In Depth

Garrick Club: should the iconic gentleman's club allow women?

Members voted against admitting female members because they might 'ruin the camaraderie and banter'

London's most exclusive gentleman's club has upheld a 184-year tradition and voted against allowing women to join.

Members of the Garrick Club in Covent Garden cast secret ballots earlier this week – and although 51 per cent of men voted in favour of dropping the controversial men-only policy – they failed to meet the two-thirds majority required to change club rules.

Three former Tory MPs and 11 QCs were among those who said they voted to continue to exclude women members, reports The Guardian.

The club was founded in 1831, aiming to offer a place of refuge to "actors and men of refinement and education". It currently boasts over 1,300 members and waiting list of seven years. Women are allowed to enter as guests, but are barred from certain rooms in the building.

A number of prominent members spoke out in favour of allowing women to join ahead of the vote, including actors Stephen Fry and Damien Lewis and justice secretary Michael Gove. "It seems absolutely absurd that they aren't in already," said member Sir Eric Ash.

One member said he wasn't sure which way to vote: "I'm a huge supporter of all things anti-racist, non-gender and anti-ageist but why shouldn’t we have one or two places where chaps can get together?"

Another said he was against the change because he wanted to preserve the "camaraderie" and "banter" of the club and stop men from "showing off" in front of women. He said it was important to have a space for men where "you can say anything you want and have a jolly good discussion about anything in a completely egalitarian atmosphere in which no one is trying to impress anyone else."

But leading female public law and human rights barrister urged senior legal professionals to reconsider their membership in protest, The Times reports.

Dinah Rose QC said it was not a case of stopping men from sitting around with each other. "If people want to spend their leisure time with others of their own gender, that's their prerogative," she said. "The problem comes when that club forms a network of influence, and membership of that club carries a professional and social value."

However, members believe the issue will be voted on again at the next annual meeting and that attitudes in the club are slowly shifting. "Nobody in the Garrick feels this is the end of the road," said journalist John Simpson.

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