ANOTHER VIEW: Scouting for scandals

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The Independent Online
Last week it was Gladstone; this week it is Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouting movement, who comes under the unsympathetic glare of sensationalist documentary makers. Who knows which outstanding figure from history will next week undergo trial by television or the press?

It is right and proper that we should look back and consider how great figures from the past have achieved their place in history. In doing so we should question the criteria by which we make those measurements - the social background of their day, or today's conventions? What is the agenda of those making these measurements, and where lie the commercial interests in the broadcasting of programmes purporting to depict these lives from the past?

We know that in the summer Channel 4 was circulating information to potential advertisers, inviting them to buy into a programme that "looks behind the upright image of one of the world's most famous men". The invitation referred to "confused sexuality", "latent sadism" and even a "flirtation with the Hitler Youth movement". We know that even as this information was being circulated the team researching the documentary was still combing the archives and setting up interviews with people who knew Baden-Powell. Even as I write the programme is unfinished, but the Channel 4 publicity machine has been announcing the sensational details of its content and emphasis.

Of course there is a connection between commercial interest in selling more advertising space and an appeal to prurience which advertising salesmen know only too well. Perhaps it does not matter much if one believes that the average viewer discerns that in the midst of all the visual material broadcast today truth and objective judgement can be casualties, but one is entitled to be dubious about that - how else can one explain the inordinate public interest in these matters?

It does matter very much if the intrusion of the commercial interest results in a portrayal so distorted as to destroy the public perception of a great figure from the past - which is what I fear may happen here. It can so easily lead to denigration of the outstanding achievements and a cynical disdain for those who admire them.

Let's not forget the extraordinary achievements of Lord Baden-Powell. With amazing imagination and originality he created a movement that has brought excitement and adventure to many millions of boys and girls across the world through Scouting and Guiding. His methods were revolutionary at the time, but have stood the test of time, having been adopted by many other educational bodies. His vision has enabled us to overcome the barriers set up by those who have little to contribute but to carp, criticise and denigrate the efforts of others.

The writer is the Chief Scout.