Was Monty An Anti?

This question arose after I saw the following fragment from The Desert Fox (1951). It took me ages to extract the clip from the movie, and get it so that it started and stopped at the right place.

In it Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (James Mason) is welcoming Generals Maisel and Bergdorf to his home in Herrlingen, Bavaria at 12:05 pm on 14 October 1944. As they are sitting down, Rommel says:

“Make yourselves comfortable. Smoke if you wish. I’m not like Montgomery. Smoke doesn’t make me unhappy.”

The passage fairly leapt out at me as I watched it. But it occurred to me that it probably leapt out back in 1951, when the film was released, because in the previous year – 1950 – Doll and Hill’s London Hospitals’ study had been published, and smoking was highly topical. I imagine that the line was added late in the production. Erwin Rommel probably never said any such thing. It’s a piece of fiction.

But was Monty an anti? Did he start coughing and waving his hands whenever he saw anyone smoking cigarettes? Clearly the film’s producers thought so, and probably most of the audience in the gloriously smoky English cinemas of 1951 (I remember those cinemas well, because they lost their homely atmosphere when smoking was banned in cinemas in about 1990, and I’ve never liked soulless cinemas much since).

Which reminds me that I’ve been slowly reading the First Volume of the Underdog Anthology for the past couple of weeks. I’m not a great reader of fiction. I seem to have lost the knack. But this collection of short stories came in the sort of bite-sized morsels that I can consume in a single sitting. And that’s what I’ve been doing: reading them one by one, usually last thing at night.

There are a number of different authors, and several of them are people with whom I am very familiar – e.g. Roobeedoo, Leg-iron, and Longrider -, two of whom left comments just yesterday under this blog. The stories are all very well-written, and almost all of them are shocking and surprising in one way or other. So far there’s only been one story that left me perplexed and unmoved. My favourite so far has been one about a gunfighter who also happens to be a startlingly beautiful Indian woman: she fairly leapt out of the pages to capture my imagination (and my heart).

Talking about bite-sized, several of the other stories have been so minimalist that they barely even make it as morsels, and are more like single fragments or crumbs or crisps. Is it really possible to tell a story in a single paragraph? Well, yes, I decided, after reading one of them: it is possible.

Another feature of the book is the frequency with which smoking gets mentioned, sometimes perhaps a little incongruously. It will give nothing away to tell you that, yes, of course, the beautiful gunfighter smokes.

All of which reminds me that I’ve myself been toying with an idea for a highly improbable short story for a year or more. I was researching it again last night when I came across the clip from the Desert Fox above. For the story is to be set in the home of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel on the 14th of October, 1944, and begins about three-quarters of an hour after Erwin Rommel has told generals Maisel and Bergdorf that they can smoke if they wish. That’s to say that it starts at precisely 12:50 pm on 14 October 1944, as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel raps on the door of his son Manfred’s bedroom with his field marshal’s baton, and walks in.

The working title for the story is: Manfred.

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About Frank Davis

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30 Responses to Was Monty An Anti?

  1. legiron says:

    I try not to make the smoking a big deal in stories. It’s just something people do. I like to keep it’normal’.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I’ve become so sensitised to smoking that any sight or mention of smoking or cigarettes in a movie or story is something I pick up immediately in ways I would never have done 10 or more years ago. I’m now as sensitive to smoking as any antismoking zealot – except that, unlike them, I invariably welcome it.

      And one idea that your book of short stories (unintentionally) gave me was that this peculiar sensitivity might be something to use, by having people smoke in surprising and unexpected (and actually “abnormal” ways). For example, consider a family with mother, father, and a young son and daughter – and it’s the young daughter who first lights a cigarette. Or a surgeon opening up someone’s stomach with scalpels and forceps, all the while with a cigarette between his lips, from which ash periodically drops into the incision. Neither of these were ever ‘normal’ (although probably both have actually happened quite often). If smoking really jumps out at anyone with this sensitivity, why not make it really jump out. That is, make it into a big deal.

