Friday briefing: What the Garrick Club’s men only policy says about Britain

<span>The Garrick Club in Covent Garden. .</span><span>Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian</span>
The Garrick Club in Covent Garden. .Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Good morning. What do King Charles, Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen and Michael Gove have in common? Guardian reporter Amelia Gentleman has revealed they, alongside many others, are members of the Garrick Club, a private gentleman’s club (a term which I believe should be banned because it gives me the heebie-jeebies) in central London.

Its 1,500 strong membership is a roll call of some of the most influential and powerful members of the British establishment. One hundred and sixty senior legal professionals, cabinet ministers, and the heads of publicly funded arts institutions are all members. The club’s ban on women and resistance to modernise has created something of a PR storm for those on the list. As more questions and criticisms arose, it became clear that holding on to membership was not tenable; Simon Case and Richard Moore, respectively the heads of the civil service and MI6, U-turned on their positions and resigned their memberships.

The salaciousness aside, the publication of the list is a reminder of the boldness with which power is consolidated in these kinds of exclusionary social spaces. I spoke with Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik about the impact members’ clubs like the Garrick have on society and whether change is possible. That’s right after the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Waspi ruling | A long-awaited official report has stated that potentially hundreds of thousands of women are owed compensation because of government failings related to the way changes to the state pension age were made. The total bill could run into the billions but the ombudsman behind the report said it could not force the Department for Work and Pensions to pay it.

  2. Gaza | EU leaders have overcome their differences to call for an “immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza, hours before the US is expected to bring a resolution to a vote at the UN calling for a truce and a hostage deal without delay in the face of a looming famine.

  3. UK poverty | It has emerged that the poorest families in the UK have borne the brunt of the cost of living crisis, according to official figures. Two million people were in absolute poverty in 2022-23 when inflation was at its 10% peak – equivalent to 18% of the population, including 3.6 million children.

  4. Conservatives | James Cleverly, the home secretary, spent £165,561 chartering a private jet for a one-day round trip to Rwanda to sign Rishi Sunak’s deportation deal in Kigali.

  5. Europe | EU leaders have agreed to open membership negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, while also stressing it would have to undertake more reforms before talks could begin.

In depth: ‘If the Garrick Club disappears tomorrow, the attitudes that created it will continue to exist’

Founded in 1831, the Garrick Club is a “hangover” from a bygone era, Nesrine says. “They’re very cosy and comfortable, especially if you’re high profile in a world where this sort of access to exclusive spaces is becoming much harder” to foster, adds Nesrine.


What’s the fuss about?

The existence of stuffy, elitist clubs filled to the brim with those in the highest echelons of business, politics and the arts may not be hugely surprising. In a country with widening inequalities, growing poverty and the further concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few, the story of the Garrick Club mostly “fits into pre-existing stereotypes about these kinds of elite groups of people”, Nesrine says. “In a certain way, it is also amusing to have them exposed like this and have them scramble in the way that they have.”

Critics of the club, which is chock full of barristers and judges, argue that members should recuse themselves from legal cases that involve rape, violence against women, and sexism, claiming that members’ worldviews are so problematic that they cannot be trusted to handle issues involving women fairly. “If they cannot trust women to sit with them in the clubby corridors of power, we cannot trust them to do the right thing by women,” writes Karon Monaghan KC, a barrister specialising in equality and human rights law. If this is the case, the problem goes beyond the Garrick Club itself and harks back to the attitudes and beliefs of those who run most of the country’s public institutions.

It is not clear how you join the Garrick or, apart from being male, what the criteria are for membership. Its homepage tells the reader that its entry requirements are strict. “It would be better that 10 unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted.” This, we are told, means “the lively atmosphere for which the Club was so well-known in the 19th century continues to invigorate members of the Club in the 21st century”, adds Monaghan.

