Judi Dench 'set to be first female member of Garrick club'

Dame Judi Dench could become the first female member of the Garrick Club (Dave Benett)
Dame Judi Dench could become the first female member of the Garrick Club (Dave Benett)

Dame Judi Dench is set to become the first female member of the Garrick Club, days after the institution voted to allow women to become members for the first time in its 193-year history, according to reports.

A vote on Monday evening passed with roughly 60 per cent of the 1,500 members voting in favour following a private meeting at a venue near its headquarters in Covent Garden on Tuesday.

The club’s general committee was due to meet on Friday evening to decide on the 89-year-old actress’ membership, the Telegraph reports.

The institution has been under increasing pressure in recent months and years to change it’s all-male ways. Monday’s vote followed hours of debate.

Speakers in favour of the change reportedly included Stephen Fry, James Naughtie, Jonathan Sumption and Nigel Havers.

Dame Judi’s husband, Shakespearean actor Michael Williams, is believed to have been a member of the Garrick before his death in 2001 and she often visited the club as his guest.

An oil portrait of the actress by Scottish artist Jennifer McRae is already hanging in the club.

A list of seven prominent women were put forward as prospective members by existing Garrick members earlier this year.

The list included former home secretary Amber Rudd and Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman.

A poll of members last November found 51 per cent were in favour of admitting women but club rules require a two-thirds majority to change its position.

Among the names on the members list are actors Matthew Macfadyen, Benedict Cumberbatch and Damian Lewis as well as the chief executive of the Royal Opera House, Alex Beard, and Antonio Pappano, who is now chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

High court judges, current and former ministers in the Ministry of Justice and numerous senior solicitors have been revealed as club members, amid the furore.

In March, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case - the head of the civil service - quit the club just a day after being questioned by MPs about his involvement in the institution.

Mr Case had previously suggested it would be "easier" to change the all-male organisation "from within rather than chuck rocks from the outside".

In April, a High Court judge was removed from overseeing a case involving an alleged rape victim due to his membership of the Garrick Club.

Sir Jonathan Cohen was due to hear a family court case involving a dispute between a mother and father over their son's care, with the woman accusing the man of domestic abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour.

She applied for Sir Jonathan to step back from her case, claiming she would feel "prejudiced" due to his membership.

A different High Court judge decided that Sir Jonathan should not hear the case due to his club membership, adding that the father was also a "regular visitor".

The court heard that "at no stage" have the mother's allegations against the father been determined.

The club, named after legendary actor David Garrick, has always drawn members from the arts including actor Sir John Gielgud and writers such as Charles Dickens, HG Wells and Winnie-the-Pooh author AA Milne.

Rachel Reeves Labour’s told LBC on the Garrick Club opening up to female members: “It’s not my kind of vibe… I won’t be queuing up to join.... but well done the Garrick Club for catching up.”

She said all clubs should be open to both men and women.

Jemima Olchawski, CEO of the Fawcett Society which campaigns on women’s rights, said in a statement on X: "It’s hard to believe that we’re in 2024 and only just welcoming the news that women can join the Garrick."

The group also wrote: "This decision shouldn’t be controversial – it’s just common sense. There was no good reason to refuse women membership and we’re delighted that Garrick members agree.”