The oak-panelled doors of the Garrick Club have remained firmly closed to women members for 180 years. But it's a brave committee which would bar entry to Joanna Lumley, who is seeking to become the first woman to join the establishment.
The actress has been proposed for membership of the gentlemen's club in Covent Garden by Hugh Bonneville, with whom she will appear in the next series of the ITV1 drama Downton Abbey.
Lumley, 65, is known for her doughty campaigns, after forcing Labour ministers to extend the rights of Gurkha veterans to settle in the UK. The Garrick, founded in 1831 to "tend to the regeneration of the Drama", rejected extending membership to women by a resounding 363 to 94 vote in 1992.
But the club, whose members have included Charles Dickens and Laurence Olivier, and is today frequented by Stephen Fry, has been forced to adapt to the times. As a result of the Equality Act 2010, women guests of members may now sit at the famous centre table of its Coffee Room, may visit the cocktail bar before 9pm and may venture "under the stairs".
Lumley's agent said she "didn't wish to talk about" the possible nomination. Even if the men-only rules were overturned, the waiting list to join the 1,400 existing members is still up to five years. Mr Bonneville and the Club also declined to comment. It is known that some members are reluctant to adapt the premises, which are said to have "the best urinals in town", for female members. Others question why Lumley would actually want to join a club compared by insiders to an all-boys public school.
The Absolutely Fabulous star may yet be beaten to the punch. The journalist Sir Peregrine Worsthorne said his wife, Lady Lucinda Lambton, the architectural historian, had already been nominated by Peter Jay, the former British ambassador to Washington.
Asked whether she endorsed Lumley's bid, Lady Antonia Fraser, the historian, who was the first woman to sit at the Garrick's Coffee Room centre table, said there were "many more important issues in the world today".Reuse content