Lies, damn lies and cigars

Dirk Crokaert

Dirk Crokaert

Now that the Montague on the Gardens has launched its new Cigar Terrace, overlooking the private gardens of the Bedford Estate, I thought it might be appropriate to provide some stories that guests can swop through the smoke.

The term “cigar” probably originated from “sikar,” the Mayan-Indian word for smoking, which became ‘cigarro’ in Spanish.   The word itself, and variations on it, did not come into general use until 1730, despite the fact that tobacco was discovered by Europeans over 200 years earlier.

Christopher Columbus is credited with introducing the habit to the world following his voyage of 1492.  Two of his crew encountered the pungent leaves on the island of Hispaniola, then again in Cuba.

The rest, as they say, is history and many larger than life characters from its pages have enjoyed the pleasures of the cigar.  King Edward VII, despite the disapproval of his mother, Queen Victoria, was a keen cigar smoker, giving his name to the King Edward Brand.  US President Ulysses S. Grant smoked an estimated 12 a day, but Sigmund Freud managed 20 – despite the fact that the psychoanalyst was well aware of their phallic symbolism.

Cigar and Brandy

Cigar and Brandy

Winston Churchill was rarely seen without a cigar during his time as wartime leader and is credited with introducing the practice of dunking one’s cigar in a glass of port or brandy.

Others were less enthusiastic.  James I described the habit as “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.”

A counterblast was delivered, many years later, by a journalist who described how he witnessed Havana cigars being created by rolling tobacco leaves between the thighs of virgins.   Alas, such the story has been debunked as poetic license.  Those that have bravely attempted this feat complain it is impossible to accomplish.  The truth is that workers may stretch leaves across their thighs, but they use a small wooden board for the rolling process.

Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara was also a fan, declaring that “A smoke in times of rest is a great companion to the solitary soldier.”  John F. Kennedy  was on the other side of the ideological divide.  However, the night before he signed his trade embargo on Cuba, the President dispatched his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, to acquire as many of the president’s favourite cigars as he could.  Salinger managed to buy 1,200 H. Upmann Petit Coronas, Kennedy’s favourite regular smoke, before the ban.  Shot the next year, the President never got to enjoy them all.

The advertising of cigars on TV was banned in the UK in 1991,and in cinemas in 1999, robbing the world of some of the funniest TV commercials ever to grace a screen.  Created for the Hamlet brand they can still be enjoyed on YouTube.  These four links will take you some of the classics.

Hamlet Cigars – Photobooth
Hamlet Cigars – Sir Walter Raleigh
Hamlet Cigars – Motorbike Sidecar
Hamlet Cigars – Tennis

These commercials were created by ad agency Collett Dickenson Pearce whose office was on Euston Road, barely ten minutes walk from the Montague on the Gardens.

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