The story of Churchill and the cigars. You get the impression that someone prepared to take the risk of poisoning his Defence Committee in the middle of WW2 wouldn't have had an awful lot of time for health and safety culture.
September 1941, and the Cuban Government has made a handsome present to Mr Churchill - a hand-made cabinet containing 2,500 of Cuba's finest cigars. But people are worried that the cigars may have been got at by ill-intentioned types.
On September 23, soon after the cigars arrived at 10 Downing Street, Churchill was informed that a cigar from each box had been sent to Rothschild for laboratory testing. Colville warned him against sneaking a sly smoke from those that remained. “It is hoped that you will not smoke any of the cigars until the result of the analysis is known . . . there has just been a round-up of undesirable elements in Cuba, which has shown that a surprisingly large number of Nazi agents and sympathisers exist in that country.”
The tests took five weeks and concluded that the samples, at any rate, were safe. But it was all too late.
He ushered the committee into a small anteroom to the left of Downing Street’s hall and proudly displayed his new cigar collection.
“See, this came for me today. I have had some difficulty getting this through customs,” he said, pulling out bundles of long Romeo y Julieta, H Upmann and Por Larranaga.
Lord Balfour, then undersecretary of state for air, later recalled: “Turning to the waiting ministers, he addressed us thus, ‘Gentlemen, I am now going to try an experiment. Maybe it will result in joy. Maybe it will end in grief. I am about to give you each one of these magnificent cigars.’
“He paused, then continued with Churchillian effect, ‘It may well be that these each contain some deadly poison.’ He went on, alluding to the possible act of poisoning the entire defence committee: ‘It may well be that within days I shall follow sadly the long line of coffins up the aisle of Westminster Abbey. Reviled by the populace, as the man who has out Borgiaed Borgia’.”
Each committee member returned to the cabinet room contentedly puffing a rare Havana cigar.