Miles Kington: You can't smoke that cigar in here, Mr Churchill

Give the Scots a free hand, and the spirit of Knox and Calvin will return, wagging its dreadful bony finger of disapproval
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The Independent Online

Everyone's curiosity has been aroused by Mary Kenny's play Allegiance, in which Mel Smith may or may not be allowed to smoke cigars to portray Churchill, but few of us will be in Edinburgh this month to find out. So here is a brief extract, just to set the scene ...

It is 1921. The scene is Churchill's living room. He and Michael Collins have got together to relax, have a drink and decide the fate of Ireland.

Churchill: Brandy all right, Mr Collins?

Collins: Do you not have any Irish drink? Guinness, perhaps?

Churchill: Is that really an Irish drink, though? Not a very Irish working-class name, is it - Sir Arthur Guinness?

Collins: You have a point.

Churchill: Whereas Hennessy is a good old Irish name. I believe Richard Hennessy was an Irishman who moved to France in the 18th century and set up the brandy firm. So with a brandy in your hand, you would be drinking an Irish drink.

Collins: You certainly have done your research.

Churchill: When you devote as much of your life to drinking brandy as I intend to, it is as well to investigate the life-giving qualities of the stuff in advance, Mr Collins. Incidentally, there is also a drink called a Tom Collins. Is he any relation of yours?

Collins: Most of my relations are in hiding, or exile, or have been murdered by the British.

Churchill: Dear me. How very sad. A large Hennessy, then?

Collins: Please.

Churchill: And a Havana cigar?

Collins: Are you going to tell me that the Cuban cigar is also an Irish invention?

Churchill: Alas, no. Bernardo O'Higgins could, I suppose, have been responsible, but he was too busy liberating Chile from the Spanish yoke to have time for tobacco farming.

Collins: And I am too busy liberating Ireland from the British yoke to waste time on cigars. In any case, cigars are symbolic of the upper classes. The workers would never be given time off by their employers to smoke a whole cigar. That is why cigarettes were invented.

Churchill: But if, let us say, Cuba had a revolution, and the new strongman - for all revolutions produce a dictator in the end - if the dictator smoked cigars, the cigar would then be a left-wing symbol, would it not?

Collins: This is fantasy, Mr Churchill. About as absurd as to suppose you could defeat the Turkish by invading the Dardanelles.

Churchill: Touché. He strikes a match and starts the long process of lighting his cigar. Enter an official of the Scottish Parliament.

Official: All right, that's it, laddy. You had your warning. You've ignored it. You are smoking in a working environment. Not only that, but you've indulged in a cheap anachronism by referring forward to Fidel Castro, who was not even born at the time the events took place.

Collins: Who is this Scottish interloper? Did you not say we were to be uninterrupted this evening, Mr Churchill?

Churchill: Alas, Mr Collins, what you see is a warning against letting people have their independence. Give the Scots a free hand, and the spirit of Knox and Calvin will return, wagging its dreadful bony finger of disapproval.

Collins: And if you give the Irish their freedom?

Churchill: They will no longer have the British to blame for everything. They will have to start shouldering their own history.

Collins: Don't you believe it. A nation with as sharp a sense of history as the Irish sees the present almost as a luxury. We feed off our past. Cromwell is more real to the Irish than even you are, Mr Churchill.

Churchill: Dear me. You sound more like George Bernard Shaw with every minute that passes.

Collins: I think not. No one in Ireland thinks of Bernard Shaw as Irish any more. He is merely a man who does an Irish act for the English. The British always need at least one tame Irishman to amuse them, when they cannot think of jokes for themselves.

Official: I am slapping a £200 fine on you for illicit smoking. Plus an extra £100 for the anachronistic reference to Terry Wogan.

Etc, etc. Full text on request.