Last Night's Viewing: Timeshift: The Smoking Years BBC4
How to Cook Like Heston Channel 4

 

I went to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the other day and was a little startled by how much smoking there was in it. Then I remembered that it was an 18 certificate movie and therefore licensed for the display of transgressive behaviour, whether that took the form of a violent rectal assault on an abusive therapist or the oral inhalation of burning tobacco. As it happens, films in which people smoke don't yet automatically receive an 18 certificate, though after watching Timeshift: The Smoking Years you wouldn't bet against it happening one day because, among other things, Borja Cantera's film was a study of how quickly the universally acceptable can flip into the untolerated. Presented as the evolutionary history of the smoker, it began with the democratisation of the fag with the invention of the first cigarette-rolling machine in 1880 and closed with a hideous vista of extinguished stub-ends, smouldering gently like a post-apocalyptic landscape.

In between those two extremes the popularity of smoking described a perfect parabola, launched upwards by industrialisation and the First World War (there's nothing like shellfire for making a smoker of a man), and then given a second-stage boost by the sexual potential of what Dennis Potter once called "this lovely tube of delight". Distressed that social taboos were limiting the number of people they could poison, American tobacco companies retained Edward Bernays to break the taboo on women smoking in public in the US, a mission he brought off by arranging for flappers to march in parade down a Manhattan street flaunting their "torches of freedom". It didn't escape anyone's notice that the cigarette had an inherent sexiness too, not just because a woman who would might do other things too but because of all the oral play involved in smoking them. As one male contributor put it, describing the erotic power of the thing: "You just wanted to be where the cigarette was, didn't you?"

The evidence of smoking's near-universal adoption (it has been estimated that more than 80 per cent of British troops returned from the Second World War as smokers) is almost comical these days, viewed from a smoke-free perspective. As Stuart Maconie, Barry Cryer and others recalled the hazy days when virtually no public space was free of cigarette smoke, it was slightly startling to remember how ghastly it could be. Because, even if smokers obeyed the imaginary demarcations between smoking and non-smoking areas in public spaces, the smoke itself was usually less biddable. Curiously, it was ex-smokers, rather than cigarette virgins, who eventually proved the fiercest campaigners against the weed, including a Glasgow GP called Lennox Johnston and Cecilia Farren, who had the radical idea of asking restaurant diners whether they would prefer to have their food without fumes and was astonished to find that 80 per cent were in favour of no-smoking areas but had never thought to complain. Some aspects of the film were a little low-tar for my tastes (it lacked the back-of-the-throat rasp of libertarian rage the subject can inspire), but its compression offered an almost timelapse vision of social change. Smoke everywhere and then, almost magically, it had gone.

In How to Cook Like Heston, smoke unsurprisingly turned out to be one of the ingredients, a smouldering bed of wood chips adding a bonfire perfume to his chilli con carne. But the bottom line here is that this is actually a pretty useful cookery programme, delivering a high tip-to-packaging ratio and some intriguing kitchen demonstrations. Some idiot out there probably now thinks it is crucial to get a large man to stand on top of a steak before you serve it up, but for those of us paying attention it was a memorable demonstration of why you must always rest it for a few minutes first.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn