London's literati who can't bear to be apart

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The Independent Online
Ten directors at the Groucho Club, home from home for London's literati, have resigned en masse. Cathy Newman reports on board turmoil among the Groucho luminaries.

Tony Mackintosh, managing director, reinstated five of the directors who had offered to leave, but let another five go. Those who will no longer sit on the board, but will remain as consultants, include Rosie Boycott, editor of the Independent on Sunday, Liz Calder, publishing director of Bloomsbury Publishing, and Matthew Evans, chairman of Faber & Faber.

The fall-out occurred after the Soho-based club appointed a consultant to assess the board structure. Mr Mackintosh said having 13 directors in total had made it difficult to take decisions. The consultant had recommended reducing the numbers on the board, and 10 directors came forward with their resignation letters. But Mr Mackintosh could not bear to part with five of the directors. One of those retained is Blake Nixon, executive director at Guinness Peat Group, the stockbroker and fund manager, who will help the Groucho in its quest to develop commercially. It is to establish a permanent venue in Edinburgh shortly. Another who will stay on is William Sieghart, head of Forward Publishing.

Ms Boycott said last night: "I'm a ...great admirer of Tony Mackintosh. However, the location of Canary Wharf [where her newspaper and its daily sister paper are based in London's Docklands] has made attendance of the board meetings more than a bit erratic. I should like to be reconsidered for a directorship of the Groucho Club should the Independent on Sunday move its offices to Soho."

Such high drama at the Groucho is not unknown. Janet Street-Porter, the media person about town, created a stir in 1993 by selling her shares in the club, which she had held since its foundation in 1984.

The DJ Chris Evans has been known to drop in for one of his infamous drinking sessions. Other habitues include Oasis's Liam Gallagher and the comedian Eddie Izzard. However, despite the somewhat meretricious appearance of a number of the clientele, the Groucho does make a profit. Last year it turned in pre-tax profits of pounds 486,441, an increase of 16.5 per cent.

The story goes that, at a Frankfurt Book Fair 13 years ago, a troupe of London literary types - Michael Sissons, the literary agent, Carmen Callil and Liz Calder, both publishers - decided to create a club to rival the Garrick, which did not take women members. The name was in memory of Groucho Marx, who joked that he would not want to belong to a club that would accept him as a member. Attractions were to include a 24-hour bar and a 24-hour bookshop. A plan to put a Jacuzzi on the roof was, unsurprisingly, scrapped.

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