Focus: And here is the (naked) news from Brighton - there's too much nudity on TV

Britain's first nudist beach was sanctioned 25 years ago. So why are we still so buttoned up? Katy Guest strips off to canvass opinion on the shingle
Click to follow
The Independent Online

'Go down to Brighton for the day," they said. "Sit on the beach. Talk to people." "Great," I said. "Get your kit off," they said. "Ah," I said.

'Go down to Brighton for the day," they said. "Sit on the beach. Talk to people." "Great," I said. "Get your kit off," they said. "Ah," I said.

Let's face it, we may want to believe that Britain has become more relaxed, less prudish, more enlightened since its first official nudist beach was declared 25 years ago tomorrow, but actually getting naked in public is still daunting. And since clothed persons - or "textiles" - are not welcome on the few hard-won scraps of sand or shingle that serve the nation's naturists, there is no other way to talk to people.

My own white bits haven't seen the sun since before Brighton nudist beach was dreamed up. (For the record I was three, and even then I kept my little red wellies on.) But anyone who has ever watched TV, read the tabloids or has been on a package holiday can hardly come over all prudish about naked bits. Just how embarrassing could it be?

Google quickly answered that question. "We have never felt so uncomfortable on a nudist beach," huffed one reviewer on a website. "Lots of big cocks," wrote another. It didn't seem quite what councillor Eileen Jakes had in mind when she finally persuaded Brighton council, back in 1979, by showing them photos of herself sunbathing topless in Ibiza. The decision was a national sensation.

Councillor Jakes's main opposition was councillor John Blackman, who called the beach a "flagrant exhibition of mammary glands" and threatened to make citizens arrests on its early patrons. "I personally have no objection to people showing their breasts and bosoms and general genitalia to each other," he said. "But for heaven's sake, go somewhere a little more private."

Eileen Jakes, now 72, still lives on Brighton seafront. And she still has that all-over tan. But it's not from Brighton's nudist beach. "I have a house in Spain near a naturist beach," she tells me. "And my friend in Brighton has a very enclosed garden." She whispers: "So why would I go and lie on the shingle? Anyway, you can take your top off almost anywhere, now." Her next campaign will be for the legalisation of prostitution. Councillor Blackman would not be happy.

Nor would he be delighted about the many breasts and bosoms and general genitalia that offend the modern eye. If it's not Spencer Tunick and his models rubbing naked shoulders with guests at the opening of Charles Saatchi's gallery in London it's Vincent Bethell and his friends at the Freedom to be Yourself Group, "campaigning naked for the right to be naked in public". For Bethell, legitimising human nakedness is almost a political act, and one for which he has served time. And come 11 August we'll have "Naked News", courtesy of the Get Lucky channel which will be available on Sky's digital satellite platform. Even British Naturism, an open and optimistic organisation that really believes the public's attitude to nakedness is changing for the better, tells me: "There's far too much nudity on TV these days."

Mixed messages there, then. And down on the beach it was immediately apparent why it is impossible to discuss the subject of nudity in a sensible and adult way. Sorry, boys, but the sight of a field full of naked willies is just intrinsically humorous. Throw into the equation the attempts to swagger across sharp pebbles and it takes every muscle in your body not to laugh out loud. Every muscle that isn't busy holding your stomach in, that is.

However, when you get used to it there's something strangely comforting about nobody having any clothes on. Nakedness is a great leveller. For all we knew, the hairy chap by the water with the alarmingly shiny testicles could have been a prince, but without your clothes on, nobody knows and nobody can judge. You could be anyone.

"This is our second time," said Alison and Halim, a very pink couple from Lewisham. "It took me 20 minutes to take my clothes off, but after that I loved it. Ooh, it's a lovely feeling, isn't it?" Leighton, a Brighton resident, was more sanguine. "I'm topping up my all-over tan before the Pride festival tomorrow," he said, casting an eye over the talent. "I plan to pull, and St Tropez is just not natural-looking enough for me."

Yes, the beach is full of gay men ("Do you think we'd take our clothes off if they were straight?" giggled Carla from Essex), but once you get over the slightly hurt feeling of being naked and completely ignored, it's weirdly liberating. A quarter of a century on, we may not have attained Swedish-style enlightenment with regards to the naked body but Eileen Jakes does seem to have been on to a good thing. Say what you like about bare reporting, it's better than sitting in an office surrounded by the crackle of nylon. And that's the naked truth.

WHERE TO GO BARE

Morfa Dyffryn, Gwynedd

Mile-long stretch of golden sand regarded by many as the UK's best.

Budleigh Salterton, Devon

Narrow shingly beach that slopes quite steeply into the sea.

Studland Bay, Dorset

Owned by the National Trust, one of the most popular naturist beaches in Britain. Wardens regularly patrol.

Eastney, Portsmouth

Small and shingly. Shy naturists should ask the bus driver to let them off at the "radar station".

Leysdown East Beach, Kent

Sand, shells, shingle and mud at the eastern end of Isle of Sheppey.

Corton Beach, Suffolk

Small, sandy, gravely, stony beach two miles from lovely Lowestoft.

Holkham Beach, Norfolk

Very large official beach at the end of a two-mile path. Take a windbreak.

Cleat's Shore, Isle of Arran

Isolated site at the southern end. Stunning beauty, but not warm.

Details courtesy of British Naturism

Comments