The sad passing of the naked exhibitionist: Keith Elliott charts the rise and demise of the streakers

Share
Related Topics
WHO remembers streakers? Twenty years ago, a young window-dresser from Kingston upon Thames called Sally Cooper streaked across Kingston bridge with four friends. Her streak, and the arrest that followed, won her brief media fame. It also earned her a bite on the bottom from an eager police dog. But, apart from the occasional sports enthusiast, streakers have now disappeared.

Back in the Seventies, though, such was the vogue for streaking that learned articles appeared on the subject. The Listener, Economist, Observer and New Society all had their say.

The history of streaking was solemnly plotted from the late Middle Ages onwards. Adamites in Bohemia protested against church corruption in 1419. Quakers in 17th- century England, 'spirit wrestlers' in 18th-century Russia and 'sons of freedom' in 19th-century Canada were all cited as forerunners.

Some might think that Lady Godiva was the first streaker. But quite aside from the historical doubts about the story - the ride through Coventry was ascribed to her 200 years after the 11th-century event - she did not actually streak. A streaker wants to be seen; she did not. Her hair covered most of her and she asked all the men to stay indoors; their womenfolk probably enforced this.

Another possible streaker from earlier days was a certain Solomon Eccles, who stood nude in London's square mile in the 17th century and cried 'Woe unto the bloody city'. Perhaps some Lloyd's names might be tempted to follow his example.

Honest nudism apart, hypocrisy has always required there to be an excuse, however transparent, for displays of nudity. Artists have ceaselessly painted Venus; Caravaggio and Derek Jarman found 'religious' reasons to paint or film figures which they found exciting.

Streaking, like the painting of nudes, found its excuse in religion. Naked dancing was linked with hymn-singing. The Quakers were demonstrating the 'naked truth of the Gospel'.

But all that was then; this is now - or rather not any longer, since streakers rarely strike any more. Religious nudity worked only if society condemned it. A society that permits the staging of the nude show Oh Calcutta] and allows a nudist beach not too far from a city centre removes the point about breaking the rules.

There had to be other reasons, therefore, for modern streaking. There were those who did it for a bet, for a dare, or, in the case of Sally Cooper and later Erica Roe (1982), as a route to a lucrative magazine photo-set. If you are not sure of making it by looks alone, a little publicity might just tip the scales. To be interviewed by a Sunday magazine must have seemed the pinnacle of respectability. Perhaps in 1974 the Sixties had not really ended and the serious part of society still thought it needed street-cred. If Harold Wilson was photographed with the Beatles, then the Observer could interview Sally, the window-dresser who dreamed of fame.

The thread that joins the religious streakers of the past with the phenomenon of the Seventies was protest. A more restrained form, called mooning, had been around for some time. This was a mainly female practice of displaying the bottom and took place in certain American universities.

The protest was against the freedom which male students enjoyed to come and go as they pleased, whereas the women were locked in 'for their own safety'. To be effective, the mooning had to take place when men were known to be watching. Another purpose of mooning, employed by men and women alike, was to display contempt to somebody who had offended them. This gesture has been used in 'primitive' societies, as well as sophisticated ones.

The advantage of streaking as a form of protest is that it is non-violent and does no damage. The laws it notionally breaks are those against vagrancy and decency. Yet the streakers are hardly vagrants, and decency is difficult to define. There is a world of difference between the middle-aged, raincoated flasher and high-spirited young men or women whose bodies are not unpleasing.

Nudists, however, did not think much of streaking in Seventies America. One nudist community in Florida threatened to demonstrate its disapproval by marching through the neighbouring town fully clad . . . .

No doubt streaking is a form of exhibitionism, for which splendid opportunities exist today at raves and parties. It is a harmless and safe occupation, since the very crowdedness of the venue is a form of protection. But the young seem to have stopped protesting and no cause today seems worth streaking for. Even American academics no longer feel obliged to say, as one did 20 years ago, that 'the students are trying to tell us something about themselves. Such stark creativity should command our silent awe.' Does anyone out there in the remaining summer days of 1994 feel like being creatively starkers?

(Photograph omitted)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistants needed in Salford

£12000 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you an...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Teaching Assistants needed in Wigan

£12000 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you an...

Biology Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Biology Teacher for fixed term contrac...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Retail store Joy has sparked a social media backlash with its response to a customer who said one of its cards is offensive to people with bipolar  

Hey Joy, mocking people with bipolar isn't funny — it's offensive

Ellabell Risbridger
 

Ed Miliband is so scared of becoming Tony Blair he has forgotten how to communicate

Lance Price
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments