A pressure group called British Naturism (“the country’s officially recognised naturist organisation”) has got itself in a state about the BBC and nudity.
It’s complained about the lack of authenticity in Andrew Marr’s History of the World, which has been filling the nation’s TV screens with ancient African, Egyptian, Minoan and South American tribes migrating all over the globe in the orange dawn of history. The trouble with the images, as far as British Naturism is concerned, is that the tribesmen and their lady companions were shown wearing clothes.
It is, says the society, a “systematic falsification of history” to show prehistoric figures in pants rather than having their bits on display. It just goes to show, it fumed, that the hapless, scandal-drenched Corporation will airily “sacrifice its reputation” in order to sell its meretricious documentary to foreign countries. It is now writing to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to thunder about the Beeb’s “lack of honesty” and how British Naturism members don’t “pay the licence fee to be fed falsehoods intended to appease a misguided minority”.
From the fury of its denunciation, you’d imagine the BBC’s wardrobe mistress had kitted out the aborigines and Mesopotamians in bias-cut McQueen frocks and Wrangler jeans rather than animal skins and loincloths; but when you’re a single-issue organisation like British Naturism, you tend to over-emphasise your arguments. You just want everyone to go around with nothing on.
You ignore, for example, the fact that, long before the BBC existed, there was a widespread convention that you didn’t depict private parts, even when showing nakedness. When artists first visualised the Book of Genesis, they didn’t show Adam and Eve in toto; hence the rise of the fig leaf, the gauzy moss, the handily placed banana or bunch of coconuts. But one can scarcely imagine the money and the constant invention the programme-makers would have needed to obscure the genitalia of whole tribes with handily placed props, as they marched and scrambled across thousands of miles. Surely the Naturists can appreciate that?
As for suggesting that the BBC went for the animal-skin/underpants option in order to sell the show abroad, wouldn’t a drama-doc full of naked tribespeople, migrating morning and night, have found an enthusiastic audience across the Channel?
I admire the Naturists’ single-mindedness, though. I wonder if there’s a branch of their society called the Naturalists, who insist that art portrays life exactly as it’s lived – who complain to TV producers that nobody ever visits the lavatory in Coronation Street, nobody watches television in EastEnders and there are no awkward silences round the dinner table in Downton Abbey.