Let’s raise a glass to our heroic boozers

Martini and a man in tux smoking © Thinkstock

Thank goodness Ian Fleming paid no attention to doctors, or we’d have had a 007 fuelled by tomato juice shaken not stirred. According to a “study” by a group of Midlands-based doctors, writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Bond was a chronic alcoholic whose drinking was a greater risk to his health than his enemies.

With an average weekly consumption of 92 units, wildly in excess of the NHS’s recommended male intake of 21 units, he would have risked liver disease, tremors and, worst of all, impotence.

Once, in From Russia With Love, he drank almost 50 units in one day. “Ian Fleming died aged 56 of heart disease after a life notable for alcohol and tobacco excess,” says the BMJ study. “We suspect that Bond’s life expectancy would be similar.” Of course, this is true, even if we didn’t need these earnest doctors to tell us so.

In a week that saw the passing of Peter O’Toole, the last of the great hell-raising actors, it has to be acknowledged that neither he nor any of his hard-drinking friends lived to a great age. ]

O’Toole did better than most, making it to 81, though he stopped boozing 30 years ago. Richard Harris died at 72, having given up drink at 50, Oliver Reed and Richard Burton, who never gave it up, died at 61 and 58 respectively. Two others who never stopped, Peter Finch and Errol Flynn, went at 60 and 50.

“In other words,” says Robert Crampton in The Times, “what doctors tell you about excessive alcohol consumption is correct. You can accept the advice, or not accept it, but don’t kid yourself that it isn’t accurate.”

Yes, it’s accurate. Nevertheless, I’m glad that, like Ian Fleming, these men ignored it. Most of us wouldn’t throw a party on New Year’s Eve (as Peter O’Toole once did) with the rubric: “Fornication, madness, murder, drunkenness, shouting, shrieking… and the breaking of bones, such jollities constitute acceptable behaviour…”

But, as Hannah Betts says in The Daily Telegraph, these actors, like their American counterparts Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper, “walked it how they talked it, delivering epic performances on and off the screen. All vast hearts and shrivelled livers.”

These were the days, says Betts, “when men were men, women were women, and marauding, wisecracking, Shakespeare-spouting dipsomaniacs one and all”. Look at the pygmies we see on screen now: what “a motley assembly of mealy-mouthed milksops, more concerned with preserving their contracts than carousing…”

While “pretty boy” Brad Pitt “cultivates a girlish beard” and Tom Cruise makes do with an “obsessively uptight” religion, the nearest to a hell-raiser we have is probably Johnny Depp.

So let’s raise a glass to O’Toole and his kind, be grateful they defied the doctors and remember Kingsley Amis’s memorable words when told that eschewing alcohol would help prolong his life. “No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home at Weston-super-Mare.”

Tabloid money: a “severe storm warning” for the two Eds

• Our poll last week is a “severe storm warning” for Labour, says Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun. One in three “cash-strapped voters declared they would be even worse off today if Labour had been running the economy… This is a devastating slap for Labour. It makes nonsense of the party’s notional lead over the Tories, which in any case has shrunk to just four points.” Ed Miliband and Ed Balls “are bound hand and foot by their party’s record in office”. They’ve also “dug themselves into a hole on welfare reform. And they’re still digging.”

• There are two reasons why Britain has been able to absorb a million people over the past ten years, the largest wave of migration in our history, says Tony Parsons in the Daily Mirror. First, the British are tolerant. Second, “the willingness of most immigrants to work. All the omens suggest we will not be so lucky next time. Romanian gypsies have already turned London’s beautiful Marble Arch into a toilet. Romanians in London are currently seven times more likely to be arrested than locals, new figures reveal, many of them for fraud at cashpoint machines. And all this before we roll out the red carpet for Romanians on 1 January. The way my father explained it to me, our welfare system is a social contract. You pay into the system, then when hard times come… the state extends a helping hand to get you back on your feet. At some point we forgot the ‘paying into the system’ bit [and] became the biggest mugs in the world.”

• “The breathtakingly unscrupulous Lloyds Bank, part-owned by us, is being fined £28m for ripping us off by hard-selling products that people neither wanted nor needed,” says Fiona Phillips in the Daily Mirror. Greedy bankers “were promised ‘champagne bonuses’ for flogging their wares to customers who trusted the bank to do its best by them. It’s good news they’ve been clobbered but… as we’re its main owner, doesn’t it mean that, ultimately, we’ve been clobbered – again – too?”

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