The Naked Rambler, TV review: 'Walk on the wild side doesn't quite reveal the naked truth'

 

Naked rambling is not for wimps. Since 2003, when he first walked from Land's End to John o' Groats, in only his walking boots, rucksack and an occasional hat, Stephen Gough, has exhibited a remarkably stubborn determination to be himself. If it's not the unforgiving freezing winds, it's the unforgiving local police force, between them conspiring to force Gough to do the one thing he will not: put some clothes on.

In the winter of 2012, Guy Gilbert (director of Jamie's School Dinners and The Undateables) met Gough on his release from prison and accompanied him as he set off on a hike from Scotland to visit his mother in Eastleigh, Hampshire. The result was The Naked Rambler (BBC1), a surprising and thought-provoking documentary that explored both the nature of this man and the reasons behind his peculiar protest.

So why does he do it? Gough has been asked that question so many times, you'd think, he'd have come up with a catchy soundbite by now, but even after numerous periods of enforced reflection while in prison, he still doesn't seem sure. He's not a naturist or a nudist, he says, and in fact often dresses in private. Instead, it's something to do with "freedom". For him, a vaguely defined concept, which also includes farting in public. "You may be making it into triviality," the ever-earnest Gough told Gilbert, "but you try, as I have in the past, bottling up your farts. You'll get stomachache."

In fairness, his detractors were no more able to articulate their reasons for taking offence. One member of the public made a tenuous connection between Gough, "paedophiles and Jimmy Savile", and there was no representative of the criminal justice system on hand to explain why six-and-a-half years of solitary confinement, at huge cost to the public purse, was deemed an appropriate punishment. Only Alison Ward, Gough's ex-partner and the mother of his two children, came close to making any sense of it: "I think it's sad for the children, but mostly I think it's very sad for Steve. He's missed out on 10 years of having a relationship with his children. And for what?"

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