Baring It All

Recent speculation in the British media that the Sun newspaper might be ending the practice of having a photo of a topless lady on Page 3 every day got me thinking.

How times change – and how we change with them.

From my mid-teens onwards, I started smoking cigarettes. As soon as I could afford to, I graduated to so-called king sized ones, and smoked a packet of 20 per day. Doing so made me feel more adult and hence more confident. My friends all smoked too. How we -- our bodies, our clothes, our breath – must have smelled. Goodness only knows how we were able to attract girlfriends, but we all did and they seemed to put up with it.

I remember smoking in class at college. When one particularly fussy lecturer objected, I kindly offered to move to the rear of the hall so as not to disturb him (he was not mollified).

In the early 70s when I arrived in Hong Kong I was still smoking. It was pretty common. You could smoke on the upper deck of buses, for example. Planes had smoking and non smoking sections of seating. Some top-end restaurants were just starting to introduce the idea of non-smoking sections, but enforcement was pretty casual. One of the first stories I wrote for the Star newspaper which earned me a by-line on the front page was when I reported that smoking would not be allowed on the future mass transit railway (“Tube Shock: No Smoking”).

But in August 1977 I made one of the best decisions of my life (the unkind might say the only good one), certainly the one with the biggest impact on my overall health, and stopped – cold turkey. Not because my then wife objected, not because I had become more health conscious, but because someone who could not speak “told” me something. My first born son, then six months old, awoke in his cot one morning with what was quite clearly a smoker’s cough. And I couldn’t handle the guilt, simple as that.

Stopping smoking led to my putting on weight, which led to gym membership and playing squash which further improved my health. So one virtue led to another.

By now you might be wondering what the connection is between smoking and Page 3 girls. Simple. The Star used to have a Page 3 girl too, and one of my first jobs in journalism was to write the caption under it. Ours was much more modest as the girls all wore both the top and bottom half of their bikinis, unlike the UK version.

I was never a fan of the topless variety because they always seemed to make a big thing about size, and my tastes in this area – how shall I put this delicately – tend to favour quality over quantity. Think lemons rather than water melons. But to each his own.

I do not miss smoking, and hardly anyone I know still smokes. But I would have a twinge of nostalgia if we lost the page 3 girls. How else could trainee journalists start their careers?

Mike Rowse