      • jaxthefirst says:

        Ditto, Frank. I now actively look for smoking/smokers in the first episode of any TV series I watch which looks from the trailers as if it might be good (or the first 20 minutes of any film, or the first 10 pages of any book). If absolutely no-one smokes, then you know for sure that the plot’s been made up by a non-smoker and you can guarantee that at best it’ll be “promising but somehow not quite delivering,” which is always a bit disappointing. At worst it’ll be chock-full of stereotyped, one-dimensional characters with a plot which is either so complex and confusing that it just can’t be followed, or so predictable that you know it’s ending almost as soon as it’s started. Anything which features smoking, however, is a sign that the story will keep you engaged right up until the end and will have characters who are genuinely credible and realistic and about whom you care. It’s a wonderful way of avoiding a lot of wasted time watching (or reading) stuff and then thinking at the end “well, that was a bit of a damp squib, wasn’t it?”

  2. Roobeedoo2 says:

    Morning Cloud is a beautifully drawn character; I also fell in love with her. Hopefully Longrider will write some more stories about her, but if anybody wants to read the first, the Anthology is here:

    ‘Manfred’ sounds intriguing, you have to write it, Frank :D

    • Frank Davis says:

      Yes, she’s an extraordinarily beautifully drawn character. And yet she’s drawn with just a few strokes of a pen inside a single paragraph. And of course absolutely everybody is madly in love with her.

      And ‘Manfred’ is indeed intriguing. It’s intriguing even to me. As a result of last night’s researches, I realised that my original plot was unworkable, and thought that maybe I’d just have to abandon the idea. But about an hour later, I had a new idea that was a variant of the original story. ‘Manfred’ is a story that has now gone through 5 or 6 different iterations – and will probably go through many more.

  3. Roobeedoo2 says:

    Re: Monty…

    ‘Strictly teetotal and anti-smoking, he made sure that his men had a reasonable access to cigarettes. There is no doubt that he was popular with the men in the Eighth Army.’

    http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-two/military-commanders-of-world-war-two/field-marshal-bernard-montgomery/

    • Frank Davis says:

      He also encouraged his men in the Eighth Army to visit the brothels of Cairo and Alexandria whenever they got a chance – although I don’t think he ever did so himself.

      • Roobeedoo2 says:

        He fought and led men in real war, not some made up one like those on tobacco, obesity or CO2.

      • Demetrius says:

        I met Monty once after the War when I was at 7 Div, decent chap, very correct. He did not smoke. Also re the brothels, it is a little more complicated. Rather than have men going round the local stews with the risks of high VD incidence taking them out of service, he thought that having medically supervised places etc. under Army control was the sex service of last resort. A man ahead of his time, his ideas were not welcome, unlike the men in the local stews. BTW Edward Heath called his boats “Morning Cloud”.

        • Frank Davis says:

          I’m sure you’re right about the medical supervision. But I’m sure that I read that Monty encouraged his men to visit those medically-supervised brothels – because he wanted them to be in good spirits. He looked after his men most attentively. And that’s probably why his men loved him so dearly.

        • Longrider says:

          Yes, he did.

  4. Jim says:

    Montgomery being an anti-smoker does ring true to his character. He was a very much the ‘mens sana in copore sano’ cold showers before breakfast public school type, so being against smoking would fit with that.

  5. Jim says:

    Actually seems he was an anti-smoker:

    http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-two/military-commanders-of-world-war-two/field-marshal-bernard-montgomery/

    Teetotal and anti-smoking. But did ensure his troops has plenty of cigarettes, I guess if he was sending them into battle, the last thing he needed to worry about was them smoking!

  6. John Watson says:

    My Grandfather was a soldier in Montgomery’s Desert Rats, like the great majority of those men he respected Montgomery almost to the point of love in the same way that the Afrika Korps loved Rommel.
    It was well known by the rank and file that Montgomery disliked smoking, that no-one smoked during briefings or at any time in his presence. It is reputed that he even prohibited Winston Churchill smoking when they met, was he anti-smoking?
    I don’t think that he was, while he clearly disliked smoking and very likely would support measures to restrict smoking in his general, he would have seen the value of the effect smoking had on the morale of the men he led.
    He had enough power to prevent Churchill smoking around him but he never exercised that power to prevent smoking throughout any command he held, I think an Anti-smoker would have done just that.

    • garyk30 says:

      Smoke bothered him.
      ” following severe internal injuries received in the First World War, Montgomery himself could neither smoke nor drink”

      He was shoot thru the lungs by a sniper.

      • garyk30 says:

        He was homophobic and thought blacks as ignorant and not capable of governing.

