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Game of life

By John Conyngham

JOHN CONYNGHAM reviews Playing the Game: A Baden-Powell Compendium by Robert Baden-Powell, edited by Mario Sica. Macmillan.

In 1907, Robert Baden-Powell held the first Scouting camp, with 20 boys, on Brownlee Island off the town of Poole in England, and the following year his outdoor bible, Scouting for Boys, was published. A century later the Scouting and Guiding movements are thriving, with a combined membership of 38 million boys and girls in 216 countries, many of them in the Third World.

Like Cecil John Rhodes, whose most enduring legacy is the scholarship awarded in his name, so Baden-Powell has faded into imperial history as the defender of Mafeking but lives on in the youth movements that are his greatest creation. And even if in some quarters it has always been fashionable to decry the philosophy behind the Scouts and Guides, there is undeniably much that is commendable about many of the movements’ precepts – like self-reliance, fair play, a sense of honour, self-discipline, the need to try hard, and to show consideration for others.

Drawn partly from Baden-Powell’s autobiographical Lessons from the ‘Varsity of Life, and with swashbuckling accounts of his military career, this compendium also draws on his other works, including extracts from his writings on scouting and on peace. It is not widely known, for instance, that in 1939 Baden-Powell was a strong contender for the Nobel Peace Prize but with the outbreak of World War 2 no prize was awarded.

Edited by former Italian diplomat and lifelong Scout Dr Mario Sico, this compendium is not only a wryly comical imperialistic adventure story but also a rucksack of wisdom from the Great Scoutmaster himself, like “The fellows who teach themselves are the fellows who get on in life. So teach yourself and don’t wait to be taught.”