Big Tobacco? — 17 Comments

  1. From the reference work Goldfinger by Adrian Turner (1998), Page 183. Ian Fleming is dining with his friend the poet & novelist William Plomer at The Ivy Wikipedia – on May 12 of 1952:

    »William how do you get cigarette smoke out out of a woman once you’ve got it in ?«

    It was 12 May 1952 and Ian Fleming was lunching at the Ivy with his friend William Plomer. He followed the question by saying he didn’t think that ‘exhales’ or ‘puffs it out’ sounded quite right.

    You’ve written a book! said Plomer, quickly twigging.

    Fleming made a fetish out of smoking, just as he made a fetish out of black knitted ties, boiled eggs and vodka martinis. He smoked cheerfully, obsessively and suicidally, usually seventy a day. Of course, everyone smoked in those days and those who did not were regarded as freaks, lepers, namby-pambys. Without a cigarette, stars like Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne and Bette Davis looked naked, and watching them was an audience wreathed in the wreaking cigarette smoke. Looking behind you in the cinema, the sight of tobacco smoke floating across the beam of the projector was one of the most evocative sights in the world, despite the fact that the nicotine stained the screens and dimmed the image.

    Fleming smoked Morland cigarettes, which he bought from a shop at 83 Grosvenor Street, just around the corner of Bond Street. And because Fleming smoked them, so did Bond, who carried them in a case made from gunmetal and lit them with a black, oxidized Ronson lighter.

    When Fleming was asked if Bond was wise in smoking such a conspicuous brand, he said:

    »Of course …. of no self-respecting agent would use such things. He’d smoke Players or Chesterfields. But the readers enjoy such idiosyncrasies, and they accept them because they don’t stop to think about it. The secrecy of my secret agent is pretty transparent, if you think about it even briefly. But the pace of the narrative gets one by these nasty little corners. It’s a sleight of hand operation. It’s overpowering the reader.«

    The shop on Grosvenor Street was tiny and its window display contained bowls of tobacco, smokers’ paraphernalia and copies of the latest James Bond novel. Inside, the smell was heavily perfumed and there was always the manager Miss Cohen, a middle aged woman with glasses and shiny black hair always tied in a tight bun. Sometimes you could glimpse a woman in the back room, rolling your very own. Until he became famous, Fleming would visit the shop every week and collect his weekly ration of five hundred at a cost, in 1963 of 37s 6dWikipedia – per week.

    Morland cigarettes came, not in packs of twenty, like regular brands, but in boxes of fifty or a hundred. Because of the size of the boxes, you could never carry them in your breast pocket, so that if you were at a party and a friend offered a Piccadilly or a Capstan Full Strength, let alone a pathetic little Park Drive or a humble Woodbine, you couldn’t produce your box of Morland and say ‘Have one of mine’, and savour the look of polite enquiry and snobbish thrill of being a smoker who stood out – and smelt different – from the rest.

    The boxes were stoutly made, deep blue with gold writing, as if they might have contained jewels, which, of course, they did. One got them home and ‘decanted’ them into cigarette cases of gold, silver, or gunmetal. The cigarettes themselves were of regular length, not kingsize, and unfiltered, naturally. The name Morland never appeared. Instead, they had three gold rings at one end and, along the edge, in tiny capitals the word ‘HANDMADE’. Each box contained a slip of paper which read:

    These cigarettes are made of the most choice and perfectly blended tobaccos, the dormant fragrance of which is preserved in our careful process of manufacture. Each cigarette is made by hand, one by one, and tobacco dust, so harmful to the throat is entirely eliminated.

    However, despite their claims to the contrary, the cigarettes were variable in quality. Some were perfect, others poorly filled and some seemed to have less leaf them stalk, which meant they burnt [sic] like an explosive fuze and lasted less than a minute. The blend of Balkan and Turkish tobacco was also annoyingly inconsistent; they could be strong or weak, bitter or deliciously sweet, with hints of cedarwood, dark chocolate, vanilla or unadulterated tar.

