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Last Updated: Friday, 27 July 2007, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
What would Baden-Powell do?
Image of Baden-Powell and the scout badge mowed into a field in the West Country

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

Robert Baden-Powell's scouting movement is 100 years old, but how has his advice to young people - written up a year after the first Scout camp - stood up over the years?

The 1908 edition of Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell is an extraordinary book that kicked off a movement that has changed the world.

Much of it is practical advice not just on camping, survival and the outdoor life, but how to cope with urban emergencies and how to live as a moral upstanding boy in an increasingly immoral world. It seems almost as though no area of life is neglected in the book.

Over the years it has undergone many revisions, to make it more international; dropping references to Empire and the superiority of some nations; including advice and activities for girls, and reflecting other changes in thinking.

Girl with rucksack
Girls are a key part of the scouting movement now

And while some of Baden-Powell's advice seems out of place in today's risk-averse society, much of it seems prescient.

Today's equivalent of Scouting for Boys, the Scout Matrix, has concepts that are entirely new, such as how to create a webpage using HTML and surf the internet safely. But it retains the spirit of Baden-Powell's original work.


    A scout is friend to animals. He should save them as far as possible from pain and should not kill any animal unnecessarily, even if it is only a fly.

    I have said the 'hunting' or 'going after big game is one of the best things in scouting'. I did not say shooting or killing the game was the best part; for as you get to study animals you get to like them more and more, and you will soon find that you don't want to kill them for the mere sake of killing.

Baden-Powell at the original scout camp
Baden-Powell famously led the defence of Mafeking

For a man who was the product of an age that wasn't shy about shooting animals for sport alone, Baden-Powell was remarkably far-sighted in his attitudes.

Indeed, the Scout Association likes to look at the original scout as a proto-environmentalist whose life was about getting close to nature and understanding its importance.


    Plunge in boldly and look to the object you are trying to attain and don't bother about your own safety.

Baden-Powell was outraged by an episode in which a woman drowned in a pond at Hampstead while a crowd looked on. But his advice on emergency situations, and particularly the rescuing of the drowning, seem at odds with today's culture.

20 scouts at 1907 Brownsea Island camp
Now 28 million globally
350,000 girls and boys and 100,000 volunteers in UK alone
14% in UK are girls
Only six countries have no scouts
These are Cuba, Burma, Laos, China, North Korea and Andorra
11 of 12 moon-walking astronauts were scouts

For the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa), the emphasis is on avoiding jumping in and only even wading as a last resort.

ROSPA 2007: "You should do everything possible to avoid having to enter the water because experience shows that often the would-be rescuer becomes a casualty. If you have to make a rescue attempt, think of your own safety first and never put yourself in danger. If the rescue is too dangerous, wait until the emergency services arrive. Remember this order: shout, reach, throw, wade."

After shouting for help and sending someone to dial 999, throwing a lifebelt or reaching with a stick or branch is the next step.


Perhaps the most notorious part of Scouting for Boys never actually made it into the published version. Baden-Powell's lengthy injunction against "self-abuse" and the "pleasant feeling in your private parts" was cut out after the publisher suggested it might not be the best idea.

But Baden-Powell also wrote a section on "continence" for his notes for instructors which in more muted tones warned self-abuse "brings with it weakness of heart and head and if persisted in idiocy and lunacy".

As well as dirty talk and magazines, Baden-Powell suggested problems could be caused by rich food and sleeping with too many blankets and advised cold showers and boxing as a possible cure.

Extraordinarily this advice persisted at least until the 1960s.


    No boy ever began smoking because he liked it but because he thought it made him look like a grown-up man. As a matter of fact it generally makes him look a little ass.

    When a lad smokes before he is fully grown up it is almost sure to make his heart feeble, and the heart is the most important organ in a lad's body.

Baden-Powell greets scouts in the 1920s
No-one was prepared for the popularity of scouting

Although suspicions about the harmful effects of tobacco go all the way back to the 17th Century, in 1908 it was not received wisdom that smoking was bad for you.

And the notion that smoking harms the heart coincides with much scientific research of the last three decades, such as a recent study that found people under 40 are five times more likely to have a heart attack if they smoke.

But for Baden-Powell's choice of vocabulary, this could be straight out of a government anti-smoking campaign today.


    The way to stop a runaway horse is not to run out in front of it and wave your arms, as so many people do, but to try and race alongside it, catch hold of the shaft to keep yourself from falling, and seize the reins with the other hand.