      • John Watson says:

        I was not aware of that, in all probability the rank and file of the Desert Rat would not of known either and would most likely assume it was a personal trait. As for his views on Blacks such views were, and privately with some people still are, the thinking of the day, certainly by todays standards he would be considered to be Homophobic.

  7. Roobeedoo2 says:

    Apols! OT but ‘secondhand sugar’ is now a thing. And it’s trade marked…

    https://secondhandsugars.com/

    • petesquiz says:

      Absolutely apalling! So, now pregnant women can’t smoke, can’t drink and can’t have sugar nor artificial sweeteners. It’s good to know that in future children will be able to blame their mother’s misdemeanours whilst in the womb for all of their subsequent failings. Cue the first child to sue their mother!!

      Looking further into this excreable website, the two main protagonists are Dr Michael Goran and Dr Emily Ventura. Neither of whom are medical doctors; he has a PhD in Biochemistry and Emily Ventura’s qualifications are a BA in “Biology in Society with an additional concentration in Latin American Studies” (WTF is that??), a Masters in Public Health and Doctorate of Philosophy in Health Behavior Research. So, a good dose of pseudoscience masquerading as fact.

    • Furtive Ferret says:

      Secondhand Sugar! For. Fucks. Sake.

      You know immediately that’s it’s complete junk by the very fact that they have trademarked the phrase in a cynical attempt to make money out of it.

  8. Vlad says:

    I think we have to put antismoking in context – in 1950 there was advertising everywhere (print, radio, outdoor) and people smoked almost anywhere. So I find it perfectly understandable that someone could be turned off by all the noise advertising created. To give a present example, there’s so much advertising for drugs and supplements on radio and TV (in Romania, I guess it’s worse in US where even prescription medication can be advertised) that I find it nauseous.

    Also, it’s anyone’s right to dislike, for whatever reasons, the smell of smoke. And when this smoke is present almost everywhere you go, as back in the 40s, it’s understandable it annoys you.

    On the other hand, to be an antismoker today pretty much indicates you’re paid by Tobacco Control or have been brainwashed by its propaganda.

    • Joe L. says:

      I guess it’s worse in US where even prescription medication can be advertised

      Yes, I can confirm how disgusting is here in the U.S. The amount and frequency of prescription drug ads on television is astounding. You seriously can’t watch a single program without being bombarded by multiple ads from Big Pharma. It’s out of control.

  9. sackersonwp says:

    I recall seeing a recorded interview with Montgomery about when he first met Churchill. Monty told him, “I neither drink nor smoke and I am 100 percent fit.” Churchill put him down with, “I drink and smoke and I am 200 percent fit.” That, Monty said, is when he “knew we’d got the right man.”

  10. Pingback: Tasting, Testing, One, Two… */taps mic…* – Library of Libraries

  11. Clicky says:

  12. Granddad Dwarf smoked. He smoked almost as much as I do. At some point in the early/mid 70s he had to have half a lung removed, I don’t know why but i don’t seem to recall it being cancer. Anyways after the OP he asked the doc if he could smoke a cigarette, to which the doctor replied that he might certainly light one up but that he wouldn’t live to finish it. That was probably not strictly true, doctors erring on the side of caution by nature.
    However thereafter he, Grandpappy Dwarf, was unable to be in a smoke filled environment -which for a publican was a bit of a bummer i expect. Smoky air left him painfully short of breath and on one famous incident he had to face down three ‘tear-aways'[sic] who were smoking in the non-smoking train carriage. Not that he had become some kind of ANTI-Smoker a la Arnott or one of her psychosomatic asthmatic wheezing pseudo-coughers but his ‘wound’ left him simply unable to be around smoke.
    My point is, if Monty was shot through the lung then I can quite believe he would find smokers impossible to be around. An inability to be in a smoke filled room doesn’t necessarily an Anti-smoker make.

    And even Hitler, a true rabid, frothing at the mouth, anti-smoker didn’t *really* try to stop his soldiers smoking, not in the ISIS manner he might have easily have done.

  13. Pingback: Morning Cloud and Other Stories – Longrider

  14. Longrider says:

    Thankyou for your kind comments. I have responded in more detail here:

    http://www.longrider.co.uk/blog/2017/01/12/morning-cloud-and-other-stories/

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