Resignations and denouncements of the club’s sex-based policy abound, but that does not provide a satisfactory answer to the main question: “Why would you want to be a member of such a club unless the values of that membership and its exclusivity already permeate your life and your professional existence?” Nesrine asks.


The Garrick is not alone

The Garrick Club is perhaps the final boss of elite, exclusive social spaces, but it is far from the only institution that caters to and serves men from the highest social and economic classes in society. The most expensive private schools are perhaps the prototype for this kind of institution and, just like the Garrick, many tend to be male only. “There’s already a very embedded, influential model of male only exclusive spaces that you pay a huge amount of money for, and which sometimes extend over generations,” Nesrine notes. Though it is unclear the proportion of members of the Garrick Club who also went to private schools, it would be fair to assume that the number is likely to be significant.

And for those who are not members of the Garrick but want to make sure that they continue to rub shoulders with the wealthy and powerful, there are numerous other groups with different entry requirements from the Garrick like professional guilds, donor societies for political parties and members’ clubs (that do let wealthy women in) that serve to cater for this need.


Will anything change?

The Equality Act 2010 meant the club could no longer prohibit women from sitting at its main 30-seat central table, but it remains extremely rare for a female guest to be invited to eat there.

Over the years, some Garrick Club members have tried to change the male-only policy. There was a vote in 2015, where 50.5% of members voted in favour of allowing women in, but the club requires a two-thirds majority before rules can change. Almost a decade later, another vote is expected on the topic in June. Maybe the public embarrassment will reflect in a change of heart. And, in light of this list, David Pannick KC has made the legal argument that the current rules do not in fact bar women from joining. But if the Garrick were to shift its position, who would that really be a win for?

“If the Garrick Club disappears tomorrow, the attitudes that created it and thought that it was OK to be a member will continue to exist,” Nesrine says. “So without conscious work on the part of the country’s institutions to transform how they think about race, class and gender beyond diversity for its own sake, nothing much is going to tangibly change.”

What else we’ve been reading

  • Mary Lawlor compellingly argues that the west should no longer be selling arms to Israel amid the mounting evidence that those weapons have been used indiscriminately against civilians in Gaza. Nimo

  • Being perfectly honest my bottle of tahini has languished in the back of a cupboard ever since a failed attempt to make my own hummus. So Anna Jones will be my personal favourite food hero if she can teach me how to make use of it. Here she writes a guide on how to get the best out of familiar ingredients. Nazia Parveen, acting deputy newsletters editor

  • ICYMI: John Crace’s account of his heart attack and the subsequent four days he spent in a chaotic hospital ward is filled with humanity. Nimo

  • Two men Richard Beauvais and Eddy Ambrose were swapped at birth – one Indigenous, one white – and lived out each other’s lives, the third known such mistake in Manitoba. Now the premier is reversing a decision to deny responsibility and they will finally get an apology. Nazia

  • We are all guilty of doing things that we know are bad for us. Shayla Love turns to philosophers of ancient times to find out why. Nimo


Formula One | Lewis Hamilton has delivered a damning assessment of the leader of F1’s governing body ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, stating he has never had confidence in Mohammed Ben Sulayem and lambasting the FIA and F1 for a lack of accountability. The British racing driver also criticised the sport’s male-dominated culture and praised Susie Wolff, the managing director of all-female series the F1 Academy.

Football | Erik ten Hag is to remain as Manchester United manager until at least the end of the season, after impressing Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the new minority shareholder overseeing footballing operations. The Dutchman was under extreme pressure before the crunch FA Cup quarter-final tie with Liverpool last Sunday, eventually guiding his side to an unexpected 4-3 win.

Football | Daniel James, on his 50th appearance, capped the scoring at 4-1 in Wales’s favour against Finland in Euro 2024 qualifying.

