Mr. Hulot's pipe was as inseperable from his comedy character as Charlie Chaplin's cane and bowler hat would be from the Little Tramp, but such cultural memories count for little, it seems, against the letter of the law.
Censorship of the unforgivable pipe was performed on all 2,000 posters by Metrobus, the advertising arm of the RATP, ("Autonomous Operator of Parisian Transports"), which oversees Paris' transit system. Their moral watchdogs have replaced the pipe with a preposterous pinwheel, the very type of modern "progress" that Jacques Tati skewered so relentlessly in his wonderful comedies.
"The law is the law", says the RATP with a gallic shrug [my translation of the original French article]:
"Our legal department judged that the ad was against the [1991 Evin law, which restricts advertising for smoking]. We have already modified several ad campaigns of this sort, such as when an alcoholic beverage had been highlighted. Why would we do otherwise when it comes to tobacco?"The law in question prohibits "all propaganda or publicity, direct or indirect, in favor of tobacco or tobacco products".
The current Minister of Health and Sport, Roselyne Bachelot, whose predecessor Claude Évin was responsible for the strict anti-tobacco legislation, is blunt in her condemnation of the whole affair. "No, I am not in favor of taking away Jacques Tati's pipe!", she made clear to reporters at the Health ministry.
Even the CNCT ("Comité national contre le tabagisme", the National Committee Against Smoking) are in agreement that the transit company's well-intentioned censors have over-reacted in this case:
"This is a promotion for a cultural event, not for smoking. It's not because you're seeing Mr. Hulot on his bike, with his hat and his pipe that will make you want to smoke", explained CNCT president Yves Martinet.
Interviewed by the newspaper Le Parisien, Martinet goes on to say:
"..And the fight against smoking is not a call to rewrite history. Must we ban the Sherlock Holmes books under the pretext that he, also, smoked a pipe?"The irony in all this, as any Jacques Tati fan will appreciate, is that at no point in Mr. Hulot's Holiday, My Uncle, Playtime, or any of his classic films does Mr. Hulot ever actually light his pipe..!