Review / Fossilised attitudes flushed out in the bunkers

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The Independent Culture
SOME GOOD news for John Major at last. By dint of heroic research and after hours of filming, Cutting Edge (C4) had tracked down someone besides Sir Norman Fowler who was prepared to go on the record as a supporter. 'I think John Major's doing a great job,' Peter Harvey said in 'The Club', a profile of Northwood Golf Club. He had a slightly sheepish grin on his face when he said this but I think that was just nerves. He was not apologising for being a Conservative, a task he was going about in a decidedly apologetic manner.

Like everyone else in the film, he must have known that the camera was staring at him with hostile intent. Prejudice against the middle class is one of the few safe forms of animus remaining in an increasingly sensitive world. Certainly, the makers of this film didn't feel any obligation to respect the culture and rituals they encountered on their expedition into Middlesex. In truth, they found a sufficient number of dissenting voices inside the walls to allow them to sit back and watch, raising an eyebrow now and again by means of a sardonic edit. 'A golf club provides an opportunity for a disappointed man to achieve some kind of prominence,' said Carl Goldsmith, a pleasingly acerbic chap who popped up now and then to deliver one of these near-aphorisms.

Mr Goldsmith seemed to be a Whig in this political set-up, later commenting darkly on the overlap between membership of the local Freemasons' lodge and the composition of the club's governing bodies. I say Whig because a golf club's idea of a dangerous radical wouldn't exactly be recognised outside its own manicured boundaries. Mr Goldsmith seemed reconciled to the fact that the presence of 'artisans' among the membership was simply one of the prices you paid for progress. He was identified as a 'former' board member, which made you wonder whether his mild disenchantment with the club stemmed from some suburban putsch in the past.

Perhaps he'd just had the good sense to resign and get on with his game because the official proceedings we were privileged to witness showed that self-importance and pomposity could reach almost toxic levels. In one scene a member of the Greens Committee was threatened with expulsion for making a constitutional nuisance of himself; the Pecksniffs on the panel murmured approvingly to each other after he'd left the room, preening themselves in their exercise of petty power. In another, the president ticked off the assembled ladies for some tiny breach of flowers protocol which had upset his wife, a moment that was so embarrassing that I had to leave the room to recover.

None of this was particularly fair to the club - the huge majority of the members probably quietly get on with being convivial and cutting divots - but it would have been spectacularly dull if it had been fair. If documentaries hold a mirror to society then it is a fairground mirror, magnifying some sections and diminishing others so that we see details we might otherwise ignore. 'The Club', for instance, contained some of the worst golf swings ever broadcast, including one zany, looping spasm near the end which suggested that the golfer was trying to kill a rat which had crept up on the ball.

This selection was hardly 'representative' of the golf swings you could witness on any given day but it wasn't untrue either and it nicely served to illustrate Carl Goldsmith's theory about the fantasy life of golfers, their quite, unsubstantiated belief that they are just about to get better. Similarly, the veteran actor Preston Lockwood enjoyed a disproportionate amount of attention not because he was 'representative' but because he wasn't - providing a charmingly waspish antidote to the fossilised social attitudes around him. There will doubtless be complaints that the film reflected badly on the club, but most of them will come from people who have discovered the hard way that they don't look as good on television as they hoped.