London's fogs, which once romantically shrouded the nocturnal prowlings of Sherlock Holmes's Professor Moriarty,† Stevenson's Suicide Club and Mrs. Lowndes's Lodger, now veil an even grimmer killer: the estimated three tons of soot and ash that sift daily out of the sky over each square mile of Britain's larger cities. In one smog-bound week last December, 4,000 Londoners died from trying to breathe the noxious combination of smoke and fog that choked their city.
Last week, as the first real pea-souper of this year's smog season rolled over London, 6,000 doctor-members of the London Local Medical Committee, deeply distressed "at the lack of any effective response from official quarters to what can truthfully be described as a national disaster," urged fellow townsmen to protect their lungs with sixpence worth of gauze folded into a six-layer mask and tied over the mouth and nose. The meshes of the mask, said the committee, would arrest most of the soot, while moisture from the breath, condensed on the mask, would prevent passage of some of the chemicals that cause lung trouble.
The British Medical Association backed up the committee, but the government's Ministry of Health loftily pooh-poohed the doctors' suggestion. "The more efficient the mask." said one spokesman, "the more difficult it is to breathe through, particularly in the case of bronchitic patients." But London shopkeepers were quick to seize on the mask. At the end of two days, many London chemists had sold all their gauze. Mayfair milliners hastily sketched up a line of fashionable "smoggles" in tulle, velvet and chiffon to please the modish dyspneic. One dress designer announced a "bunny mask" modeled on a rabbit's nose and containing a special filter. In the murk outside the Tottenham Court tube station, one LondonerShipping Clerk Dennis Michaels, 24, was actually seen wearing a gauze mask. Some passers-by stared and laughed. "How's the operation going, Doc?" called one. Fifteen minutes later, Dennis took off his mask. "It might be all right if everyone wore one," he said, "but it just looks silly if you're on your own."
†Who was also prowling Broadway last week (see THEATER).