TOBACCO'S FINEST BLEND: With the ban on advertising tobacco about to come into force ..

... Campaign looks back at how the constraints on the sector led to the creation of some of the best ads ever.

Victorian moralists used to claim that the Devil had all the best tunes. Today, if they looked back over three decades of award-winning creative work aimed at boosting tobacco sales they might have argued that he was responsible for the best advertising as well.

Tobacco is the ad industry's Faustian pact. In return for being allowed to produce some of the most innovative and memorable work in its history, it has been condemned to promoting a serial killer.

More than 120,000 Britons a year die from smoking. It's a figure constantly thrown back at tobacco companies and their agencies by crusading health ministers who have no truck with arguments that advertising merely encourages existing smokers to switch brands or that manufacturers of a product legally produced should be allowed to advertise it.

For years, the ad industry has wrestled with its collective conscience over the tobacco issue. Now its conscience is about to be salved for it by the Government. From 14 February, tobacco advertising on posters and in newspapers and magazines will be banned. From 14 February 2004, in-pack promotions and direct marketing will become illegal also.

After a century of always relentless and often classic advertising, the fat lady is about to sing for tobacco manufacturers, who must find other channels for their £20 million annual adspend.

With hindsight it was always likely to end this way. Ever since 1962, when the Tobacco Advisory Committee agreed to a code to take the glamour out of cigarette ads, the world has been closing in on the tobacco giants.

If it wasn't the 1965 ban on TV commercials for cigarettes, it was the health warnings on packs and ads which first appeared in 1971. By 1986, a ban on tobacco ads in cinemas cut off yet another promotional outlet.

Throughout that period, political momentum towards a total ban was mounting.

The European Parliament voted for one as long ago as 1992. And when Tony Blair's New Labour swept to power in 1997, it was obvious that the UK tobacco industry's non-aggression pact with the government of the day was doomed.

For the incoming Labour administration, a ban was a non-negotiable article of faith. There have been a few speed bumps along the way - not least the row over the £1 million donated to Labour by the Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone while he was lobbying against a ban on tobacco sponsorship of the sport.

Few doubted the eventual outcome, however, and the passing of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotions Bill into law merely set the seal on what agencies and their tobacco clients had already written off as a lost cause.

Yet, by some strange paradox, as tobacco marketing became increasingly tied down, the advertising of tobacco products slipped the creative leash.

In truth, it had no alternative. Banned from suggesting that smoking was popular, natural, relaxing or fashionable or implying that it was linked to personal success or sexual prowess, agencies working on tobacco assignments began exploring new ways of fixing brands in smokers' minds.

Some campaigns went out of their way to deliver a V-sign to the rule makers. "We can't say anything about Winston cigarettes," a J. Walter Thompson ad declared. "So here's a tart on a bar."

However, the best remembered work dates from the late 70s. It was personified by Gallaher's roster agencies Collett Dickenson Pearce and Saatchi & Saatchi and is commonly described as surreal. Some question whether this was strictly true, claiming that the ads only borrowed the techniques of surrealism rather than extending the 20s' artistic movement which sought to challenge the contemporary way of looking at things.

Whatever the truth, the resulting executions have been a profound influence on so much of the work that's followed it. Certainly, they're fit to take their place as Campaign presents its final curtain call for tobacco advertising's all-time greats.

B&H "BIRDCAGE" 1978

One of the CDP ads which pioneered the "surreal" approach to tobacco advertising. Benson & Hedges had been launched as a luxury king-size cigarette.

Its pack was stylish but sales were miniscule. John Ritchie, CDP's tobacco account "baron", and Gallaher agreed a complete break with its advertising past was needed. Alan Waldie, the brains behind the "pure gold" campaign, remembers the stunned silence when it was presented to the account team but also Gallaher's instant enthusiasm for the idea with one proviso - "great art direction, great photography, spare no expense". The rest is history.

STRAND 1957

It was the most enduring cigarette campaign of the last 50 years. Alas, S H Benson's "You're never alone with a Strand" TV commercial for Strand cigarettes was also the most disasterous. It featured a lonely soul with trilby and trenchcoat collar turned up walking rainsoaked city streets at dead of night. Even in the relatively unsophisticated 50s, smokers could recognise a sad bastard when they saw one and Strand rapidly disappeared from the market. Yet so enduring was the image that 32 years later Saatchi & Saatchi produced a spoof of the film to take Vodafone on to TV for the first time. And people still whistle its moody soundtrack.