The front pages

“US toughens stance to call for immediate Gaza ceasefire” is the Guardian’s lead story to end the working week. Top story in the Financial Times is “US accuses Apple of illegally building smartphone monopoly to crush rivals”. The Times has “One million more people cite mental health battle” while the Daily Telegraph splashes on “Sickness benefits bill to rise by a third”. The Daily Express says “Pay Up! Millions of women are owed pension payouts” and on the same topic the Daily Mail has “New betrayal of Waspi women”. “Waspi women demand help from Labour” – there’s that acronym again, in the i (it means Women Against State Pension Inequality). “£35 billion Waspi sting” – someone had to do it and that someone was the Metro. “Pay them what they are owed” demands the Daily Mirror.

Something for the weekend

Our critics’ roundup of the best things to watch, read and listen to right now

Twisted Metal
If The Last of Us was a lofty, soul-nourishing feast, fellow game adaptation Twisted Metal is more of a whoopee cushion: loud and obnoxious yet often hilarious. It screeches belatedly on to UK screens this week after debuting in the US last summer (where it made enough of an impact that a second season has been confirmed). It all feels very brash and attention-seeking, like the TV equivalent of a lime-green hatchback doing late-night doughnuts in a supermarket car park. But, if you can tune in to Twisted Metal’s motormouth wavelength of childish exuberance, it is certainly a fun ride. Graeme Virtue

Shakira: Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran
Despite a stock market-affecting smash hit and collaborators including Cardi B, and rising bands Grupo Frontera and Fuerza Regida, the Colombian’s 12th studio album lacks her unique adventurous spirit. The majority of Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran settles for gliding in one ear and out the other without leaving much impression, but without actively driving you up the wall either: the state of sublime mediocrity in which a lot of current pop chooses to operate. Perhaps that’s the point here. Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran sounds like the work of someone who’s decided that sales are born of playing it safe and that success in itself is the best revenge. Alexis Petridis

The Delinquents
Cinemas nationwide
Very few films make you ask “what just happened?” at the end – and also in fact “what is happening right now?” at various points during the running time. But this is what I said, out loud, in the course of this deeply strange, utterly distinctive, beguiling and fantastical shaggy-dog story about a bank robbery in Buenos Aires, from Argentinian director Rodrigo Moreno. This is a deadpan comedy which strides off down its own confident, eccentric path, and actually the whole heist trope is subverted from the outset by the purely un-tense way the robbery is shown. The seriocomic taste of this film has to be savoured, like some little-known fortified wine, and there is something so seductive in this unlikely adventure. This could be a cult classic. Peter Bradshaw

Dial F for Football
Widely available, weekly from Wednesday
Listeners of Total Sport FM are used to hosts being white and blokey, so what happens when management bring in a young YouTuber? Lolly Adefope plays Lisa, the new recruit who is battling for airtime when she has paired with Des (Fergus Craig). The fast-talking, banteresque satire of sport radio is spot-on and every character is a little bit clueless and awful. As the producer says: “Hate equals clicks, equals views, equals ad money.” Hannah Verdier

Today in Focus

Shining a light on London’s men-only Garrick Club

The Garrick Club is one of London’s original gentlemen’s clubs. Among its members are the most powerful people in the country. Yet in 2024 women are not welcome to apply for membership. Amelia Gentleman reports.

Cartoon of the day | Ben Jennings

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

When 67-year-old metal detectorist Richard Brook turned up to an expedition in Shropshire an hour late and with faulty equipment to boot, he’d have been forgiven for fearing that he wouldn’t be unearthing anything at all. Twenty minutes later, however, and Brook – who has been metal-detecting for the better part of four decades – had made the most remarkable discovery: the largest gold nugget ever found in English soil.

“Everyone there had all this up-to-date kit and I bowled up with three old machines, and one of them packed in there and then,” Brock said. “At first I just found a few rusty old tent pegs with this backup detector, which had a fading screen display.”

Instead, Brock walked away the new owner of ‘Hiro’s nugget’. Weighing a whopping 64.8g, it is now the subject of a timed auction, where it is expected to achieve a price of about £30,000.

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Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day. Until tomorrow.