    These were the days when cigarettes were objects of desire and they came packaged like works of art. Morland’s was just one of several specialist tobacconists based in MayfairWikipedia -, St James’sWikipedia – or SohoWikipedia -. But even regular shops offered a dizzying array of of brands. W.D. & H.O. WillsWikipedia – had a remarkable cigarette called Passing CloudsWikipedia -, which was elliptical in shape and came in a pink flip-top boxes decorated with Van Dyke’s The Laughing CavalierWikipedia -. Bensen and HedgesWikipedia – could be bought in flat gold tins of twenty. Balkan SobranieWikipedia – had a brand called Black RussianWikipedia -, with black paper and gold tips, and another brand called CocktailWikipedia -, which came in a riot of different colours and was aimed at the ladies. Most expensive of all the proprietary brands though, were Players’ Perfectos FinosWikipedia -, Link – Jims Burnt Offerings which were unusually plump and strong buggers sold in embossed green boxes of twenty-five.

    You could buy cigarettes from Egypt, from Russia, from Turkey and most appealing of all, from America: King Size ChesterfieldWikipedia -, CamelWikipedia -, Pall MallWikipedia -, Lucky StrikeWikipedia -, Lone StarWikipedia -and Philip MorrisWikipedia -, all in pretty paper packs, all unfiltered, all expensive, all deliriously deadly. One of any of these with your first cup of coffee in the morning gave you such as terrific buzz, the nicotine coursing through your veins, that you could fall down the stairs.

    Bond smoked for England. When abroad he favoured Chesterfields, or when in Turkey exotic things called DiplomatsWikipedia -, which are still available. Gradually the movie versions played down Bond’s smoking and once Broccoli even had a health warning tacked on to the final credits. Ian Fleming died in 1964 and a few years later the little shop in Grosvenor Street was stubbed out as well.

  2. Brilliant! Thanks for that little bit of potted history – it was an interesting read. I was amused by the apparent inconsistency of the Morland cigarettes. Although, being hand-rolled, there is a certain inevitability to that fact. Neat box though, eh?

  3. Just to get all Tobacco-Geeky on you; “being hand-rolled” is not quite correct. They would have been ‘injected’ by hand. Basically, the ladies rolled a roll up then placed the premade tube on top of that ‘roll up’ then pushed the tobacco out of the roll up and into the tube with a bit of dowel. Required great amounts of dexterity and years of practice…I should think. For those who need a visual explanation of the process:

    Oh and that far-too-long quote I posted, just so no one thinks I’m clever enough to have written it myself like, came from a now dead blog (which isn’t even on Wayback) 🙁

  4. Lovely article ! How much I miss my Sullivan Powell Turkish. With the demise of Tor Turkish there are now no Turkish cigarettes available in the UK. Very very sad !

  5. TG, you probably know this already but you can still buy turkish hand rolling tobaccos here in the UK. For example (and it is only an example, never tried it myself)
    -at the obscene+ prices now charged.

    Personally I quite like the street vendor tobacco that my Turkish friends sometimes bring me back. No idea what it is exactly but it tastes like it has a huge dose of some Oriental leaf in it and perhaps some toasted virginia.

  6. Yes, I bought some loose tobacco off the street when I was in Istanbul a few years ago, and it was excellent – I regretted not buying more. Unlike the loose stuff in the market in Laos, which just about took the top of my head off. I’m currently investigating, via a contact here, buying loose tobacco by the kilo, although I’m yet to try it. It would be local tobacco, and I’m not normally wild about the local blends, but at €20 a kilo, it’s got to be looked at.

  7. If you find the local tobacco is too harsh/strong you can always try toasting it…or just man up and grow a pair 😛

  8. Many thanks ! Yes i do buy Auld Kendal Gold Turkish for my Powermatic tubing machine and good it is too !

  9. On the contrary, I find Greek tobaccos bit mild for my taste normally, although there are some brands of tailor-mades here that are ok. But what this tobacco is like I have no idea. I’m going to have to try to scam a sample. I don’t want to buy a kilo of baccy that I don’t like, even if it is cheap.

  10. Thinking about tobacco strengths etc, I came across this accidentally while looking up something completely different. I wondered if anyone here has ever tried adding ash to tobacco for flavour.

