Inside Story: Join the press club!

Even hardened hacks need to wind down. Chris Green finds out where they go when the paper goes to bed

BIRMINGHAM

Year established: 1865

Honorary life members include: Jeremy Paxman, Sir Trevor McDonald, Jon Snow, Piers Morgan, Martin Bell

Current number of members: 350

Cost of membership: £45 per year

Birmingham Press Club was founded by a small group of journalists in December 1865, and claims to be the oldest of its kind in the world. Minutes taken during the first meeting dutifully record the club's main aim: "For promoting social enjoyment and literary recreation among Reporters and others connected with the Newspaper Press of Birmingham." Interest in record-keeping soon waned, however, and the full account of an early club dinner simply states: "Everything so jolly that no minutes were taken".

The organisation initially charged a membership fee of five shillings a year, and was dubbed the Junior Pickwick Club, recalling the Charles Dickens novel The Pickwick Papers. Financial problems dogged the club throughout its history, forcing it to change premises a number of times, but its most recent spiritual home has been at the Old Royal pub on Church Street in the centre of Birmingham.

The club now welcomes journalists from magazines, television and radio as well as newspapers, and has a healthy membership of around 350. A sponsorship deal with Royal Mail in 2005 ended its financial worries and has helped to make it one of the most active press clubs in the country. Since its inception, the club has enjoyed a visit from every serving British Prime Minister apart from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and plays host to the annual Midlands Media Awards. It even has its own Facebook group.

MANCHESTER

Year established: 1870

Famous members included: Those recently spotted in the club include Steve Coogan (pictured, on left), Antony Cotton from Coronation Street (on right), Freddie Flintoff and Ricky Hatton. Famous names from the past include Daily Express editor Ted "Strangler" Lewis and Daily Mirror pictures editor George Harrap.

Current number of members: Anyone with a press card is allowed in

Cost of membership: n/a

Manchester Press Club, concealed behind an unassuming grey door on a street just off Deansgate in the city centre, would be easy to miss were it not for two plaques fixed to the outside wall. One proclaims the year of its foundation; the other announces that it is strictly members only. Originally intended as a drinking den for late-finishing journalists, the club still opens until 5am every night and is one of Manchester's top celebrity hangouts, alongside the newer Circle Club, another members-only venue. The press club is reported to be regularly attended by the cast of Coronation Street (which is filmed ITV's Granada studios in the city), and most members of the media are admitted if they carry a press card and are willing to brave a spell on the karaoke machine. It's also still as popular as ever among the local press. "Journalists quite often meet up and go along there after all of the pubs have shut," says Paul Gallagher, assistant news editor at the Manchester Evening News.

"It's not really a nightclub, more of an old-fashioned northern drinking hole, but it's a good place to chat and quite often it doesn't get going until about one in the morning."

EDINBURGH

Year established: 1939

Honorary members included: Prince Philip, Sean Connery, Michael Heseltine, Kate Adie, Alistair Cooke

Current number of members: 250 when it closed in January last year

Cost of membership: n/a

The Edinburgh Press Club, which closed in January 2007, had a colourful 68-year history. At the first annual general meeting, in 1946, the club's president, Sir George Walters, expressed his hope that it would become the capital's "centre of sweetness and light". Within a few years, the club had become so popular that it was forced to relocate to Edinburgh's west end, where it occupied the same Georgian premises from 1950 until its closure last year.

In its heyday, the club had a reputation as one of the most sociable journalists' hangouts in Britain. Clubhouse games included "The Eiger", in which a brave hack would attempt to climb one of the bar's walls and clamber around the room as his friends took bets on his fate. The organisation even boasted its own coat of arms, which featured a golden quill and a three-turreted castle.

The club's closure, put down to its dwindling membership and lack of resources, was met with great sadness.

LONDON

Year established: 1882

Famous members include: Sly Bailey, Guy Black, Mark Bolland, Rosie Boycott, Prince Charles, Ed Curran, Robin Esser, Brenda Maddox, Martin Rowson, Steve Bell, Stuart Higgins, Derek Jameson, Des Kelly, Dominic Lawson, John Lloyd, Brian MacArthur, Piers Morgan, Bridget Rowe, Bob Satchwell, Tina Weaver

Current number of members: 1,000

Cost of membership: £65 per year

Since its inaugural dinner at Anderton's Hotel on Fleet Street in October 1882, the London Press Club has inhabited numerous venues. However, in 1999 it returned to the industry's heartland to take up residence at the St Bride's Institute, just off Fleet Street, which also houses the famous St Bride Printing Library – the largest of its kind in the English-speaking world – and a theatre.

These days, the organisation is probably most famous for its yearly awards ceremony, which recognises the best newspapers and journalists in the business: winning a gong at the London Press Club Awards is viewed as a top accolade. Members – who include designers and cartoonists as well as journalists past or present – are often invited to exhibitions, lectures and discussions on issues facing the industry.

The club also produces its own magazine, Press News, but another big selling point is its international outlook: members have access to 60 similar institutions worldwide, thanks to the London establishment's position as one of the founding members of the European Federation of Press Clubs. It was also one of the main forces behind the creation of the International Association of Press Clubs.

LIVERPOOL

Year established: 1883

Famous members include: John Humphrys, Jon Snow, Peter Sissons, Ben Brown, News of the World editor Colin Myler

Current number of members: Around 100

Cost of membership: Free

The history of Liverpool Press Club, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, is as chaotic as any.

Founded in 1883, it was originally based at the Stork Hotel in Queen's Square under the auspices of the first club president, a Mr E H Edwards.

Financial troubles meant frequent changes of accommodation were necessary, and in 1919 the club had to be rescued from the brink of insolvency by some of its wealthier members. Its halcyon days were spent at the Washington Chambers Hotel on Lime Street in the centre of Liverpool, a site now occupied by a Holiday Inn.

Around 130 journalists regularly worked at the club during its glory days of the Fifties and Sixties, when stories from Liverpool's busy port often made the headlines.

One of the press club's main attractions was being the only venue in the city with a 24-hour drinking licence, and the club was also frequented by actors and actresses staying at the nearby Adelphi Hotel.

Perhaps inspired by this, a group of members began writing and producing their own satirical pantomimes, which proved immensely popular and always sold out.

Although the club's membership declined sharply towards the end of the last century, in recent years it has reinvented itself as a social organisation open to any journalist with a connection to Liverpool. Despite having no official premises and charging no annual fee, the club frequently invites its members to social occasions in aid of the Journalists' Charity, formerly the Newspaper Press Fund.

WASHINGTON, DC

Year established: 1908

Famous members include: Tom Baldwin, Arthur Kent

Current number of members: Around 4,000

Cost of membership: Anywhere between $25 and $800 per year, depending on your professional status

The USA's National Press Club, located just off Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, is celebrating its centenary this year. It boasts an enormous membership of more than 4,000 journalists and media professionals from the US and elsewhere. Founded in 1908 by 32 newspapermen, it aims to promote "free expression, mutual support and social fellowship" among members of the press.

Members have included every President since Warren Harding, with many giving speeches at the club's headquarters. In recent times it has provided a venue for several newsworthy figures, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech of September last year and Reverend Jeremiah Wright's inflammatory address in April, which forced Barack Obama to publicly denounce hisformer pastor.

The club is renowned for its star-studded speakers' lunches – there are now around 70 each year – which began in 1932 with an appearance from Franklin D Roosevelt. Guests have included Nikita Khrushchev, Golda Meir, Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat and the Dalai Lama.

Black journalists were admitted from 1955 and women from 1971; membership is now open to all active or ex-journalists, government press officers and anyone considered to be a regular source of news.

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