Harrelson versus Depp in battle of the smoking ban

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The Independent Online

Having divided the House of Commons, the debate over smoking in public is causing friction between some of the biggest "names" in Hollywood.

A few weeks back, Johnny Depp told a New York newspaper he'd "come over and have a smoke-athon", if any ban went through. "The idea of bludgeoning people and telling them that if they smoke they're awful is ludicrous," he said.

Now Woody Harrelson, who is starring in the West End play Night of the Iguana has weighed in on behalf of the health police.

Although he has previously endorsed campaigns to legalise marijuana, Harrelson, above, has adopted a hardline approach to tobacco, and has refused to join colleagues in London venues where it's permitted.

His first-night dinner at the Meridian this evening will be tobacco-free and journalists wishing to interview him are banned from lighting up.

As a result, the actor has been invited to become patron of the Roy Castle Lung Foundation, a leading pressure group in favour of the ban. "He is keen on healthy living," a spokesman for Harrelson's play said. "He's a vegan, cycles round London and his clothes are made out of hemp.

"He lives in Hawaii, in a solar-powered commune where they grow their own food. He likes to practise his beliefs and doesn't like smoky environments so we've had to be mindful of that."

The pressure group ASH reckons: "Woody's clearly got more brains than Johnny Depp."

* Dame Beryl Bainbridge has always struck Pandora as a harmless old dear, so it's surprising to find her on the receiving end of a literary right hook.

Roger Lloyd Pack, the actor, has submitted a review of Bainbridge's latest book, Front Row: My Life at the Theatre, to the Camden New Journal.

In layman's terms, it's quite a stinker. "I'm not entirely sure at what audience this collection of reviews is aimed," he writes.

"It would appear that the publishers aren't either, as in their press handout they refer to the book as 'a fascinating and personal insight into the theatrical world of the late 1950s and early 1960s through the eyes of one of our best-loved novelists'."

"They must be [referring to] Dame Beryl's introduction which is only eight pages long and the most interesting part of the book."

Lloyd Pack achieved fame playing the illiterate "Trigger" in Only Fools and Horses. He must be quite a reader, nonetheless.

* Jim Broadbent isn't one to leave anything to chance when it comes to researching a future role.

With this in mind, the actor - who is shortly to play the late Lord Longford in a Channel 4 film - has requested a ticket to tonight's Longford Lecture.

It's an earnest speech on the role of women in the legal system by Britain's first female law lord, Brenda Hale.

"Tonight's lecture falls on what would have been Longford's 100th birthday," said Peter Stanford, upon whose biography the film is based.

"It's sweet that Mr Broadbent is taking the whole thing so seriously. I think he's even gone as far as to read my book."

Intriguingly, Myra Hindley - on whose behalf Longford tirelessly campaigned - is to be played by a rising starlet, Samantha Morton.

* Who should I spot breaking a sweat on the tennis courts of the Harbour Club last week but the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King.

Fellow members report that King - known to chums as "Merv the Swerve" - did battle against such stars of the court as Thomas Muster, Cedric Pioline and Mark Woodford.

"Merv's a left-hander with a ferocious serve, and an even more ferocious temper," I'm told. "Obviously, he's no stranger to a good lunch, either. So it's fair to say he was given a good thrashing."

Over to an official spokesman. "Mr King was asked to give the players a warm-up before the Masters event at the Albert Hall," he said.

"He's a pretty good player, and certainly didn't embarrass himself. But they weren't keeping a score."

* Christine Hamilton is one of Britain's foremost eccentrics but only a fool - or a masochist - would suggest that she has turned to drink in her old age.

Strange, then, to peer inside the veteran battleaxe's handbag last week and discover a collection of minature whisky bottles.

Hamilton, who was at the opening of a Knightsbridge bar, Bardo, claimed they were there on medical advice, since wine interferes with her vocal chords.

"I have to take them with me everywhere," she said. "I can't drink wine because of the acid in it.

"In fact, Neil and I went to Margaret Thatcher's birthday bash the other week and since she's a whisky drinker I thought I'd be safe. But they only had wine on offer, so I was jolly glad I'd taken the bottles in my handbag." Chin chin!