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Baring Up by Frank Rickarby

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BBC Radio 4, 19 March 2009
 
It's 1979; Margaret Thatcher has just become Prime Minister, and Britain now looks forward to eighteen years of Conservative Party rule, during which time the country changed for ever.
 
Well -- perhaps not as much as one might think, if Baring Up is to be believed. Based on a true story, it focused on the battles of local councillor and grandmother Eileen Jakes (Paula Wilcox) to open Brighton's first naturist - not nudist - beach on the seafront. Eventually her quest proves successful as she wins a majority in the council meeting and celebrates by stripping off with her husband Brian (Kim Wall) and dipping into the freezing North Sea on the beach's formal opening day in April 1980.
 
What renders Frank Rickarby's comedy more interesting is the way in which it encapsulates British attitudes towards sex and sexuality, that were established in the Victorian period and persist to this day. Nudity - especially in public - is identified as 'immoral' and likely to corrupt young people. No one actually despises naturism; they just don't want it anywhere near their homes. As one retired colonel observed in a line from the play: "Did we fight two world wars for this?" The naturist issue also reveals British xenophobia - particularly towards those Mediterranean nations such as France and Spain which encourage more liberal attitudes towards sex (as well as other pleasures such as alcohol).
 
Such attitudes might be considered somewhat passť now in a culture where censorship restrictions have relaxed considerably since 1980. However the popularity of sitcoms like Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, whose male protagonists display prurience and bravado in equal measures, demonstrate that attitudes haven't changed that much. How could they when Page 3 is still as popular as ever?
 
Baring Up was an entertaining romp with some larger-than-life characterizations, notably from Wilcox as the gung-ho councillor, and Malcolm Tierney as her oh-so-true-blue-blooded antagonist John Blackman. The director was Tracey Neale.