The London meeting is normally as sparsely attended as a House of Lords debate, and the average age is much the same. But there was a principle at stake this year and nearly 500 members turned up at the Royalty Theatre, leaning on sticks, umbrellas and younger companions. 'Dear Lord, I hope it won't be as aggressive as the Lloyd's do,' one elderly gentleman muttered.
In the event, their fears were unfounded. A motion to extend membership to women was rejected 4-1, and there was a collective hailing of taxis as opponents left to toast their victory at the 161-year-old Garrick.
As a succession of ageing men in salmon and cucumber ties shuffled out of the meeting, the foremost question seemed not which way the vote had gone, but why in the world women should wish to be admitted to this bastion of crusty manhood.
The result itself - 94 in favour, 363 against and two abstentions - was less than earth-shattering. But the habitually garrulous lawyers, journalists and actors who make up the bulk of the Garrick's membership were unusually tight-lipped.
'It was very interesting, but I couldn't possibly tell you anything about it,' the actor Paul Eddington said. 'Why don't you go to Bosnia-Herzegovina - it's much more important,' snapped Sir Robin Day. Lord Howe, the former Conservative minister, merely flashed a smile.
Donald Trelford, editor of the Observer, described the result as 'a surprisingly strong vote in favour - more encouraging than one expected'. Lord Rodgers, a founder member of the SDP, said: 'I voted in favour, but I'm used to losing.'
The debate, according to insiders, was stormy at times. There were shouts of derision when the proposer of the motion, David Whittaker, told the meeting that it was a question of when, not if, women would be admitted. 'We don't want the Garrick to be the Mount Athos of London clubland,' Sir Denis Forman, the seconder, said in a reference to the men-only Greek peninsula where a string of monasteries is situated.
One member warned the meeting of the mayhem which resulted when the Reform Club let the ladies in. 'They wanted more loo space, they were militant and they made a bloody nuisance of themselves.'
Photograph, page 2