Sherlock Holmes without his pipe? Can things get any sillier? Here's my piece from today's Daily Express.
Can political correctness get any more ridiculous? In their infinite wisdom, programme makers at the BBC have decided to make the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes more health-conscious- and so, in the new series, 'Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars', which started on Sunday, the master sleuth has not only kicked his cocaine habit, but has been deprived of his pipe too.
" Ofcom has strict guidelines on what you can and can't show on children's television. Smoking and drug-taking should not be condoned, justified or encouraged." a BBC spokesperson says. The decision not to show the Baker Street sleuth taking drugs in a programme going out at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon is fair enough, but stopping him from lighting his pipe? Does either OFCOM or the BBC seriously believe that the sight of a Victorian detective puffing on an old clay pipe, will encourage viewers to rush out to the nearest tobacconist and stock up on St Bruno? For Sherlock Holmes, a pipe is not an affectation, but an essential prop to help him in his work. The great detective often measured his cases in terms of how many pipe-loads of tobacco he would need to smoke to solve the problem. How on earth do the BBC expect Holmes to catch Professor Moriarty and co if he's denied the opportunity to ruminate while submerging himself in a thick blue cloud of pipe-smoke? One wonders what other changes the p.c. zealots who run our television have in store for us. A new series of Columbo, with the grizzled L.A. 'tec portrayed as a non-smoking, track-suited fitness-fanatic?
In today's climate of fanaticism, we shouldn't rule out anything. An image of the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, used to illustrate the cover of a children's book in 2005, was altered because of fears that the image of Brunel smoking a cigar would provide an unsuitable role model for five to seven year olds and might result in school libraries not buying the book. And in the recent Thunderbirds film, Lady Penelope was not only deprived of her strings, but her trademark cigarette holder too, on the grounds that "it would not set a good example". Forget the bad language, and casual violence which blight many of today‘s films, for our p.c. crusaders, it's clearly the use of a smoking accessory which represents the greatest social evil.
It's a philosophy shared by the makers of the latest James Bond film. "I can blow off someone's head at close range and splatter blood, but I can't light a good Cuban cigar.", complains the film's star Daniel Craig.
Banning fictional characters from lighting up is not the only way in which they are being 'made over' to make them more attune to 21st Century sensibilities. The James Bond of the Ian Fleming novels, is an immaculately attired, hard-drinking, serial womaniser, who likes his martinis shaken and not stirred. The new Bond is a humourless muscle man, more at home pushing weights in a gym than eyeing up the female talent in a casino. The way things are going, the day when 007 dispenses with his Aston Martin (uses far too many miles to the gallon to be good for the ozone layer) and is forced to drive an electric car, is surely not far off.
Updating characters to make them more 'modern' is not only silly, it often undermines the basis of the story. The whole point of the original 1966 Alfie film was that the lead character (so memorably played by Michael Caine) was a heartless and shockingly sexist 'Jack-the lad' who in the end gets his just deserts. In the anodyne 2004 remake, starring Jude Law, the film-makers made Alfie more likeable, and less misogynistic, but consequently the film doesn't pack anything like the same punch.
Take away Alfie's sexism (as abhorrent as it is) and he just isn't Alfie any more. And take away Sherlock Holmes' pipe and he is no longer the world's greatest detective.
Is it really too much to ask for television and film makers to leave our heroes- and anti-heroes- as they were and not try to update them into politically correct paragons of the 21st century?