Pooh's pounds 40m gives Garrick a lick of paint

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MEMBERS OF the Garrick Club are often caricatured as pompous twits and rampant misogynists. They do, however, know a thing or two about money. Four of them, after all, are former chancellors of the exchequer.

The Garrick is a watering hole in central London, one of those quaint institutions known as a gentleman's club. Yesterday, members gathered to discuss a pounds 40m windfall that they stand to gain as a result of an offer by the Disney Corporation to buy the rights to royalties from Winnie the Pooh.

Pooh's creator, A A Milne, belonged to the Garrick and the four beneficiaries to whom he bequeathed the rights to his fictional characters include his beloved club. Disney now wants to hoover them up, and is willing to pay a generous reimbursement.

The meeting was convened to decide what to do with the money. Should the 1,000 members stick it in a charitable fund? Should they use it to give the Garrick a facelift? Or most temptingly, should they share out the cash and walk off with pounds 39,000 apiece?

The latter option is favoured by Lord Lamont, formerly Norman, one of the quartet of ex-chancellors (the others are Lord Lawson of Blaby, Kenneth Clarke and Lord Howe of Aberavon).

Lord Lamont said recently: "I feel a little like Winnie the Pooh who, when asked if he would like honey or jam, replied he would like both."

It was all mildly interesting, in the middle of August, if unlikely to change the course of history. But for all the secrecy in which the meeting was cloaked, members could have been debating the legalisation of paedophilia.

Garrick officials stonewalled inquiries about the timing of the get-together. When the media turned up anyway, members decamped to the nearby Fortune Theatre, swatting away impudent questions.

By 1pm it was all over and 300 or so members wearing the club's garish pink and green tie swarmed back up the marble steps, like a horde of exotic elderly animals escaped from a zoo.

So, could we have a brief statement, please, on the outcome of the meeting? No, we could not, replied a flint-faced doorman. Why not? It was none of our business. Could a request be passed to Anthony Butcher, chairman of the general committee? Mr Butcher was "at luncheon" and could not be disturbed.

As tempers rose, The Independent entered the club and made a polite request for information.

The doorman, furious, manhandled me back out on to the pavement. Members emerging from the gloomy interior refused to answer questions.

"We're under strict orders not to feed any titbits to the press," said one old codger, waving his walking stick.

"We've been told to come back at 5 o'clock with carrier bags for the money," said another, laughing hilariously at his own joke.

Even media types were tight-lipped. One senior Sunday Times executive hid his face behind a newspaper when he saw the television cameras.

Fortunately, there are a few courteous souls at the Garrick. John Gale, a retired impresario, broke ranks and supplied some information.

The meeting, it transpired, had voted overwhelmingly to spend some of the Disney cash on doing up the club and some of it on setting up a charitable fund. An amount will be left over, and it is to be decided at a later date whether individuals should pocket it.

Mr Gale thought it unlikely that members would be so greedy. "It's an appalling idea and I'm sure it's not what A A Milne would have wanted," he said.

"I can't imagine that a club full of honourable people would vote to award themselves a load of money." Really.

Leading article,

Review, page 3