This advice seems to be for a carriage, but Baden-Powell was extremely concerned that boys should know about the 200 runaway horse incidents every year.

Today, the British Horse Society says standing in front of a horse and waving may work in some circumstances as may holding on to an animal from the side, but that there will be many circumstances where it is not wise to intervene.

"It depends on how dangerous the horse is," says a spokeswoman. "If it is a stallion and it's prone to be vicious you don't want to get in its way."


    Lie flat and make him lie flat too between the rails, and let the train go over us both

Baden-Powell's description of what might pass through your head in the event of someone falling on the tracks was prompted by the general reading in the newspapers of this very event happening at Finsbury Park station, when an Albert Hardwick rescued a woman who was about to be run over by a train.

These days, Network Rail is far from keen on anyone doing the same.

Edward VIII at a scouting event
Baden-Powell admired Edward VIII

"The train and tracks are live [electrically]. We wouldn't advise anyone to go anywhere near them. The advice would be to raise the alarm with station staff."

One key consideration is that while Tube trains have a well beneath the tracks that one might lie in, most of the nation's railways do not.

But Baden-Powell would no doubt have been pleased with the actions of Wesley Autrey, a 50-year-old construction worker who jumped on to the track on the New York Subway in January this year to save a man having a seizure, holding him down and allowing the train to roll overhead. And he would not have been surprised to find Mr Autrey was a former Navy sailor.


    Alcohol is now shown to be quite useless as a health giving drink and it is mere poison when a man takes too much.

    It is often difficult to avoid taking strong drinks when you meet friends who want to treat you... But it is a stupid fashion when, in order to prove that you are friends, you have to drink with each other.

Baden-Powell could see the alcopop-fuelled future and was straight onto the role of peer pressure in excessive drinking.

Today's Scout Matrix is more compromising in its tone, warning against excessive drinking but advising in rather Edwardian tone that the occasional drink may be OK.

Scouts from South Asia, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe
Baden-Powell has been accused of jingoism but scouting had an international flavour

SCOUT MATRIX 2007: "Some parents allow their children to drink alcohol in small quantities at home. A single glass of wine with Sunday dinner perhaps or a glass of beer or cider after a hot afternoon's gardening. This is unlikely to have any adverse effect."

It offers advice on solvent abuse and drugs, not issues for the young people of Baden-Powell's day, but its metaphor for abuse sounds almost as poetic as the master scout himself.

"Even the smoothest running machine will grind to a halt if you pour sand into its works and the same is true of the human body."


Scouting for Boys tells readers faced by a mad dog to hold a stick or a handkerchief in front of them in order to distract the animal while they attempt to subdue it.

    You may thus get a chance of landing him a kick under the jaw.

In the light of a number of recent maulings, Rospa has just finished drawing up advice on how to deal with an aggressive dog.

The original scout camp
The original camp was at Brownsea Island

ROSPA 2007: "Allow the dog to come up to you and sniff you. It is very unlikely that the dog will bite you. Stand with your arms by your sides, fingers curled inwards. Keep your head down, and your eyes looking down too.

"Stand in the 'at ease' position, feet slightly apart to give you stability, but preventing the dog from going through your legs. If you are knocked over by a dog, curl up in a ball, face down."

In other words, kicking it is not the only plan, although it must be said that neither Rospa nor Baden-Powell advise running away.


    If a person falls through ice and is unable to get out again because of the edges breaking , throw him a rope, and tell him not to struggle. This may give him confidence until you can get a long ladder or pole which will enable him to crawl out, or will allow you to crawl out to catch hold of him.

Rospa does not concur with the latter part of this advice.

ROSPA 2007: "Call for assistance from the emergency services. Do not attempt to go out onto the ice yourself. Instruct the casualty to keep still to maintain heat and energy. Try to find something that will extend your reach, such as a rope, pole, branch or item of clothing."

But Baden-Powell's advice on a fire - raise the alarm, contact the fire brigade and wait at a safe distance - could be right out of a fire safety leaflet from today.


On sleeping in the cold:

    A boy who is accustomed to sleep with his window shut will probably suffer, like many a tenderfoot has done, by catching cold and rheumatism when he first tries sleeping out. The thing is always to sleep with your windows open, summer and winter, and you will never catch cold... A soft bed and too many blankets make a boy dream bad dreams, which weakens him.

