“SOCKS on or off?” I holler through high winds to the photographer.

Off. I’m going the whole hog. It’s the 40th anniversary of the day Brighton decided to open Britain’s first nudist beach, and I’m wearing my birthday suit for the occasion.

It’s a nippy day out on Black Rock naturist beach. The few hardy nudists hunkering down in the shingle are loath to expose themselves to a fully clad reporter.

So I’m meeting them on their own terms.

Kit off, I’m better equipped for the job. But I’m surprised by how quickly the thrill wears off too.

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In the easterly patch of Brighton beach set aside for naked bathers on August 9 1979, between the sea and the pebble mounds that shield naked bodies from prying eyes, nudity is no big deal.

But in Brighton 40 years ago, it was anything but.

Megaphone-wielding protesters took to the streets and public parks, chanting and hanging bunting with the slogans “Nudes keep off”, “No nudes on Brighton beaches”, and “Traditional modesty suits us”.

They feared the beach would expose the city to “perverts and voyeurs”.

The Argus: Anti-nudist protest at The Level, 1979Anti-nudist protest at The Level, 1979

At the heated debate where the council agreed to give the beach a year-long trial, Tory councillor John Blackman blasted the “flagrant exhibition of mammary glands” he imagined on the horizon.

“We are going too far,” he said. “I personally have got no objection to people showing their breasts and bosoms and general genitalia to one another. Jolly good luck to them but for heaven’s sake they should go somewhere more private.”

“Rubbish,” said naturist Neil Mummery. Sitting outside his tent, he was one of just three naked men on the windswept beach.

“There’s nothing wrong with it. I’ve been coming for three years now and no one’s ever batted an eyelid,” he said. “It’s down to your individual preference, and it’s nice to know we can be naked somewhere here in Brighton if we like.”

The nudists tell me they feel secluded, safe and comfortable on the beach.

They are unsure about its origin, though. I’m told a few different myths.

“I heard people would moon in a swimming pool up by the marina, and then the party just came down here to stay,” said one.

“I heard it was a trend started by some topless firebrand,” said another.

Not far off. Brighton nudist beach was the brainchild of councillor and naturist Eileen Jakes. At the height of the frenzied campaign, she handed fellow councillors topless photos of herself on holiday in Ibiza. She even managed to get a working party of Tory councillors down to visit the site.

Eileen billed the beach as a trailblazing tourist opportunity for the city, a radical way to broadcast Brighton’s welcoming streak all over the country.

Forty years later, the city’s nudists are almost patriotic about their beach. One said: “It’s strange having this in England but in Brighton, it makes sense.”

They tell me that on a sunny day, 30 or 40 naturists come here to bask.

But today, it’s just the few lone men dotted along the beach like seals.

It’s hard to believe this small, barren scrap of land left the whole city hot under the collar 40 years ago.

For all the fuss about moral decay and tourists scrambling to visit, in the heat of the moment, everyone was wrong about the nudist beach. It really is no big deal.