Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Revealed: who stole Winston's cigar?

GIF animations generator gifup.comWith its usual gift for affected indignation, the Daily Mail is seething about the anti-smoking zealots who, allegedly, censored Winston Churchill's cigar from a poster. "It seems the man who steered Britain through the most dangerous period of its recent history may have fallen victim to the modern curse of political correctness," says the report. Many frothing comments followed from readers.

The poster featured in a display at a London museum, the Britain at War Experience, near London Bridge. Oddly enough, the story goes on to describe the disappearance of the Churchillian havana as "something of a mystery". A spokesman for the visitor attraction is professedly "astonished" that such a thing could have happened. However, the spokesman "intriguingly" declined to name the person responsible. The museum denies that they have been contacted by any anti-smoking lobby group - indeed, we're are told that the display features "all sorts of images" of the great man, many with his trademark cigar.

Indeed, the spokesman claims that the museum was quite unaware of the airbrushing until a visitor, named as David McAdam, drew it to their attention. He sounded quite worked up:


I pointed out this crude alteration to a museum steward who said she hadn't noticed the change before, nor had anyone else pointed it out. Viewing the now disfigured image reveals just how unhinged the vociferous anti-smoking lobby has become. So much for the notion that only communist tyrants airbrushed history.


There's no further information about Mr McAdam, whose turn of phrase appears to owe more than a little to Richard Littlejohn. Is this how people talk nowadays? Perhaps it's just in press releases. In situations like this I'm usually tempted to think there might be something else going on, like, I don't know, an attempt to attract publicity to the Britain at War Experience, perhaps. Cynical of me, I know.

Nevertheless, I think I've identified the source of the airbrushed image. It comes from an online picture gallery, Fanpix, which is one of the first links that come up when you type "Winston Churchill Images" into Google. It looks to me as though it was probably culled automatically from an internet trawl and then selected by a webmaster as a suitable image. Fanpix certainly isn't responsible for removing the cigar. Presumably someone creating the War Experience display went on to the internet in search of suitable Churchill pictures and, not knowing that it was digitally altered, selected this one.

As far as I can tell, the ultimate source of the doctored picture is an animated GIF created in 2006 by a blogger going by the name of South Puget Sound Libertarian to illustrate a story about, yes you've guessed it, politically-correct anti-smoking fanatics censoring old pictures. In this case, the story concerned Hanna Barbera, who were apparently removing smoking scenes from Tom and Jerry cartoons after a British viewer complained to Ofcom that the scenes were "glamorizing" the filthy habit. As far as I remember, what usually happened was that Jerry handed Tom the cigar and then lit it, whereupon it blow up in his face. Not very glamorous. SPSL references a Washington Post blogpost which comments wryly:

Hopefully, this move will save a generation of young humanoids from trying to woo cats with tobacco. Unfortunately, those same children are still in danger of dropping anvils on one another’s heads, putting each other’s tails in electrical sockets, cutting each other in half, poisoning one another, exploding each other with dynamite and other sundry weapons available from the diabolical Acme corporation. Oh, and cross dressing.

Indeed. But - here's the Churchill connection - a comment on the WP blog suggested that "they’d have to go back and edit all the old pictures of Winston Churchill to remove his cigar". The Puget Sound Libertarian was duly inspired. And so a humorous image mocked up to poke fun at the excesses of Political Correctness ended up, four years later, as proof that Political Correctness had, once again, Gone Mad. Isn't circularity wonderful?