When students at our famous English Universities expose their knees and bare their chests it usually means exuberant party time and it is almost certain to end in tears. For centuries, our young scholars - many of whom go on to run the country - have been overindulging themselves, semi-clothed, in the name of classical education.
Undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge still dive half naked and fully drunk into their local rivers. It is regarded as the vital rite of passage - closely followed by the Mother of All Hangovers. But times are changing. Soon the sight of a bare leg and an exposed male left breast may mean something completely different. And chances are these students will be stone cold sober.
It's all because they are being recruited, in large numbers, by that traditionally secretive and totally male-dominated society, the Freemasons. Masonic lodges in the famous cities of Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Durham, Exeter, Manchester, Bath and Birmingham have been told to get fervent with the local student community and sign them up.
The UK's Brotherhood of Masons is acutely conscious of its somewhat elderly image. There are a quarter of a million members but fewer than one in a hundred is less than 25 years old - the other 99 are much nearer to 100! The most senior and influential Masonic organization in England is the United Grand Lodge. Today they even employ a Media Relations Manager - which is quite a neat touch for a secret society - and he is already extremely busy giving Masonic membership the hard sell.
If you join today you get all the benefits at half price. And they're even cutting the minimum entry age from 21 down to 18 to attract the young 'uns. They'll teach you the funny handshake, how to roll up your trouser leg, and you'll get a nice little apron too. Don't ask me what it's for, I wouldn't be allowed to tell you even if I knew.
by Ed Boyle
Copyright 2007 CBS. All rights reserved.