Cigar Aficionado

No Churchill for Churchill?

Reading the news this morning I came across a disturbing piece from Mail Online, the online site of Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid. Beth Hail reports that one of history’s most iconic cigar smokers, Sir Winston Churchill, has been stripped of his beloved stogie.

A familiar image of good old Sir Winston, fingers of his right hand extended in a V for Victory salute, greets visitors to Winston Churchill’s Britain At War Experience Museum in East London. But according to the writer, the image is not historically accurate. She says it has been airbrushed, doctored to take away Churchill’s very famous cigar. A comparison of photographs placed side-by-side in the article gives merit to the claim that, indeed, Churchill’s cigar has stripped away to clean up the image.

No one has confessed to the doctoring, and it’s not been proven that the image has indeed been changed. But it certainly appears to have been. Each photograph shown in the article appears identical: the wrinkles on Churchill’s right sleeve, the four people in the background, the shadows on Sir Winston. I’m no expert on photorgraphy, but to me the photos look precisely the same, except for the cigar (and lack of one) and the fact that the cigar-less photo has been more brightly exposed. Take a look for yourself in the story.

Cigars have fallen victim to the censor's airbrush and scissors before. In 2006, a British unit of Turner Broadcasting said it would snip away any scenes of cigars in old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, including "Tom & Jerry", and "The Flintstones." The Mail Online mentions the case of a school textbook adorned with a famous photo of cigar-smoking engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel—the cigar was deleted. In the case of this Churchill photo, if someone did make the edit, why take away the cigar? The writer suggests it was the work of someone hoping to be politically correct, and spare some visitor the sight of a lit cigar. Ironic, considering the theme of the exhibit—Britain during World War II. The museum shows “wartime bombs,” has images of London in ruins, buildings destroyed by Germany’s rain of rockets, scared people huddled in gas masks in fear of being poisoned by their neighboring enemy.

Sure, spare them the sight. That might be too much.