In the Voices section of The Independent in 2014, an article by Andrew Welch was published, which passed us by at the time, but has popped up more recently on social media. Any opportunity to explain naturism to a wider audience should be welcomed, and as it has been shared 520 times according to the website at the time of writing, the article obviously caught the public’s mood. However, I think we should make sure what is published is at least accurate.
Let’s start with the article’s headline – The UK is too prudish: We should follow Munich’s example and legalise public nudity – this is actually misleading, misrepresenting UK law. Admittedly, Andrew was not responsible for that but looking deeper into the article it shows where that misunderstanding may have come from. The opening paragraphs refer to laws that let naturist zones in places like Munich’s Englischer Garten exist. As it was explained to me, these laws were first past by the Weimar Government between the wars, and when they expired, Munich’s municipal government decided to pass new laws explicitly allowing public nudity in certain places. This explains the difference between UK and German law. In Germany, everything is banned unless there is a law giving permission to do it. In the UK, everything is permitted unless there is a law preventing it. So here, public nudity is legal, but causing ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ in another person, possibly through your nudity is not (s5, POA: 1986).
The article is correct in two things. The provisions of the Public Order Act 1986 are not well understood, even by front line police officers, and that our (British) society is to blame. Too many people still automatically link nudity with sex, hence the calls for naked riders in WNBR to be arrested by members of the public. Break that link in peoples’ minds, and naturism well on the road towards a more general acceptance. It is the breaking of these bonds to Victorian attitudes that NAG is seeking. Surveys like the Ipsos-MORI mentioned would help, if it was published but the only people who have seen its details are the lucky few at the head of British Naturism, who commissioned it in the first place. Unpublished, the survey is useless but Andrew still thought it worthy of a mention. Even so, assuming the survey is accurate, four million (possible) naturists in the UK is a start to understanding the problem but not the entire answer.
For Londoners though, they should be comforted that the swimming session in Bloomsbury isn’t the only place in London to enjoy naturism and NAG is working to gain acceptance for those who enjoy the lifestyle in the capital’s larger open spaces. As ever, your support is essential to our efforts and is greatly appreciated