The Garrick Club needs women. But try telling that to the members with the locker-room bants

Here’s a surprise: the Garrick Club is a really lovely place.

It’s full of lively and fascinating people. The staff are superb, the food is great, the wine list divine. The library is to die for (or in), we have the finest theatrical portraiture in the world, sumptuous sitting rooms and chic bedrooms a wallet’s throw from the Royal Opera House.

Most of us think its atmosphere and ambience will only be enhanced when membership is opened to the half of the human race currently prohibited, otherwise known as women. The guardians of the Y- chromosome still resist. We’ll vote (again) on Tuesday.

My embarrassment is not just that it has been a decade since the last vote gave us a majority for women’s membership (though not the two-thirds thought at that time to be required). It’s also that I have to write this anonymously.

Here’s why. Not a notice leaves the Garrick’s offices without ritually “deploring” leaks to the press by “unscrupulous” members – as if this isn’t a public issue! I’m sure our inert and somnolent leadership would have continued to kick the can down the Charing Cross Road without media attention.

And please don’t give me the private-club or single-sex space defence – the Garrick draws its membership mainly from theatre and the arts, media, medicine, law and parliament. That is what makes it so interesting and fun. Much to its credit, it’s a societal as well as social institution.

My worry is that the club, as matters stand, considers interesting professional women to be clubbable only in the caveman sense. It shouldn’t need saying, but society has changed a tad since the club was founded in 1831.

Women have been permitted as guests since Harriet Harman’s 2010 Equality Act. We’d quite like them now, please, to be able to buy their rounds, drop in unaccompanied to shoot the breeze, to host tables at lunch, to contribute as club equals. In short, to be a normal part of Garrick life.

Our new-Taliban members won’t have it and that is, in turn, both funny and dark. The late, much-lamented Toby Jessel MP used to argue (satirically?) that the ladies would want their own lavatory on the ground floor. Another member recently told me that women “can’t tell jokes”, presumably the only reason Dorothy Parker was never elected.

Another was recently heard to say he “wouldn’t shag” a putative woman candidate. My friend assured him the feeling was almost certainly mutual (and, no, Laurence Fox isn’t a member).

I know what you’re thinking. What woman would want to join a club with such hilarious locker-room bants? But that’s my point: only women can dispel such residual misogyny by bringing to the Garrick a healthier mix.

The antis, whose case can be summarised as “we’ve always done it this way”, will try to filibuster our resolution on Tuesday with wrecking amendments. They will make their final stand by demanding the obsolete supermajority. But if they succeed in further delay, they will be sued. And I wonder if they are aware that they’ll separately and severally be liable for the costs of such legal action?

There will be mass resignations – many lawyers I know will be sad to have to resign, followed by the arts crowd, led by the polymath Stephen Fry and Sting. The club will become as boring as anything in St James’s.

I hope it doesn’t. The more enlightened traditionalists say they will vote with the motion, so women can be welcomed without rancour or resentment. And next Wednesday morning we can return to a 21st-century Garrick with a wry smile on her face.

The Guardian