The happiness and the 'horror': Guides: Several notable former Guides tell Rachel Borrill about their memories of knot-tying and campfires

MARY WHITEHOUSE, the censorship campaigner, was one of several notable former Guides to have vivid memories of the movement. 'I was the patrol leader for the Scarlet Pimpernels in Chester. We had great fun, especially when we went camping. We learnt so much - I can still tie a reef knot - and they taught us the right values.

'I can still remember my first Scout dance, we had lots of fun. These were some of my happiest memories. My family were great Scouts and Guides supporters. My mother used to hold sales to raise funds for them. I think they are very important organisations because they have a good influence on children.'

Jilly Cooper, the novelist, was not so happy. 'I was chucked out of the Brownies because of my insubordination. My cousin was Brown Owl and I joined because of her. I thought it was a total horror. I just couldn't believe they were so wet, all those Pixies and Elves. And it was all so terribly hearty which is absolutely not me.

'The uniform was also disgusting. I think I got kicked out because of my general sluttishness and my complete lack of interest. I hate rules at the best of times, and they had enough of them.'

Sara Parkin, spokeswoman for the Green Party, opted out for a different reason: 'I joined the Brownies when I was about eight, but I wasn't terribly impressed. I was a tomboy and had been led to believe that we would be climbing trees, making dens and tying knots. But all we did was dance. I left when the meetings began to clash with The Goon Show.'

Lindi St Clair, the former brothel-keeper turned political campaigner, said: 'I loved the Guides, that was where I learnt to tie knots. I enjoyed going camping - we always used to sit around the campfire singing songs. It was wonderful just being there with my mates. And I really liked the uniform. I had loads of badges, which I got for my sewing and tying knots. The Guides were good because they encouraged us to be independent. That has helped me.'

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