Canon FD is as good as it gets for newbies
It's true, the Nikon system allows for expansion from a manual body to an AF one without losing lenses that might have been invested in the manual body.
That being said, I would still recommend a Canon AE-1 with a 50mm f/1.8 lens. This is the camera that I re-taught myself how to take a photo on. Before it I had a full-auto Pentax and it became a crutch, so I set it aside and found an AE-1 w/50mm lens and a flash on eBay for $65.00. The upside of Canon's decision to pretty much abandon all their existing customers and switch to the EOS system is that you can get all the old manual gear for fairly cheep.
Basically if you are willing to focus your own lens and set your own exposure then you can get a top of the line camera for about $100.00. Granted it was top of the line in 1979, but the only advances that 35mm camera bodies have made in the last few decades has been in the ease of use (read: computer compensation for user laziness, ineptitude or lack of patience) area. The only people who really need all the latest technology in a camera body are photojournalists. The difference between life and death for say, a war photographer, could be measured by their cameras ability to photograph automatically and with multiple frame rates. For the majority of photographers (especially new ones) all the latest bells and whistles, while attractive, are not needed and if anything are a hinderance.
Well I am going to step off my soap box now.
Good thread Modafoto!
Waiting for the hurricane
First you have told us nothing of the people who will be using the cameras you want to recommend, whether their male, female or their interests as to subject matter or their thoughts on the subject of a camera and what they would like the camera to do. Rec'ing a camera based on no information is just plain stupid, and I'll tell you why. First, there's a lot of people out there who are not into the manual side of things. They don't want overly complicated equipment where you have to adjust anything, they just want to point and shoot. Rec'ing a manual camera, with match needle or diode metering and where focusing is manual and flash can be as well can turn these people off, and believe me I know quite of few of these types of people. Second with the emergence of digital, there's many people who like to have that little screen on the back so they can see their picture right away. There's even more of these people which is why so many digital cameras are being sold. They can take their card out, go to Walgreens and have prints in 1 hour, no computer and no film cost. Third, many cameras sold nowdays that take film are for family pictures (babies, birthdays, and holidays) and some travel shots when they go somewhere. My attitude here is that TTL flash exposure is the thing for these people to have. In fact for the babies and children shots, auto focus can be just as important. Forth, many manual cameras are getting on in age and parts are becoming harder to find. I could probably go on but to what point. A person interested in macro would probably want different equipment then someone interested in sports then someone interested in shooting weddings. I say, tell me what you want the camera for and I'll give you the top 3 picks according to what I've read here, elsewhere and what people have told me in person. As far as a manual camera is concerned, I'd say buy it second when you can have an appreciation for what one can do and will suffer the consequences of either it's weight, it's slowness or it's cost to get repaired when needed.