>> I know this is the sort of thing that makes you groan
If you know, why do you make us groan? Have you searched? Also look at photo.net and photozone.de.
>> I will probably not buy many other bits and pieces such as lenses
A DSLR is a SYSTEM, for better and for worse. If you do not want to "buy many other bits and pieces such as lenses", I suggest you re-consider your purchase. Have you considered a P&S? Some modern P&S have very good image quality.
>> could you advise if I should buy the Nikon D50 or the Canon 350D.
Go to the store and try them out.
>> I am mainly interested in image quality of the starter kit as sold.
The starter kit lenses rarely have a worthy image quality. Buy some good lenses.
Well thanks for the advice. I suppose the reason I posted on here after searching some other sites and postings was to ask the specific question. I would say it was worthwhile because I have now had the benefit of many people's opinions on the subject including your answer. If it made you groan too much then you have my sympathy but I would have said your best policy was to ignore it and get on with your life.
Regarding P&S cameras, I saw fairly soon that there was a general concensus that the sensor size made image quality inferior to a DSLR even if used with only one lens. I therefore discarded that idea almost immediately. It simply means that I have the option later of adding to the system if I so choose but does not in the meantime saddle me with a camera which is of relatively limited quality. The two I suggested actually are not particulary more expensive than a reasonalbe P&S as far as I am aware.
I have been to stores and handled both of these cameras but as someone fairly new to digital photography I hoped to learn from the experience of other more experienced photgraphers rather than just blindly shooting a few shots. There are things which you grow into in photography and it seems reasonable to assume that others further down the path will be able to contribute pieces of information that as a beginner, I would hardly have considered.
Anyway thanks for the web page references which I hadn't noticed before and which look helpful.
All in all I am taking Boku's advice and going with the 20D which I had a look at over the last couple of days. Thanks boku and all of you others who posted helpful replies.