The Hurlingham club has kicked out Vicky Pryce - but not because of what she did

In clubland, it’s seldom about public wrong-doing; it’s pretty well always personal

Share

Vicky Pryce is evidently a clever woman, but even she must be a little flummoxed by the Hurlingham Club’s decision to kick her out. Sorry, it hasn’t kicked her out – it’s “invited her to resign,” as though “inviting” her to partake of the Victoria sponge at the Fulham club’s afternoon tea.

Talk to a Hurlingham member, though, and they won’t mention the invitation to resign; they’ll say she’s been blackballed. Which means it’s not the club secretary or the board who’ve decided to abort her membership – it’s the members themselves.

Why? Because she was sentenced to prison for eight months for perverting the course of justice by taking her husband’s speeding points. But has she not been partially rehabilitated since then? I mean, she’s appeared on Question Time, which, in the hierarchy of social standing, is only a few kudos points behind guesting on Desert Island Discs. And isn’t Jeffrey Archer, the celebrated jailbird, still a Hurlingham member? He was jailed for perjury – so is it OK if you’re jailed for being a liar, but not if you’re jailed for helping your husband? Or does the fact that Archer does charity work somehow eclipse the lying, perjuring et cetera in Clubland’s moral rule book?

Let me explain something, Vicky: in clubland, it’s seldom about public wrong-doing; it’s pretty well always personal. The chances are, you’re being invited to resign because someone objected to your unchanging hairstyle, your Joe 90 specs, your Greek accent, your actually being Greek or your being a vengeful wife, rather than your being a shameless and flagrant points-taker.

Blackballing is the dark heart of the jolly convivium of clubs. The word refers to the process by which a membership committee decides whether or not to allow someone to join their august assembly. White balls are dropped into a frame – but if more than one blackball is dropped in, the candidate’s fate is sealed, and they go to their grave wondering why. Or else they’ll make a frightful social gaffe and be asked to resign without ever ditto.

In 1965, the 11th Duke of Argyll was made to resign from White’s after he wrote articles in the press about his wife, the notorious Margaret Duchess of Argyll. In theory he had to go because club rules forbade members from talking about women, let alone writing about them. In fact it was because the ducal divorce proceedings had thrown up a scandalous photograph of the Duchess performing fellatio on a naked man, and chaps didn’t want to be reminded of such sordid stuff every time they met the duke in the bar.

I had an early brush with this milieu in the early 1980s when I went to the Garrick to interview a distinguished writer. We were talking by the stairs when a wolfish elderly figure stopped for a chat. “How goes Rocco Forte’s application to join White’s?” my interviewee asked. “Hah!” his friend said gleefully. “Blackballed till he resembled a plate o’caviarrr.”

Forte was then chief executive of Trust House Forte, a worldwide, billion-spinning hotel chain; but unfortunately his dad had once been proprietor of a milk bar and he was therefore too common (and Italian) to pass muster. It’s odd that White’s should have been so snooty – after all the club’s first incarnation, in 1693, was as White’s Chocolate House, named after its owner, or Frank White, formerly Francesco Bianco.

The club’s blackballers were at it again in 2007, when they blocked the membership of super-suave Bryan Ferry, the Roxy Music crooner. It was said they objected to his being the parvenu son of a Durham miner; it’s more probable that they didn’t want some pop star (even a 61-year-old pop star) near their decanters and chafing dishes. It was piquant to read, a year later as the City dived into meltdown, that investment bankers, no matter how immaculate their pedigree, were suddenly being refused admission to London clubs, from SW1 to the trendy coteries of Covent Garden and Shoreditch.

On rare occasions in the past, the dodgy and the arriviste have made it to the hallowed corridors of Pall Mall and St James because they have a sufficiently heavyweight sponsor. Jimmy Savile, a man whom you’d think would be swiftly shown to the tradesman’s entrance of any club, was fast-tracked to membership of the Athenaeum, most intellectually rigorous of London clubs, solely because he was nominated by Basil Hume, later Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster; that’s tantamount to being endorsed by Jesus Christ and all the cherubim and seraphim. It seems unlikely, however, that many people struck up conversations with him over dinner.

So chin up, Vicky. It’s not a moral thing; it’s entirely personal. And I see you’re also a member of the Reform Club, whose members in the past have included Jeremy Thorpe and Guy Burgess. And they were never asked to resign. Curious thing the British establishment, isn’t it?

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Harvey Proctor's home was raided by the Met under a warrant investigating historical child sexual abuse  

Harvey Proctor: A gay sex ring in Westminster? I don't believe it

Harvey Proctor
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk