Everything we know about the all-male Garrick club row

Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry and Jacob Rees-Mogg are among those who are members of the Garrick Club.

A general view is pictured of the exterior of the private members' Garrick Club, founded in 1831 and situated in the heart of London's West End and Theatreland, in Covent Garden, central London on October 7, 2020. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
A row has broken out about the all-male private members' Garrick Club in central London. (Getty)

The head of the civil service has quit an all-male private members’ club, just one day after saying he wanted to reform it “from within”.

Cabinet secretary Simon Case was questioned by MPs at a parliamentary committee on Tuesday about his involvement in the Garrick Club in central London. He suggested it was “easier” to change the all-male organisation “from within rather than chuck rocks from the outside”.

However the Cabinet Office confirmed to Yahoo News UK that Case has renounced his membership despite his earlier comments. It comes after The Guardian published the Garrick Club’s membership list, which it claimed included various high-profile men.

At a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, Case was asked by Labour MP Liam Byrne whether he could “foster a genuine culture of inclusiveness” in the civil service “while being a member of an all-male club”. Case suggested it was “easier” to change the all-male organisation “from within rather than chuck rocks from the outside”.

What is the Garrick Club?

The Garrick Club was founded in 1831 and is located in central London, close to Covent Garden and Leicester Square. Named after the 18th century actor David Garrick, the club was opened with the intention of being a place where supporters of drama would gather.

The club has around 1,300 members and is home to a collection of valuable paintings, manuscripts and theatrical documents. Membership prices are not publicly available but The Guardian reports that the cost of an annual membership is around £1,600. The waiting list to become a member is reportedly up to five years long.

What sparked the latest row?

The row kicked off this week following the publication of the list of members in The Guardian newspaper. One of those members was revealed to be Case, who was questioned about leading the charge on inclusivity in the civil service while being a member of a club that only men could belong to.

He defended his membership but quit a day later, reportedly along with Sir Richard Moore, the head of MI6. With the spotlight on the club, talk turned to whether men in these kinds of positions should be members and whether there should be single-sex clubs at all.

Head of the Civil Service Simon Case leaves 10 Downing Street for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in London, England, on October 13, 2020. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto)
Head of the Civil Service Simon Case has quit the Garrick Club after previously defending his membership. (PA)

Does the Garrick Club actually ban women?

While the club is “for gentlemen only”, there have been attempts to allow female members in the past. Votes have been held to allow women in that have secured very slim majorities – but club rules dictate that there must be a two-thirds majority before a change of rules.

However, since 2010 women have been allowed as guests of members, largely in response to the Equality Act which was introduced by former Labour minister Harriet Harman. The Act made it illegal to not allow guests the same treatment as members – which meant women being allowed to sit at the centre table of the club’s coffee room for the first time.

Lawyer David Pannick KC has also suggested that the current rules do not bar women from being allowed as full members of the club. Pannick told The Guardian that there is “nothing in the language of the rules which excludes the admission of women as members”.

He explained: “Although the language… is phrased by reference to the masculine (‘No candidate shall be eligible unless he be proposed’), it is entirely within the ordinary use of English language that a reference to the masculine denotes the feminine unless the context otherwise requires.”

Milan, Italy. 22nd Sep, 2023. Benedict Cumberbatch is attending the Prada Dinner Party at the Milan Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2024 in Milan, Italy, on September 21, 2023. (Photo by Alessandro Bremec/NurPhoto) Credit: NurPhoto SRL/Alamy Live News
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch was revealed to be a member of the Garrick Club. (Alamy)

Which famous people are members?

A list obtained by The Guardian revealed that the King and deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden were among the high-profile men who hold membership of the Garrick Club. Leading figures of the British establishment – including leading lawyers, heads of institutions and senior politicians – are also among those who boast membership.

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove is among the MPs who belong to the club, along with Jacob Rees-Mogg, former justice secretary Robert Buckland and former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng.

Several high-profile actors also mingle with the powerful men who run the country. These include Succession actors Brian Cox and Matthew Macfadyen, Hugh Bonneville, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbatch and Damian Lewis.

Football manager Roy Hodgson, fashion designer Paul Smith, Dire Straits singer Mark Knopfler, Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre and the BBC’s world affairs correspondent John Simpson are also members.

Stephen Fry beim Photocall zum Kinofilm Treasure auf der Berlinale 2024 / 74. Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin im Hotel Grand Hyatt. Berlin, 17.02.2024 *** Stephen Fry at the photocall for the movie Treasure at the Berlinale 2024 74 Berlin International Film Festival at the Hotel Grand Hyatt Berlin, 17 02 2024 Foto:xN.xKubelkax/xFuturexImagex treasure 4226
Stephen Fry is a member of the Garrick Club – despite saying he was ‘ashamed’ of its men-only rule. (PA)

What have some of them said about it?

Stephen Fry has previously spoken of his feelings about being a member of the club, saying that he felt “ashamed and mortified by the continuing exclusion of women from our club”. In an email to former theatre producer Colin Brough, who was expelled from the club for demanding that women should be allowed in immediately, Fry wrote: “I fear that I’ve been lax about either resigning, campaigning or making any kind of a noise about this.”

John Simpson has been a member since 2001 and also believes in allowing women in as members. He told The Telegraph: “I’m profoundly and passionately in favour of opening the Garrick’s membership to women, because I feel the continued bar to their joining is an embarrassing blight on an otherwise delightful institution.”

Brian Cox, who has been a member since 1996, said it was “about time” women were admitted, and described the men-only rule as an “archaic practice [that] is ridiculous in the 21st century”.

Yahoo News UK has contacted several of the people mentioned in this article for a comment.

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