“One enlightened member said that in the past the Garrick Club excluded lunatics, gays and women; now the first two classes have been let in there’s no conceivable reason to bar the third.”
- John Mortimer
John Mortimer (1923-2009) was a British barrister, dramatist, screenwriter and author who is perhaps best known as the creator of the character Rumpole of the Bailey. Pictured above is John Mortimer (left) with Leo McKern, who played Rumpole in the TV series.
The Garrick Club (above) is a gentlemen’s club in London that was founded in 1831 with the intention of "regenerating Drama". It is named after an esteemed 18th century actor, David Garrick, and was from the outset an exclusive club with restrictions on membership. The club today has about 1,300 members with membership being voted by secret ballot. The principle of membership is “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted.” The list of past and present members contains numerous well known judges, politicians, peers of the realm, lawyers, authors, playwrights, actors and people from the entertainment world. One of the most contentious aspects of the club is that it has consistently limited membership to males only, although women are allowed to attend the club as visitors.
In 2011 Britain’s most senior female judge, Baroness Hale of Richmond, commented that "I regard it as quite shocking that so many of my colleagues belong to the Garrick Club, but they don't see what all the fuss is about." With a quarter of all senior judges belonging to the Club, Lady Hale went on to blame the culture fostered through club networking as one reason why so few women had reached the top judicial ranks. She pointed out that she is the only female out of 12 Supreme Court justices and that in comparison, in the US Supreme Court three out of nine justices are women; in Canada the figure is four out of nine (and the Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, is a woman); in Australia it is three out of seven; and in Israel it is seven out of fourteen.
In 2011 the Club sent a letter to its members informing them that it had abandoned its prohibition on women guests from sitting at the hallowed centre table of its Coffee Room (above). The centre table of the Coffee Room had always been for male seating only. For the first time, women would also now be allowed to visit the cocktail bar before 9 o'clock in the evening and venture "under the stairs". The relaxation of the rules was a response to the introduction of the Equality Act. Jonathan Acton Davis QC, the Garrick's chairman, said that the passing of the Equality Act meant that "each of those prohibitions was discriminatory and would be illegal". "All guests must receive the same treatment irrespective of gender", he added. Members were left fuming and irate when, on the same day that the Equality Act was passed, Lady Antonia Fraser (below), the widow of playwright Sir Harold Pinter, walked defiantly into the Club and sat at the centre table.