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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK


Different faces of nudism

All you need is suncream, a hat and a smile ...

By BBC News Online's Liz Doig

There's a fairly strong breeze rattling through the pine trees on the trek up to Haslemere Sun Club.

Sun club chairman Les Jarman: "It has to be experienced"
At the top of the two acre hillside site, neatly-mown lawns nudge up to rows of garden sheds converted to net-curtained chalets, complete with plaques naming weekend occupants.

Naturism, say enthusiasts, is all about relaxation, freedom, getting away from it all.

"We also do a bit of DIY," says Haslemere's chairman, Les Jarman.

To the side of the central pavilion, foundation trenches have been dug by club members keen to extend the site's facilities.

[ image: Les Jarman: Chairman of Haslemere Sun Club]
Les Jarman: Chairman of Haslemere Sun Club
Mr Jarman says: "Most naturist clubs carry out most on-site work themselves, it's simply more cost efficient.

"In a few days from now there will be a few of us digging away, wearing just our boots. We need a new toilet and shower block, and we will build it ourselves."

Indeed, British Naturism - the umbrella body representing naturism in the UK - offers insurance against power tool injury as part of its annual membership package.

Most of the UK's 130+ naturism clubs are run cooperatively by their members - usually on a tight-ish budget.

Mr Jarman says the club's atmosphere is very 1960s, and is typical of other clubs across the UK.

The former local council officer and his wife Hilary - the club's secretary - were first attracted to naturism in the early 80s, when they encountered a nudist beach on holiday in Yugoslavia.

They eventually joined the club - which like all other clubs revolves around a swimming pool.

[ image: Naturism can't seem to shake off the Carry on Camping image]
Naturism can't seem to shake off the Carry on Camping image
Mr Jarman said: "All naturists say this, but once you have tried swimming nude, you will never want to wear a swimming costume again.

"It is wonderfully de-stressing to come to the club, strip off and unwind. Our only regret is that we didn't start sooner."

"Clubs can be great," says Mark Nisbet, the new editor of naturism magazine Health and Efficiency.

"But there are a growing number of people who are critical of them, because they are seen as being too cliquey and bureaucratic - and because, quite frankly, many of them are downright dowdy."

One of the things that naturists find exasperating about "textiles" (their word for people who prefer clothes) is that they have difficulty dissociating nudity and sex.

[ image:  ]
"I think people imagine that there are big orgies going on, but it couldn't be further from the truth," says Mr Jarman.

But it's easy to see how the seaside postcard/Carry on Camping view of naturism persists.

"Clubs need to have a make do and mend mentality to survive on members' subscriptions," says Mr Nesbit.

[ image: Vincent Bethell protested outside Buckingham Palace]
Vincent Bethell protested outside Buckingham Palace
"They are a white middle-class establishement, they can be extremely bureaucratic and unwelcoming to prospective members - especially if they are single."

Haslemere Sun Club actually accepts single men and women, but tries to keep a balance of sexes - though Mr and Mrs Jarman are aware of places with much more rigorous rules and regulations.

While clubs are in decline nationally, other faces of naturism have been emerging.

H&E's Mark Nisbet: "Clubs are white, middle class preserves"
Growing numbers of men, women and children are seeking out remote or designated naturist beaches, where they can enjoy the freedoms of not packing a swimming costume.

"I call them independent or free-range naturists or nudists," says the Health and Efficiency editor.

"They do not want the strictures of a club, with its committees and rules - they want social nudity on the beach or out walking with their friends in the Lake District, and they are doing it in increasing numbers."

As well as these "free range" or "independent" nudists, there are what can only be described as militant nudists - individuals who view nakedness as a political issue.

[ image:  ]
A small group, headed by Coventry-based Vincent Bethell, has been campaigning in London throughout the summer.

Mr Bethell was hauled out of a fountain by police after he chose to take his clothes off outside Buckingham Palace.

And he has posters up at tube stations urging the public to "go naked" outside the Royal Courts of Justice on 28 July.

"Being naked is a right," Mr Bethell told BBC News Online. "We cover so much up - our feelings and our inclinations, clothing is another part of that.

Mark Nisbet: "There is a history of people using the naked body as a political tool"
"We are forced to do things that are not only against our will but against our natural desires.

"We are suppressing our rights to be free - and that includes our right to be free of clothing.

"People, especially young people, are not offended by nakedness, but the system tells them that they ought to be. I am aware that many people do not want to take their clothes off, and that is fine. But it should be fine for people to take their clothes off in public if they want to as well."

[ image: The pool is the centre of sun club life]
The pool is the centre of sun club life
Mr Bethell's campaign has certainly led to media interest - and sports company Puma even wanted him to appear in an ad for their trainers. He declined.

British Naturism too is campaigning for rights to strip on all of Britain's beaches.

Mr Nisbet said: "I certainly think this is a boom time for nudity. It is getting a high profile and there are people who are demanding their rights as they see them, and that is great."

Mr and Mrs Jarman, like many club members up and down the country, are sceptical about politicising the issue.

"Clubs are fine - we know that we don't offer a lot to young people, we don't really expect to. Club life is sedate and ideal for older people or families," said Mr Jarman.

"But we hope that those people will return to us at some point, when they have kids to look after or they want to slow down a bit."

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