Sorry, you can't come in here, more than my job's worth: Michael Durham puts Establishment doormen to the Princess Royal test

THE PRINCESS Royal is not alone: it has happened to all of us. The gatekeeper who refused her entry to Royal Ascot last week is but one of a resilient breed - the Establishment doorman.

'I'm sorry, love, you can't come in here,' Mr Eric Petheridge, a bowler-hatted Ascot steward, told the princess as she stepped towards Sovereign's Gate last Tuesday. It was surely the British doorkeeper's finest hour, especially for a breed of man whose eyesight is usually matched only by the sharpness of his creases, and whose condescension, loyalty and stubbornness are legendary.

Buoyed up, perhaps, by Mr Petheridge's performance, the gatekeepers of the upper class were at it with a vengeance last week. Elsewhere in John Major's classless society, they stood their ground and barred passage to persons not of the right sort - always with the kind of sinister grovelling charm that can only be learned while brushing lapels of the highest quality in the lavatories of the Drones' Club. The charm school for doormen must still exist in a basement somewhere under Brook Street.

At Ascot, attempts to follow in the footsteps of the princess (she got through after removing her dark glasses), met with the traditional response: a curiously restrained curl of the lip and a firmly extended arm from the decorated commissionaire at the entrance to the Royal Enclosure. 'Excuse me, sir, may I help you?' is the phrase that has long heralded a throwing-out from an event deemed to be in somebody else's social calendar.

Not even an urgent appointment with the Hon Jocelyn Deeds, an imaginary chum and a scion of the luncheonocracy, could get me past this Cerberus. 'I'm sorry, sir, you can't possibly come in looking like that. At the very least you need a tie and a hat. And a badge.' A badge? Couldn't I just buy a ticket? 'Oh dear no, sir. This is the Royal Enclosure.' (Look of pity at my ignorance.) 'It's a very complicated business getting in here, sir.'

So I set off in search of the Hon Jocelyn at some of the establishments I know he patronises. I never met him, but, on the other hand, I ran into some remarkable demonstrations of why I was never likely to.

Doormen are schooled in the art of calling you 'sir' and offering regrets while, at the same time, making you fully aware that you are as likely to be admitted as a vanload of Croats at a Serbian birthday party.

The doorman at White's was sitting inside a wooden booth like the porter at a minor public school and seemed mildly surprised when I asked if he could direct me to the bar. My imaginary friend the Hon Jocelyn did me no good here either. 'This is a private club. An exclusive club. He is not a member.' (A look of mild disdain.) 'You can't just come in here for a drink.'

'But I've been told this is one of the best bars in London.' A step towards the inner sanctum. The doorman rises with a look which suggests I am not merely scruffy, but mad. One false move and a phalanx of pin-striped toffs will emerge to block the way, so it seems safer to retire.

The class warriors are also hard at work at Harrods. The store, the sale, the dress code.

The uniformed Green Man on the pavement does not flinch when I arrive in above-the-knee cycling shorts and ask for the outdoor-sports department, but it is the security guard inside who gives me trouble. A fresh-faced and kindly youth, he says: 'It's on the fifth floor, but . . . er . . . I'm afraid I can't let you in. Not in shorts.

'No, not even if you've got a puncture. Oh dear. It's the chairman's personal ruling and it's more than my job's worth.' (Yes, he really said it).

Then he adopts a confidential matiness. 'I know. Just hang on here. I'll phone up and get them to bring you down a new inner tube.' And he does. Which makes me ponder if the barman at White's might have brought me out a gin sling.

The award for most imaginative doorman goes to the Ritz. Ordered to halt as I crossed the lobby in jeans, I was silkily informed that I would need a jacket, tie and proper trousers if I were to contemplate tea. In fact, to paraphrase, I might as well go home for an early bath.

'We can lend you a jacket and tie, sir. You may wait in the lobby for your friend.'

'Can you lend me a pair of trousers?'

A weary glance of patrician disbelief. 'Well, sir,' with scarcely hidden amusement, 'you might wish to buy some. There's a shop on the corner.'

So that is how one gains entry to the governing classes.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones