Nudity becomes favoured cliche of the self-promoting classes

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The Independent Online

When the late John Lennon appeared naked on a record cover, shops sold the sleeves in brown paper bags. Private Eye featured the picture but covered up the offending organ with a sticker saying "Member of the British Empire".

When the late John Lennon appeared naked on a record cover, shops sold the sleeves in brown paper bags. Private Eye featured the picture but covered up the offending organ with a sticker saying "Member of the British Empire".

Times have changed. Now male nudity has become a primal urge even in middle England. Worse, when you think about some of the figures of those involved, it is seen as an effective lobbying tactic.

This week, 12 Devon farmers stripped off to highlight the crisis in their industry. And so, in the execrably punning Meat British Beef calendar, they pose with farm implements, vegetables and animals masking their meat and two veg.

"I was not embarrassed, but it was very cold", said Mark Rossiter - Mr April to his friends - who posed with a cauliflower.

The calendar was the brainchild of Paul Westlake, a farmer, and Nicola de Pulford, a photographer. "We were discussing the state of farming and he said why not do a calendar," said Ms de Pulford.

Not, perhaps, the most obvious logical link. But it does follow recent precedent. In Southwold, Suffolk, a calendar of male nudes is being used as an offbeat way to highlight breast cancer. Rob Dawson, a local chef, appears with a big halibut and only a small pinny to hide his modesty. In a scene of almost surreal permissiveness, the only complaint came from the local rector who wondered why no clergymen were in the calendar.

Calendars have also come from a group of caravanners in Yorkshire, some in their sixties; the Rylstone and District Women's Institute, which sold 33,000 copies; and supporters of the Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn's Hunt in Cheshire, to raise funds for the Countryside Alliance.

Men may be deluding themselves, though, if they think their nudity can compete with female poses. Eugen Beer of Beer Davies, a marketing company, is scornful: "Remember Playgirl? Its first centrefold was Burt Reynolds and it folded soon after."

"There is an imbalance between the sexes," the Victoria and Albert Museum admitted in its introduction to an exhibition on the nude a few years ago. "The male nude is seen much less often either in fine art or in other visual media."

Fashions have moved on, though. Edward Lucie Smith, the art critic, presented part of a Channel 4 programme on pornography two nights ago in the nude. "The female audience for the male nude exists and at long last is not afraid to declare itself," he says.

Sales of cauliflower and halibut could be picking up.

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