Three faces
Personality test?

On the physiognomy of the face:

    The shape of the face gives a good guide to the man's character. Perhaps you can tell the character of these gentlemen?

On the character of bees:

    They are a quite a model community for they respect their Queen and kill their unemployed.

This was changed in later editions to "those who won't work".

Here is a selection of your comments.

The ROSPA advice on helping those at risk of drowning is technically correct, but hugely dispiriting. Some years ago I swam out into a river to rescue a friend who was very clearly drowning. On the return journey, we both got into difficulties (as ROSPA suggested might happen) and there was a brief moment when it seemed we might not make it.

So, there was some risk involved. But if the risk had not been taken, one of us would have died that day. The point is not avoid risk, but to make a reasonable estimate of whether the objective is worth the risk.
Mark, Glasgow

Bravo Jez! It's a scout's responsibilty to learn lifesaving techniques. "Shout, reach, throw, wade"!? "Reach, throw, row, go (swim), tow". That's what I was taught. You won't save a life waiting for the emergency services.
Mark, Cape Town, South Africa

Of course Baden-Powell's common-sense arguments sound more sensible than the advice of today. That's precisely the nature of common sense: it's what a layman, with no specific or detailed information on the situation, would do. Today's advice is more considered and, though counter-intuitive in cases, better. Risking one's own life to save someone else's may cost both, as when the rescue services do arrive their job is that much harder.
Tom, London

Responding to Rob from Hinkley, what a load of tosh! If the scouting movement was half as active today as it was when I was 11 or so then there wouldn't be half as much trouble on the streets..
Phil, Darlington, UK

Let's not forget that Baden-Powell was himself in the Boys' Brigade before he founded the Scout movement! The Boys' Brigade having been founded in 1883.
Robert Haggar, London

Baden Powell was a real man, not like the Beckham boys generation of today. When was the last time anyone went out and fought a bear? Society should take notice of these true words of wisdom.
Greg Care, Letchworth, Herts

I dont think it would be just Baden-Powell who would take issue with ROSPA, I think Darwin would also have something to say about it. Maybe some of the ROSPA advisors should forget the degrees in art, flower aranging and fluffyness and perhaps sit down with the Scout book and a copy of Darwins Origin of the Species and maybe rethink what's really needed!
Andrew, Rushden

What would Baden Powell of thought about the HSE regulations eh? 'Cooping up young boys within an amniotic sac is designed to last for 9 months in nature, not 9 decades'??

'Overcoming fear is only necessary if you put yourself under some measure of risk. Life without risk is no life at all and you will die alone, intoxicated and useless.'??

'The House of Commons is a sanctuary for those never having done anything who would like to impose that on everyone else'??
Rhys Jaggar, Leeds UK

The lives saved by Baden Powell are countless. I have been involved in the Scouting movement(BSA) for a couple decades, and have seen many a boy's life turned in a more positive direction by it. His original motivation was to save the youth of his Time from the life of crime on the streets so prevelent in the early 20th century. Bully for him it worked then and is working today!!
francis bryan, townsend delaware USA

The Boy Scout movement is the finest organisation that the world had ever known. Yes, a lot of it is old fashioned, but so are many political manifestos. Bring the movement up to date by all means but the basic ethos remains the same. I still in our modern society use skills I learned as a scout.
Brian Stephens, Penarth, Wales, U.K.

Gavin saying we are a more decent and understanding society? Sorry Gavin, but when did shooting a man in the face for asking someone to stop smoking become decent behaviour? While I agree some of BP's idea's are non-PC by our standards and possibly even racist, I think we could all do with a healthy dose of his morals. I'm proud to say I went through Scouting and I'd like to think it made me a better person.
Dave, London

I was a guide and a brownie during the 80's and the moral code and leadership skills have supported me ever since. I was awarded badges that are historically feminine, e.g homemaker, but it was the adventure of camping and comaraderie I enjoyed the most. Today, I think the skills required for both boys and girls are more diverse. Certainly I see many of my female friends out working whilst partners / husbands stay at home. Today, bathing a baby would be as useful for a scout in his future life, as would changing a tyre would be for a guide.
Ali, Glasgow

Baden-Powell's movement was aimed at creating practical, self-reliant, and unselfish citizens. Exactly what is required today.
Peter FitzGerald-Morris, Rochester, England

