An Ashtray With...
British comedian and actress, and star of the BBC
TV's famous sitcom, Hi-De-Hi!, doesn't light up.
Where did you start smoking?
SP: I first started smoking in Nottingham, where
I come from. It was ridiculous: I used to
have this ritual every week of just smoking one
cigarette and then throwing away the other nine
in the River Trent.
Do you smoke now?
Not at all. I stopped smoking when I was about
I was in a panto and one night I came off and the
director, who was also playing the Dame, he said
to me, Your breathing was terrible tonight,
Sue. You sounded really bad.
And I thought, Oh! and I was riddled
with guilt, and went out immediately and threw
all my cigarettes in the river. Ive not had
any more since.
Didnt I see you smoking in Hi-Di-Hi, or am
I imagining it?
I smoked once, as Peggy, when she was just about
to meet the entertainments director, and she was
a bit nervous. But all she did was take one
drag, and stubbed it out. So shes never
Have you ever smoked on stage?
I did last year in Abigails Party.
Ang smoked she was supposed to have
given up. Her husband Tony was also
supposed to have given up, but he smoked a
cigar. We were at this party and I smoked a
Was it a real cigarette?
Yes. But I did say to the director to please
please get me the lowest tar possible. So
they gave me a menthol thing, and it was
fine. As soon as I finished in the show, I
thought, Oooh, I dont want to go back
You didnt feel tempted?
No, to be honest. I didnt like the
taste of it in my mouth.
Why do women smoke?
I think women smoke because theyre seduced
by all the movies and by their peers into doing
it, probably when theyre about 13 or
14. They think it goes with a grown-up sort
of image or a devil-may-care Im my own
woman type of thing. You know what I mean?
Yeah. Do you know any actresses who manage
to sing and smoke?
I know two or three people who do it, and it
doesnt seem to effect their breathing or
anything. I think some people think
Actually it stills me nerves a
bit. But none of them smoke more than
about ten cigarettes a day I dont
know any women singers who are heavy smokers.
Have you noticed when doing your shows that there
are less smokers in the wings?
Not in the wings, certainly, because smoking
backstage can constitute the fire officer coming
along and bringing the curtain down so you
wouldnt dare do it. Certainly in this
show, The Pirates of Penzance, there
are very few smokers. And if they do,
theyre on this show all night so they
havent got much chance to smoke, anyway,
aside from probably one in the interval. I
do think smoking has become less prevalent.
If you were still a smoker, whose doorway would
you like most to smoke in?
Robert Taylors. Ooh yes. Looking back on
his old movies I loved the way he used to take
his cigarette out of his pocket and light it
it was fantastic! Sexer!
Cigarettes and cigars have long been useful props
in the movies and on stage. Do you think
there will ever be a time when they are totally
banned from stage and screen?
No. I dont think they will. So
many people still like to see actors who can
expertly handle a cigarette, and they love the
idea of a long cigarette holder as well. To
me, its part of good stagecraft.
But if smoking is in decline in the theatre,
where will actors learn the craft of smoking?
Well I suppose what theyll just have to do
is look it up in old movies and video clips and
think, Oh, thats how they did
You dont think drama schools will start
holding classes on smoking, then?
Well actually, dear, why not. They already have
classes on how to put your boots on.
By James Leavey