Golfers suffer trauma of TV
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Sunday 13 February 1994
Preston Lockwood, the 82-year-old undoubted star turn of the programme, had warned them all about letting in cameras. As an actor playing such distinguished roles as a loopy butler in a chocolate advert, a severed Elizabethan head in a Hamlet commercial, and an elderly judge in Rumpole, he said they should have taken his advice.
'They listened to a member with experience in BBC television production,' he said. Nearly collapsing in laughter, Mr Lockwood added: 'He produced Come Dancing.'
The documentary exposed all the tensions and phoney classlessness of today's England, where nouveau riche crafty Cockneys are allowed to mingle with would-be old (but not that Etonian) school tie types.
Preston, in the mocking tones of P G Wodehouse's Oldest Member, recalls the time when 'It was just male sweat in the locker room, now it's like a Turkish harem with all the aftershave. It's all 'firty-free' and 'fanks'. There's not a 'th' to be heard.'
Wodehouse's golf-story characters, such as Mrs Willoughby Smethurst and Raymond Parsloe Devine from The Clicking of Cuthbert, were always reassuringly robust. Not so the characters of true-life drama.
Open-heart surgery on a rush-hour train would have left fewer scars on some of the members than did the film. The atmosphere inside the 103-year-old club is now one of revenge, calls for resignations, and regret at how the televised dissection has wounded their institution. All a remarkable change from the preview at Channel Four, when senior members, including chairman Bryan Lund, applauded and confirmed an order for 360 video copies. According to one member, that 'shows he's bloody mad. Half of us don't have bloody videos'.
Mr Lund, who heads the oddly named 'board of directors' which runs the club, claims they were conned. 'We feel let down. We were promised the film would show the club enhancing the enjoyment of the sport for members. Maybe we should make another film ourselves.' For three months, the suburban golfers faced the cameras of directors Brian Hill and Kate Woods, the duo who made Noeline and Laurie Donaher the most mocked family in Australia in Sylvania Waters.
Hill promised an honest portrait. 'We told them, if they wanted to hide, say no now. They said yes.'
The navety and gullibility of allowing in the cameras to expose a club afflicted with an us-and-them virus was not missed in most of the newspaper reviews of the programme. Viewers were treated to sociology ('It used to be upper-class - no longer'), political philosophy ('Members are patriotic, and look to the Royal Family with respect, it's part of the club') and pub-psychology ('A golf club provides the opportunity for a disappointed man to have the only chance of holding an influential position').
There were also comments to inspire feminist revolutionaries, with one older member reflecting: 'Women have to make the breakfast and clear up. How any of them are here before nine in the morning puzzles me.'
The 60 women members have yet to secure voting rights at Northwood, and, with a 75 per cent majority of the 300 male members needed to change the 1934 rules, equality seems far off. However, with nearly every male in the documentary saying how he'd 'like' to see change, one lady member said she now believed that 'even our husbands are secretly voting against us'.
An extraordinary general meeting has been called to discuss the rumblings over the documentary. The board will also be asked to explain the filmed reprimand of Joe Brennan, a member who is head of the green committee. The 52- year-old painting contractor was told by Mr Lund, in what should have been a closed- doors meeting, that his recent behaviour 'was not becoming a gentleman'. The chairman, in front of the cameras, said: 'If you don't stop these activities, a resolution proposing your expulsion will be put before this board.' At the club AGM, also with the cameras present, Mr Lund denied any threat was made.
For Preston, the denial was an 'utter lie'. The green committee, he said, had discovered the board was centralising power. Mr Brennan had sent letters asking why. The actor - who also played Peter Wright in a TV version of Spycatcher - added, with all the authority accorded the club's resident elder sage: 'The club is full of Freemasons and policemen used to secrets. It's amazing that there're any police on the streets. They're all out there playing golf]'
Now that 'The Club' has been screened, Mr Lund still denies he threatened Mr Brennan. 'You have to understand the process - it was an informal word with him.'
Mr Brennan doesn't see it that way. 'I can't possibly comment on the mentality of the man, but I think the film brought out a lot of undercurrents at Northwood that were just not talked about.' He then asked: 'Is this going in the newspaper?' When told that it might, he said: 'Oh my God, I hope it's not on page one.'
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