Baden Powell had the foresight to see that young people need a focus and to learn responsibilty and leadersip, to take risks but in the safest way possible. On the comment about todays brownies not a mention of bathing a baby although the hostess badge still survives, more likely to do cycling challenge, first aid, computing and world issues.
Sarah, tunbridge Wells

I'm glad Robert Baden-Powell isn't here today to see what a hopless society we have turned into. I mean, when was the last time you went out without your mobile, credit cards and goretex jacket and did something that made you feel like a man!
andrew, Northampton

The example of physiognomy determining a man's character is blatant Nazism. The reason Baden Powell wanted fit, healthy lads was for cannon fodder for the many imperial wars fought by Britain. I was never a scout, but some of my school mates were, and I still recall the tales of bullying that went on at camp.
Rob, Hinckley

If everyone selfishly followed ROSPA's advice we would have no heroes.
Steve, Brighton

I got suspended from Scouts for an entire month for punching a bully who was picking on my cousin. My cousin and I never went back... but the bully stayed. I'm sure Baden-Powell would have been on my side back in the day!
James, London

Fascinating, fascinating... While the RoSPA advice naturally incorporates more recent experiences and wisdom, no doubt many of Baden-Powell's ideas differ as much because he considered it acceptable to risk personal injury for another, as they do because he was unaware of how dangerous such intervention might be.
Paul, Aberdeen, Scotland

So much for Gordon Brown talking about a youth centre in every town. How about paying us scout and guide leaders for one day a month so we can train more and that would help greatly in providing a larger service for youth leadership. Baden-Powell had completely the right idea it's a shame to waste so a vauable resource.
S williams , Bristol

Scouting had more influence on who I am as an adult today than any other activities I took part in. It taught me how to have fun, with an element of risk, without affecting other people. It taught me consequenses of my actions, respect for others and the qualities that a good leader has. I was fortunate to be a Scout in Africa where tracking a wild animal, surviving in the bush, making a fire with two sticks and navigating by the stars is part of the scouting experience not too far from daily life for many.
Trevor, Surrey

Perhaps if more of Baden-Powells philosophies on life were in place in todays world we wouldnt need so many ASBOs. As a former Cub, Scout and Venture Scout I beleive that the scouting movement helped to mould me and my attitudes towards others and we desperatly need more empathy towards others in our selfish modern age.
Ben Dalgetty, Nuneaton

Never lie between the rails: most intercity trains only have a few inches gap beneath them, and I once spoke to a policeman who had walked along over a mile of track picking up the pieces of someone who had tried to avoid an oncoming Intercity 125 by lying between the rails.
Adrian, Harrogate, Yorkshire

Baden-Powells' ideas on leadership, small group working, giving young people responsibilty, the use of outdoor activities as both fun & a training tool and many other things were 75 years ahead of his time. He was an extra-ordinary man and his ideas led to the formation of an extr-ordinary movement.
Martin Wilson, Wokingham

I find it very interesting to see the different advice on conduct in dangerous situations. I must say, regardless of current official advice, Baden-Powell's is the more appealing. The point he was making is one that we have lost these days - risk to self is worth it for the chance to save another. This selflessness has been eroded away gradually by the idea that only the 'proper' persons should attempt dangerous rescues. The point was that the scouting boys were trained to carry them out - making them entirely 'proper' rescuers. I would still try to help rather than wait. But then, my son will be positively encouraged to climb trees and so on when he's old enough. Risk is a GOOD thing.
Jez Lawrence, leeds, uk

Perhaps unsuprisingly, much of that sounds more sensible than what we're "advised" to do today.
Andrew, Glagsow, Scotland

My own experiences in Scouting did more to shape my character, ethics and personal standards than any other part of my life. My daughter is now a 'Brownie' and I can see that todays scouting can still give young people great experience and preparation for future life.
Mike, Cardiff

Fascinating. You should take a look at the Brownie handbook from the early '70s. Useful info on how to stack a tray, how to bathe a baby. Not a squeak about fixing a flat bike-tyre or anything actually useful to a typical 8-year-old. All how to become a useful breeder. I hope the modern Brownies are given more credit.
Sandy, Derby, UK

Killing the unemployed sounds a bit harsh, maybe making them do community work to earn their benefits would be better !
Donnie, Kent

Fascinating in so many ways, mainly to see how much more of a decent and understanding society we are these days. I would suggest that anybody who shares baden-powell's world view in this day and age has a dangerous inferiority complex.
Gavin, Bristol

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