They're not bouncers, they're `door supervisors' and they're part of the new, friendlier club culture. Cayte Williams reports
You're in a queue. You're bored, it's raining. Suddenly, a tall transvestite totters up and hands you a sherbet dip from her usherette tray. Are you waiting for the 39 bus, only to become the hapless target of a sweet promoter? No, you're in the queue for the Leeds nightclub, NATO. And you're being pleasantly welcomed and subtley vetted before you get to the door.

Meeting and greeting at nightclubs is a serious, or rather a smiling, business. "The people who run clubs now used to go clubbing in the 1980s," says Rob Tyrrell, who runs NATO's I-Spy night. "They know what it's like to be pushed around by some bouncer in a dinner jacket on a power trip. People want to feel welcomed, not intimidated. Nightclubs should be a safe place for people to come at the end of the week, where they can be whatever they want to be. You can be fat, thin, young, old it doesn't matter. It's the attitude that matters."

And it's the attitude that's vetted. The usherettes put earrings made of sweets on the men waiting to get in, and if someone's got a bad attitude they're turned away. "Clubs now are more concerned with people's behaviour than their shoes, watches and ties," says NATO spokesman Michael Craig. Gone are the days when a sneer and a good jacket could get you in. Now you can wear your grannies' underpants with a smile and a grinning bouncer will wave you through.

"We can't use the word bouncer any more, they're Door Supervisors now," says Junior Hemans of MAS Training in Wolverhampton. He runs the council- funded Door Supervisors Scheme, a sort of charm school for bouncers. "In the old days, there was no way of regulating who worked for you," he continues. "If someone was mean and tough enough you'd put them on the door, which is always a risk. The scheme doesn't take in people with a bad criminal record and teaches a professional, customer-care approach."

Tom has been a Door Supervisor for two years. and recently attended the scheme. "The course helped me a lot, especially on what I can and can't do within the law," he explains. "If you explain very clearly and calmly why somebody can't come into a club, nine out of 10 times they accept it."

The Canal Club is Wolverhampton's newest venue. Its home is a converted 19th-century British Waterways building with much of the original brickwork and rafters intact. It is very posh (its interiors are by Ron McCulloch, the design guru who decked out The Tunnel in Glasgow) and it's also in one of the roughest towns in Britain.

So how do they keep the loutish lads out? Bambi, a rather delicious drag queen, chats with the crowd outside and measures their appetite for trouble. "Of course, there's going to be some hostility if people are turned away, but they're less likely to pick on me because they don't know what to expect ," she explains. "So if I do get hassled I know that person would hassle anyone who was different in the club."

"Transvestites frighten rough blokes to death," explains Mitch Wilson, owner of The Canal Club and self-confessed expert on personalised clubbing. "Lairy lads will square up to a man, they'll push past a woman, but put a drag queen on the door and you won't see their arses for dust."

OK, so you've got into The Canal Club. Now you fancy a nice fight in the ladies' loos. Well, tough luck. Mitch has installed La'velle in the lavs. She's an Agony aunt/Make-up artist/Whatever, and a six-foot cross between Bet Lynch and Lily Savage.

"If girls come in 'ere looking for a fight," says La'velle in her best Corrie accent, "I sort them out with a bit of common sense and mascara. We've got a pay-phone," she continues with a wave of her cigarette holder "so if the girls start getting upset I say, `Phone 'im up love, sort it out.' It's usually all over a boy anyway."

Frieda, a sweet little old lady who fries hamburgers and chips at the food bar, is Granny to La'velle's Auntie Mabel. "I've got a day job as well as this," she squeaks over the music, "but that's boring compared to this. I think people love seeing an older person in a club. It makes them feel at home."

And then there's all your brothers and sisters, members of the same big, happy, clubbing family, all out for a good dance, comforted by the knowledge that when they leave there'll be a congenial Door Supervisor to wave them goodbye. And the next time a transvestite comes up to you in the queue, smile - it might just be your guarantee for getting in.