Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Hidden Gold

'When they had finished all there was of both food and drink, he produced a packet of Gold Flake cigarettes, and they smoked for a while, contented and at rest.'
A Glastonbury Romance John Cowper Powys, 1933.
    Some of you may remember this photograph and quote from my book The Cigarette Papers, published by Frances Lincoln in 2012. It was a eulogy for the cigarette packet, brought out as a reminder that a government directive was in the offing to dispense with any individual brand design whatever. With no proper proof that it was going to work in decreasing both smoking itself and its appeal to the kiddies. We all know that smoking is simply not very good for us at all, but no authoritarian dictates about how a pack should look will make the slightest bit of difference.
    I say all this again because it's about to happen for real and a totally legal product that still produces millions for the Exchequer will be reduced to taking ill thought-out orders from a grey government 'design' manual. But more than this I get very dismayed by the revisionist stance that makes anybody who talks on, say, a television antiques programme, has to make sure that any remarks about tobacco packaging and artefacts are bracketed with sanctimonious and hypocritical tut-tutting about the dreadful practices of the smoker and smoking. What would the Tommy, going over the top out of a muddy trench in 1917 with a Woodbine clamped in his mouth, have thought of us.
    Anyway, if you'd like more anecdotes and extracts from literature about the fabulous packets we were once able to see without the Tobacco Police fingering our collars, then you'll find the last fag ends of The Cigarette Papers here, very cheaply indeed.


S.P.Moss (Sue) said...

I remember the photo well - and the book is highly recommended. I'm amused these days (in a black humour sort of way) to think about the 'ironic' brand name and pack design of 'Death Cigarettes', which came out in the 90s. The gruesome images on the 'pack designs' these days far surpass the rather harmless-looking skull on that design.

Peter Ashley said...

That's right Sue. And in a very odd way these pictures of diseased lungs and bits of offal will be just as collectable I'm sure.

John Simlett said...

"Historically and culturally specific to the time in which they occurred," is a term I recall from my long ago studies!

I remember collecting the 'cigarette cards' from packets of Turf. We'd play 'fag-cards' a game I hope you can recall as it takes an age to explain. This would now be seen as a corruptive influence on the young, when judging such events in a modern (chemically addicted) culture.

Love the pun, 'The Cigarette Papers'. Just bought a copy from amazon as I write this!!

Peter Ashley said...

Thank you John. I have assiduously avoided collecting cigarette cards, although I have got a few nice sets like Wills' Semaphore Flag Signalling. Oh, and....

Alan Godber said...

The expression quoted by John just about sums up the bland self excusing language used in some quarters today. I've thought for some time that the time is right for a revival of the cigarette case; simply place your newly purchased fags into an elegant protective case, slip it into your jacket pocket and recycle the boring grey cardboard box they came in. Now there's a design opportunity Peter.

Peter Ashley said...

Indeed Alan, I'm certain that cigarette cases will make a big comeback. I'd not thought of designing one (but may do thank you!), but a few years ago when I partook of the odd Player's Navy Cut I found that the contents of the pack still fitted perfectly into an original hull and slide packet from the 1950s.

Jon Dudley said...

Oh Lor! Gold Flake...as a slightly older boy entering the 6th form in Lewes in the late 60s I was already well versed in the art of cigarette smoking. The allure of the packets was everything, and I introduced some of the quite posh sons of Sussex University academics to the joys of Gold Flake in particular - they associated the possession of such a brand as very working class and the fags were nicknamed 'Trammies' as I persuaded them that no self respecting Tram Driver would be seen without one dangling from his lip. All complete balls of course, I suspect those grinders of the brass handle would have either rolled their own or were wedded to either Weights or Woodbines. When funds allowed we visited a super tobacconist in the high street where the seductive packaging tempted us to 'Passing Cloud' (with Elizabethan FFs in place of SSs), 'Sweet Afton', 'No.3, 'Airman, Sobraine, Du Maurier and many more. Now look what you've done!...I even searched for Gold Flake and found them available in India but sadly 'sans' the delightful packaging.

You're dead right about the embarrassment of explaining what a cigarette was (or is)...on the rare occasions we sing a fox hunting song, it has to be prefaced with at least five minutes of rather sad explanation, context and apology...there's a lesson there somewhere.

Peter Ashley said...

Smoking in Lewes. Just love it. And no doubt watching Passing Clouds over Mount Caburn.

Jon Dudley said...

There's a Ravillious painting there Peter....

John Simlett said...

I now have 'The Cigarette Papers' and am rather glad that I have.

I hated Gauloise but persisted with them at the weekends as it made, and left, an impression with girls- who seemed to cough a lot. For the rest of the time, as a poor Shipwright Apprentice (1954 - 1959), it was Red Rizla and Golden Virginia or Navy 'Tickler'.

Many lifetimes ago!

Peter Ashley said...

Thank you for that John.

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