During the Navy Review for Queen Victoria at Spithead, on 26th June 1897, a ship turned up without an invitation, it was there to show the Old Guard in the Admiralty that they should have listened to its designer all along. The perpetrator was Charles Parsons who had designed the first steam turbine in 1884 and had tried to get the Admiralty interested but had failed. He built a boat named Turbinia and powered it using his new engine then took it unannounced to the Spithead Review. Not surprisingly the navy picket boats sent to stop him were far too slow. The old codgers in the Admiralty were then caught in a fix, so public was the display of superiority that they could no longer fend off the future with their customary No. They had come from the same old codger tradition who resisted the change from sail to steam, from coal to oil fired ships and could not believe that an aeroplane made of string and canvas could sink a battleship, until one sunk the unsinkable Ostfriesland in 1921. It was not just the Admiralty that was headed by codgers, when Frank Whittle approached the Air Ministry with his jet engine he was given a range of reasons why it will never be of use, “why man, we have the Merlin engine!”, so he formed Power Jets Ltd and proved them wrong.
Sadly British history is littered with such examples, the Old Guard produced all kinds of arguments to keep sending children up chimneys, to stop women having the vote, to maintain the slave trade, etc. etc., a long and very sorry list, Hansard is replete with it. It often takes national emergencies to force the codgers to change or move aside. My mother joined the army early in the 2nd World War and found exactly that, the army was busy shipping out the codgers and replacing them with newly promoted officers of vision, those with an ability that encompassed more than being able to say No to new ideas.
British organised naturism, BN or British Naturism is in the same fix but no relevant emergency is on the horizon so nothing is likely to change any time soon. The Old Guard have the organisation firmly in its grasp but power is wielded in a subtle way, their customary No comes after a stream of seemingly plausible reasons for why ideas are not possible. This stream accompanies a lack of fluidity of thought, no attempt is made to modify ideas to make them work, no attempt to see new ideas sparked off by other ideas that have failed for genuine reasons; naturally not all ideas can work and some cannot work in the form first suggested. Much the same applied to the codgers in the Admiralty and the Air Ministry, their refusals were all were characterised by a limited knowledge of developments in the world outside of their old boys clubs.
Should anyone dare to suggest a change it is seen as a threat and they close ranks to fend it off. A recent example was a vote for British Naturism to leave the INF, the International Naturist Federation, an organisation that has degenerated into an expenses paid drinking and squabbling club for a few officials. The Old Guard voted by a large majority to stay within the INF, all sorts of specious and unsupportable reasons were cited in support of this vote. Such is the grip of the Old Guard that the drinking and squabbling will continue whilst the INF’s role in promoting naturism will remain completely forgotten. Most oddly, the Old Guard are happy with this state of affairs, they live in hope that “something will happen” to return the INF to its glory days ignoring the fact that the INF has never done anything tangible or had a useful international effect. Glory days indeed. The Old Guard are happy at having fought off the beastly upstarts.
When suggestions that BN should host a publicly visible photo gallery on its website, the answer was No. Should they have a national nude protest in a similar manner to the WNBR, the World Naked Bike Ride? No. Should they make and host their own promotional videos on their website? Maybe…..well, No. Should they have a cohesive group representing British Naturism complete with banners and promotional literature on the WNBR? No. Should they have a group representing British Naturism complete with banners and promotional literature on London Pride? No. Should naturist clubs be encouraged to allow single males or clothed family and friends to join and hence align themselves with wider inclusion in society? No. etc. etc. The few hopefuls who remain within BN still discuss such ideas but really it a waste of time, so is complaining about the Old Guard.
In any organisation , once members of the Old Guard form a certain critical proportion of that organisation, its future is either static or trends downhill towards a knot of the faithful, one that will be ignored by the rest of the world. The Old Guard are happy with that, it is their stated aim, to maintain their old ways, to cogitate on the world from behind their privet hedges and rail against those nasty people who want something different. To be ignored by society is seen as ideal, a quiet life, one not to be disturbed.
It is not all bad of course, the Great British Skinny Dip got off to its uncertain start and the legal team within BN have successfully worked to show the police and courts that nudity of itself is not illegal in England and thence to have daft prosecutions fail in court. Various optimistic people within BN are beavering away to challenge the Old Guard and get things moving but the underlying desperate clinging to tradition remains at the very core. Little changes. At least that makes the minutes of meetings easier, run off last year’s with the date changed and get off to the bar.
What is beyond the comprehension of the Old Guard is that should anyone wish to practice the same form of naturism that was common in the 1950s there is nothing to stop them anymore than there is anything to stop someone steaming along in their coal fired boat or writing to The Times with a quill pen about beastly upstarts; they will remain entirely free to pursue their own ideal lifestyle without the slightest interference. The important issue is this, should they be allowed to prevent developments they do not wish to take part in themselves? To do so is selfish, a dog-in-the-manger attitude, I’m Alright Jack, everyone else must lump it.
It was a shock to many naturists when the WNBR become widespread, the naked protest rides showed a joyful acceptance of public nudity that was beyond their wildest dreams, yet what did organised naturism do to capitalise on that? Nothing except rejoice at the inaction. Voices from the Old Guard told us that the WNBR “was not naturism” so did not merit their consideration, ignoring the obvious that the public at large care nothing at all about one of their favourite behind the privet discussions, the precise definition of naturism, a definition that eludes them to this day.
Society has moved on however, there are reckoned to be 4 million people in the UK who have taken part in at least some form of social nudity, mainly on holiday, on the WNBR rides or at home. Virtually none would label themselves naturist; only a few thousand join BN. Did this change in society come about as a result of organised naturism? Of course not. Did organised naturism take any advantage of it?