Brunel's 40-a-day habit stubbed out by university

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The Independent Online

Isambard Kingdom Brunel's 40-a-day cigar habit is held responsible for some of the greatest triumphs of British engineering.

Unfortunately, it also represents an upturned middle finger towards the politically-correct mandarins of modern academia.

With this in mind, Brunel University has removed the famous stoogie from a new, life-size statue of the eminent Victorian.

The bronze is based on the National Portrait Gallery's iconic photograph of Brunel standing next to the launching chains of his ship, the SS Great Eastern, in 1857.

It was unveiled last week, revealing a close likeness, but - to the annoyance of Brunel fans, historians and the smoking lobby alike - no cigar.

Exact thinking behind the move is unclear. The sculptor Anthony Stone cites artistic reasons, saying: "I tried it with the cigar, and it worked quite well on the 2ft model, but at full size it looked too casual."

A university spokesman offers a different explanation, though: "The cigar would be too easily broken off. It's nothing to do with political correctness, it's for practical reasons."

Either way, the strange affair echoes a row before Christmas, when Brunel's cigar was airbrushed from a photo used in school textbooks, to protect children from a "harmful" image.

"What next?" wonders the pro-smoking pressure group Forest. "Will Sherlock Holmes surrender his pipe? Will Sir Winston Churchill [also] be robbed of his cigar?"

Dorchester hotel bans Rourke's best friend

Mickey Rourke was a surprise absentee from the list of stars expected at the premiere of his new film Stormbreaker last night.

Organisers of the bash said the Hollywood star would be giving London a miss thanks to a "prior commitment".

However, the man himself has another (perfectly good) reason to stay away from our capital city.

In an interview in his native US, Rourke has revealed that his pet dog, a Chihuahua called Loki, is no longer welcome at the Dorchester.

This follows an incident last year, when Rourke stayed at the hotel during the making of Stormbreaker at Pinewood Studios.

His pooch displayed scant regard for the upmarket surroundings.

"Loki pissed all over a rug," says Rourke. "In fact, I had to replace two rugs at the Dorchester. That dog cost me $10,000." The Dorchester wouldn't comment yesterday.

Kettles and pots (of money)

A couple of years back, the actress Samantha Morton took a spirited pop at one fellow member of showbusiness "royalty".

"We really want Gary Oldman for a part in my next film, River Queen," Morton told an interviewer at the time.

"But we can't even get him a script, because he won't read anything we send him unless we offer him a million. I mean, how sad is that?"

Times (and Morton's standards) seem to have changed, though. This month's Vanity Fair carries a piece on Nicole Kidman's latest flick, Fur.

"A lot of people got excited about Fur," the article reads. "For a while, Samantha Morton was going to play Diane, but she held out for too much money."

Pots and kettles, Samantha?

Green George

George Galloway can swap his long-standing nickname, "gorgeous," for an upmarket alternative.

The Respect MP - whose motoring habits featured here yesterday - turns out to be the owner of not one, but two Mercedes Benz.

He's promised to swap one, a gas-guzzling blue saloon, for a "greener" model at the next reasonable opportunity. But the other, a swanky red vintage sports car, is staying put.

"The red car is a soft top, which he only uses for a few weeks each year, so it doesn't pollute much, and is here to stay," says a spokesman for "two Mercs" Galloway.

He adds: "It's 28 years old, and was bought with the proceeds of a libel action against Robert Maxwell."

Sugar sells the silver (Seraph)

Sir Alan Sugar likes winners (even though, to quote his Premium Bonds ad, he's no gambler). But would you buy a used car from him? The entrepreneur's Rolls Royce - which did a star turn in The Apprentice - has popped-up for sale in the Anglia edition of Autotrader.

It's going for a bargain £55,000, some £100,000 less than Sugar paid when it rolled off the production line six years ago.

The Silver Seraph is described thus: "Bought personally from titled business mogul, chauffeur-driven from new, featured in first series of BBC programme The Apprentice, plate AMS 1 not with the car."

Sadly, the Essex car dealer flogging Sugar's Roller won't elaborate further. "I don't want to talk to the press about this," he tells me. "Goodbye."