Actor Mel Smith was forced to abandon a smoking scene while on stage in Edinburgh yesterday, amid fears the show would be closed if he flouted Scotland's ban on lighting up.

The comedian, who made his debut as cigar-chomping Winston Churchill in the Fringe show, had threatened to ignore the law which forbids smoking in enclosed spaces.

But a visit from environmental officers to the play's venue an hour before it opened made the Smith and Jones star change his mind.

Instead he took a puff out of a window after the show.

Speaking after the performance of Allegiance, the artistic director at the Assembly Rooms, William Burdett-Coutts, said the venue had been threatened with closure.

When it came to the smoking scene, described as "integral" to the play, Smith picked up the cigar and lighter props before putting them down again unused.

"We had a visit from the chief environmental officer this morning who said he would shut the venue," he said.

"During the scene, Mel got the cigar and a lighter out, but then he put them down to the side."

Mr Burdett-Coutts said he was told he would be held liable if a performer smoked, and would face a large fine and the loss of his licence.

He said of the ban in theatres: "I think it's absurd. In the context of an international festival like this, it's crazy.

"It's integral to the part of Churchill and it doesn't affect other people - it's just absurd."

The Scottish Executive imposed the smoking ban in March this year.

The legislation prohibits lighting up in any enclosed space, including theatres, sports venues and bus shelters.

Smith hit out at the Scottish Parliament last month, saying the smoking ban would have delighted Churchill's arch-enemy Adolf Hitler.

The Executive responded by pointing out that "realistic alternatives" could be used for the purposes of theatre shows.

Allegiance is inspired by the Irish independence leader Michael Collins' visit to London in 1921.