Will the second sex breach the last bastion?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
ARE GENTLEMEN's clubs merely a silly English affectation or a monstrous anachronism? On Monday members of the 160-year-old Garrick Club will be deciding whether to allow women to join. It is an issue likely to swell the numbers at the annual meeting from the usual 150 to an unheard of 1,500. A famous convivial West End watering hole for an elite from the theatre, media and the law, its exclusion of women seems to some at best bizarre, at worst blatant discrimination. There are members who would welcome women, and others who feel passionately that this jolly refuge should resist all change. 'No woman could understand the importance of it to us,' said one. There is common ground, though. Why, they ask, should any woman want to join us? It is no powerhouse, has no political association and is inhabited by middle-aged and elderly men. Penny Jackson and Dina Rabinovitch canvassed a few.

LEO COOPER, Publisher

'Oh, don't start all this. I am against. I joined a man's club - if you join a cricket club you expect the members to be cricketers; if you join the Liberal Club, you'd expect the members to be liberal. There is no club more courteous and gentle towards women than the Garrick. I defy any woman to say she isn't beautifully looked after at the Garrick - be it in the loo or in the dining room. Goodness, one-third of the pictures on the wall are of great actresses.

There is no way the Garrick is a bastion of male prejudice. In fact, this is a theatrical club and I don't think people see much difference between men and women.

It seems to me no one is looking at the interpretation of the word 'club'. A club is an opportunity for people to protect and surround themselves with a life jacket of people who are like-minded. It's nothing to do with sex - it's to do with intellect.'

KINGSLEY AMIS, Author

'I can't talk about that. We don't talk about those things. Yes, I am planning to vote, but I'm not going to say another word.'

FRANK MUIR, Writer and broadcaster

'It's an amusing issue. Not important at all. I can't imagine why women would ever want to join. It's full of boring old men. There's an extraordinary myth of the power of clubs if you are not in them. I suppose I'm against it in a mindless sort of way, partly because it's verging on the politically correct movement. When I took my wife to the Savile she found it hysterical. She said it was like a boys' prep school - 'Look Mummy, this is where I keep my gumboots.' '

JOHN WHITNEY, Chairman, The Really Useful Group

'At the Garrick we have portraits of jolly ladies looking down on us so perhaps it's about time we had some looking up at us. Men like having a good old gossip and as long as women understand that, we will enjoy them and they will enjoy us. I think the tradition is so strong it is the women who may have to change. Some years ago I hosted a dinner when Richard Burton was doing Under Milk Wood. A very raunchy Elizabeth Taylor joined us and said, 'It's high time you let us women in here.' I remember thinking, well why not? I won't say how I shall vote, though.'

ELIJAH MOSHINSKY, Associate Producer, Royal Opera House

'I am in favour. The club doesn't reflect modern life. There are all these men with great street cred in the outside world who become different people when they are there. I became a member because it was so near to the Royal Opera House, and I use it as a bolt hole. As for it being a place of great power, well, I would like to know where it all happens. There is nothing there but a few rooms with some run-down chairs. Women would demystify it and make it less fuddy-duddy.'

SIR ROY STRONG, Writer and historian

'We wouldn't tolerate discrimination against blacks, gays, lesbians - why women? It's the club's loss. It is an area of the arts and who would you consider to have made a greater contribution, Elisabeth Frink or a second-rate art historian? I go along with the fact that problems would be caused with the plumbing and architecture, but what other grounds can there be? I have no time for radical feminism, it's boring. But excluding women is wrong, it's appalling.'

CHARLES WINTOUR, Former newspaper editor

'I shall be supporting the motion to allow women to become members. I think the Garrick is a most civilised place, with an uncivil attitude to women. I can't understand the opposition, though I gather it is based on the theory that if a club is functioning socially perfectly well, why muck about with it? But if that sort of view is to prevail then we should never have any change.'

MARIUS GORING, Actor

'I am very much against having women members because I think it would spoil it for all our ladies whom, as guests, we look after splendidly. They always want to come back. I don't see why any woman should want to be a member, when she can be taken in by friends. I think she would be very disappointed. Half the fun is being invited.'

ANTON MOSIMANN, Top chef

'The policy of admitting women into clubs should be rethought, especially considering the former prime minister is a woman and indeed many businesswomen are leading players in City institutions. I have no objection to seeing women in the Garrick Club.'

Also in favour: Andreas Whittam Smith, editor of the Independent; Simon Jenkins, editor of the Times. Not telling: Robin Day, Melvyn Bragg, Peter Jay, The Prince of Wales: 'I don't think that's any of your business' (said a press secretary).

(Photographs omitted)

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