B&H "IGUANA" 1978

For a long time CDP's enigmatic ad for B&H featuring a sequence of unrelated objects travelling through the Arizona desert and concluding outside Battersea power station remained in the Guinness Book of Records as the most expensive commercial ever made. Art directed by the legendary Alan Waldie, written by Mike Cozens and directed by Hugh "Chariots of Fire" Hudson, the ad deliberately thumbed its nose at tobacco ad restrictions with its obscure images. Nobody knew what possible connection there could be between a helicopter, an iguana, a sardine can and a pack of B&H. And nobody ever will.

HAMLET "PHOTO BOOTH" 1987

The fact that four out of ten cigars sold in the UK are Hamlets is testimony to the durability of a brand which was built through TV advertising but has not been seen there since the EC banished it from the medium in 1991. All the charming little visual comedy vignettes ran in tandem with Jacques Loussier's playing of Bach's Air on a G String. And none was funnier than the one featuring Gregor Fisher, of Rab C Nesbitt fame, struggling to keep his Bobby Charlton hairdo and his dignity intact while getting his picture taken. The CDP creatives Rowan Dean, Phillip Differ and Garry Horner devised the commercial, which Graham Rose directed.

SILK CUT "SCISSORS" 1988

The campaign for Gallaher's Silk Cut, conceived in 1984 by Saatchi & Saatchi's Jeremy Sinclair and Paul Arden,and based on a simple idea of scissors sything through silk, was a clever response to the growing constraints on tobacco advertising. This execution, art directed by Alex Taylor, was also a perfect summation of Charles Saatchi's creative philosophy of brutal simplicity. Simon Dicketts, now M&C Saatchi's executive creative director, who worked on the campaign at Charlotte Street, says: "Charles told us to keep doing the ads until people got the hang of the idea and never to get clever with them. They were simple, right and completely focused."

REGAL "REG" 1993

The campaign for Imperial's Regal cigarette brand provided a brash and noisy interlude to the subtle and enigmatic tobacco advertising that had proceeded it. Bursting onto posters came Reg, a fat, balding character with his own line in saloon bar philosophy. There was Reg on party politics ("If you drop ash on the carpet you won't get invited again"), Reg on the meaning of life ("Depends if you get time off for good behaviour") and Reg on train spotting ("There's one"). Lowe Howard-Spink circumvented the rules about cigarettes not appealing to young people by successfully arguing that Reg was repulsive and "uncool". However, his gross antics ensured his rapid promotion to cult status with Viz readers.

B&H SMALL CIGARS "ISTANBUL" 1974

CDP's "Istanbul" ad for B&H small cigars has been hailed as one of the best TVads of all time. The ad, directed by BFCS's Bob Brooks, confirmed his place as a pioneer in bringing real film quality to a piece of broadcast advertising. Written by Lindsey Dale, it features George Cole as a seedy spy who sees his pilfered atomic secrets go up in smoke through a case of mistaken identity. Tony Brignull, a former CDP senior creative, says: "If somebody had brought that script to me I would have said it was too complicated to make. But Brooks made it work beautifully. Everybody gets it and everybody laughs."

CONDOR "SUBMARINE" 1985

Peter Levelle, CDP's one-time head of TV, directed this version of a series of ads for Condor pipe tobacco with its line "Nothing should disturb that Condor moment". The Condor smoker began life as a very sad chap indeed. When CDP took over the account, it kept the slogan but showed the character with an anarchic streak beneath his calm exterior. In this film, he calls up his radio-controlled mini submarine to torpedo the model powerboat with which a couple of yobs are shattering his pond-side peace.

THE MARLBORO COWBOY 1955

Philip Morris seized on the image of the stubbled cowboy with a cigarette dangling from his lip when it sought to reposition Marlboro as a smoke for men rather than women. The brainchild of Don Tennant at Leo Burnett in Chicago, the cowboy is considered partly responsible for changing the US ideal of male beauty personified at the time by stars such as Tyrone Power. Tennant was smart enough to realise that "there were a lot more guys who looked like me". Today, one out of every four cigarettes smoked is a Marlboro and the surroundings are so ingrained in the world's imagination that people ask their travel agents about tours to Marlboro Country.

MANIKIN "SHEER ENJOYMENT" 1976

This Ted Bates TVad isn't only an uninhibited throwback to a time before political correctness, but a seminal example of advertising with "bloke" appeal. In pre-Baywatch days, the ads were a "must see" for a generation of youths while provoking the ire of women's rights groups who condemned them as "irrelevant". The films featured either T-shirted girls cavorting in the surf or scantily-clad beauties sensually stroking tobacco leaves while purring about the special flavour of Manikin cigars.

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