April 5, 2016

Smoking George Orwell statue will loom over smoking BBC employees


Orwell in 1940 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Orwell in 1940 (via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1943, the British journalist and novelist George Orwell wrote one of the more memorable resignation letters of the twentieth century. Orwell had been working for the BBC for two years when he declared:

I am tendering my resignation because for some time past I have been conscious that I was wasting my own time and the public money on doing work that produces no result…I feel that by going back to my normal work of writing and journalism I could be more useful than I am at present.

Now, over sixty years after that rather concise resignation, Orwell is returning to the BBC. The Guardian’s Maev Kennedy reported yesterday that a statue of Orwell will soon be installed outside the entrance to the BBC’s new headquarters in London. The bronze statue—designed by the sculptor Martin Jennings—will be the first in the United Kingdom to honor one of the country’s most popular and admired writers. (A second statue—a copy of the head from Jennings’s design—will be installed at Eton College, which Orwell attended.) As Kennedy reports, the depiction of Orwell—who is holding a cigarette in Jennings’s design—couldn’t be more apt. Jennings told the Guardian:

“I was delighted when I visited the site to find it littered with cigarette butts—that is absolutely the place for Orwell, who was rarely seen without a cigarette in hand, to the grave detriment of his health. He would undoubtedly have been out there in the cold with the smokers for most of his time.”

According to a 2012 Guardian article, the BBC turned down the statue because Orwell was allegedly “too left-wing” to deserve such a commemoration. But thanks to the efforts of new leadership at the BBC—along with Orwell’s son Richard Blair, the Labour MP Ben Whitaker, and writers like Tom Stoppard and David Hare—the project reemerged. One of Orwell’s most famous quotes will be inscribed on the wall near the statue. Time will tell if that declaration—“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”—applies to the BBC’s nonsmokers, who will surely chastise their cigarette-loving colleagues as the skeptical Orwell looks on.



Mark Krotov was a senior editor at Melville House.