White's: the oldest and grandest, evolved out of White's Chocolate House, founded in 1693. Select membership but with a touch of aristocratic raffishness. Evelyn Waugh was a member: the club appears, in various guises, in his fiction and diaries.

The Beefsteak: founded as a dining club but now mainly a lunch society, can trace its history to the 18th century. Members - actors, politicians and writers - meet in a single room. Originally, a maximum of 24 members met for lunch of beefsteak then toasted cheese. All staff are called Charles.

Boodle's (1762): in St James's opposite Brooks's, its members tend to be solid businessmen and knights from the shires. Contains some fine equestrian paintings.

Brooks's (1764): designed like a country house, traditionally the haunt of Whig aristocracy. Still a few active Liberals and Lord (Roy) Jenkins as members.

Travellers' (1819): the original qualification that members should have travelled 500 miles in a straight line from London stands. Garrick members billet there during the summer.

The Athenum (1824): club of the Establishment - notables including cabinet ministers can be elected without usual ballot Women admitted in evenings.

Oxford and Cambridge (1830): premises on Pall Mall open, in theory, to all members of each university; but women only allowed in certain parts.

The Garrick (1831): literary and thespy, barristers and judges; very social. Members include Sir Robin Day, Sir Kingsley Amis, Melvyn Bragg.

The Carlton (1832): formed by Tories opposed to the Reform Bill, remains a Conservative bastion. Members now include Bill Cash and staunch right-wingers.

The Reform (1836): founded by a Liberal Whip, it was the centre for radical ideas represented in the 1832 Reform Bill. Vast, imperial; Jules Verne had Phileas Fogg begin here. Politicians of all colours.

Pratt's (1841): evening dining club. Members, less intellectual than the Beefsteak, eat in basement. By tradition, staff are all called George.