    Adulteration of tobacco

    The Farmers General held a monopoly of the production, import and sale of tobacco in France, and the taxes they levied on tobacco brought revenues of 30 million livres a year. However this revenue began to fall because of a growing black market in tobacco that was smuggled and adulterated, most commonly with ash and water. Lavoisier devised a method of checking whether ash had been mixed in with tobacco: “When a spirit of vitriol, aqua fortis or some other acid solution is poured on ash, there is an immediate very intense effervescent reaction, accompanied by an easily detected noise.” Lavoisier also noticed that the addition of a small amount of ash improved the flavour of tobacco. Of one vendor selling adulterated goods he wrote “His tobacco enjoys a very good reputation in the province… the very small proportion of ash that is added gives it a particularly pungent flavour that consumers look for. Perhaps the Farm could gain some advantage by adding a bit of this liquid mixture when the tobacco is fabricated.” Lavoisier also found that while adding a lot of water to bulk the tobacco up would cause it to ferment and smell bad, the addition of a very small amount improved the product. Thereafter the factories of the Farmers General added, as he recommended, a consistent 6.3% of water by volume to the tobacco they processed.[17] To allow for this addition, the Farmers General delivered to retailers seventeen ounces of tobacco while only charging for sixteen.[18] To ensure that only these authorised amounts were added, and to exclude the black market, Lavoisier saw to it that a watertight system of checks, accounts, supervision and testing made it very difficult for retailers to source contraband tobacco or to improve their profits by bulking it up. He was energetic and rigorous in implementing this, and the systems he introduced were deeply unpopular with the tobacco retailers across the country. This unpopularity was to have consequences for him during the French Revolution.[19]

    – he was executed by guillotine,for adulterating tobacco amongst other things.

    According to Iain Gateley’s book “Drink”, he conducted his last scientific experiment after his own execution by trying to find out how long a severed head would remain conscious. His assistant stood by the basket at the foot of the guillotine and counted the number of times Lavoisier’s head blinked before its eyes closed forever. Apparently he managed 15.

    Reminds me of this:

  11. That’s a new one on me! I thought I was fairly well up on tobaccos. The question is what sort of ash were they using? Tobacco ash or the sweepings from the fire place? Inquiring minds need to know! I might try adding ash from my next expensive cigar to a rollup….

  12. As BD says, that’s very interesting. I also have never heard of using ash to mix with tobacco. There seems to be no mention in the link you provide as to the source of the ash. I can only assume it’s wood ash of some sort, as there would be a huge range of flavours that could be potentially derived from it, depending on the wood used. I know as a carpenter that it’s quite easy to identify different types of timber purely by the smell when they are being cut and machined. Some of them smell absolutely wonderful (Cypress, Cedar and to a lesser extent, Oak, to mention a few), whereas others smell awful. Elm, for instance, smells like cat’s piss when you cut it. And I would imagine those flavour properties would carry over into the ash to a certain extent.

  13. WD & HO Wills used to do the cigarette cards. My Grandad had a full collection of cards featuring WW2 planes. They were in a special frame he sent off for.
    I wanted to keep on to that when he died, but unfortunately I don’t know what ever became of it

  14. What a shame you lost track of them – that would have been a lovely thing to have. Probably worth a few bob, too. I’ve got a feeling that a few companies did cigarette cards, not just Wills, although I think they had largely fallen out of favour by the fifties.

    I’m trying to think what else we got cards with apart from cigarettes. I have a memory from when I was a boy (1950s to early 60s) of collecting cards, and it wasn’t from ciggies – my parents didn’t smoke. We used to have a playground game with decidedly arcane rules which involved flicking your card from a distance towards a predetermined spot. The exact object of the game eludes me now, but you could win your competitors’ cards and increase your stash if you were skilled and had a good eye. But, damn, I can’t remember where the cards came from. Packets of tea, perhaps? PG Tips or similar? Dunno. I’ll have to cogitate on that one. Unless someone else can nudge my memory.

  15. Yes, there were more than one, I’ve just never seen a collection like that before. I remember getting cards in Embassy No1 when I was a kid in the early 90s, although I never collected any
    I do seem to remember there being something in tea. There were probably others too