I smoke as well. All smokers love an old smoker. In my local pub in Hatch End, I usedto see Harry, God Rest Him, a chain-smoker who died last year.  Justlike George Burns, he also lived to 100. Harry was nearly blind andused to shuffle into the pub, on his own, from his home down theroad.  He’d sit in the corner and, God Love Him, he hardly everbought a pint the last years of his life.  Harry, who was an ex-armyofficer, told me once, “Three cigarettes to a pint, Barry, is mylimit.” And I thought, "You’re my manqué." This isn’t an advert forsmoking, at all.  It’s a bloody lottery. Three cigarettes to apint.  What’s it all about"

JL:Is smoking cool"

BC: Oh, not now.  We’resocial lepers.

JL: Do you smoke aftersex"

BC: You’re not expectingme to say, “I’ve never looked” are you"

JL: No.

BC: I’ve cut down onboth.

JL:Ever set fire to a bed"

BC: I was accused of itbut in my defense I said the bed was already on fire when I got intoit.

JL:What is your favourite smoking moment"

BC: Norman Evans and Iwere at the Alexandra Gardens, Weymouth, sorry to place-drop, and itwas an all wooden theatre. It was the late fifties. In those daysyou didn’t see ‘No smoking’ signs, not really.  Nobody bothered. But they had ‘No smoking’ signs all over this theatre because it wasall wooden. Norman was not a well man and he had a dressing roomnear the stage because he had trouble walking.  You couldn’t see hisdressing room for the smoke.  His wife used to fry sausages on a gasring in his dressing room.  My favourite smoking memory is me andNorman Evans smoking menthol cigarettes to which I had been newlyintroduced by him, under a large ‘No smoking’ sign.

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

BC: Britney Spears.

JL:Have you ever thought of giving up smoking"

BC: Endlessly.  Allsmokers have.

JL:Have you ever done anything about it"

BC: Yes. Six monthswithout smoking, years ago.

JL:Do you see yourself giving it up now"

BC: No. The sad thing iswe all know we enjoy it.  We’re addicted, let’s be honest.

JL:You smoked a lot on on the TV show, 'Jokers Wild', which they’re nowrepeating on Granada Plus.

BC: Yeah.  I’ve watchedone or two, only to watch the others, I can assure you. I had a lotof big black hair in those days and horn-rimmed glasses.  I met aguy in Birmingham last year who said, “I’ve been watching thatprogramme the other night, the one where all the comedians keepribbing each other.  And that chairman doesn’t half look like you.Was it your son"”  True story.  We were all smoking.  We hadashtrays. I would be seen putting a cigarette out before I asked aquestion. A lot of the comics in  those days were smoking. The otherday I thought, ‘Who was the last person you saw smoking ontelevision"’  My old friend Willy Rushton was once on livetelevision early in the morning with his arm hanging down the backof the settee, and you could see the smoke coming out. And then Ithought it was Peter Cook, on a Clive James show. Peter was defiant,and he came on and said something immediately totally incorrect. And then I thought, no, it wasn’t Peter. The last person I sawsmoking on television was Jimmy Savile on 'Have I Got News For You',who lit a cigar when he came on.

JL:Know any good smoking jokes"

BC: There were two guysin the pub and one says, "I’ll see you tomorrow." And the other onesays, "No you won’t.  I’ll see you a fortnight tomorrow, I’m goingon holiday." So the first one says, "Oh God, would you bring me backsome cigarettes"” The other one says, "Course I will."  So they meeta fortnight later, and the guy’s got a big carton.  So the man says,"Thank you very much.  How much do I owe you"" And the other guysays, "Seventy-six quid." The first man says, "Seventy-six quid!Where did you go"" And other guy says, "Bournemouth."

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