January 25, 2010

The Gentleman's Club

[T]he Drones, where a certain standard of decency is demanded from the inmate. Ask anyone at the Drones, and they will tell you that it was a black day for the dear old club when this chap Glossop somehow wriggled into the list of members… the universal consensus of opinion is that the fellow is a bounder and a tick, and that the moment he showed signs of wanting to get into the place he should have been met with a firm nolle prosequi and heartily blackballed (P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves).
In my time I’ve had the good fortune to frequent a number of gentlemen’s clubs. Most of them were perfectly frightful, but anthropological curiosities nonetheless. As a teenager, I watched the awkward sociology of the private golf course club house, not knowing then quite what was wrong. Lower middle-class golfers acting up; upper middle-class golfers trying to be of the people; over made-up women golfers posturing, not realising their hopeless subjection; the odd working-class golfer, spitting old-school venom and being anonymously reported to The Committee. After 8 o’clock, no male was allowed past a certain pillar, upon which hung a brass bell, without donning a jacket and tie. Nothing distinguished the one half of the room ‘past the bell’ from the other, except the haughty stiffness of those who dressed up, looking at the casual slum of monstrous costumes on the other side. Such a bizarre line in the sand, this. Incidentally, the television resided on the formal side of the line. Want to watch Coronation Street with your whisky and water? Get a tie on!

At age fourteen I was bemused. Now I see the point, but I confess that this small mindedness was pushing the envelope of pointless snobbery. Dress codes serve a meaningful purpose, but the boundary should have been the club as a whole. It serves no one to stratify a single room, for God’s sake. It might surprise, perhaps, to note that the higher up the social scale one travels, the more relaxed the regulations. Some institutions exclude by reputation. A man who feels he doesn’t belong automatically stays away; for those who assume a place, the door opens (there are always ways around the money question). A brass neck can take you far, if you know where to stick it. As a case in point, a number of esteemed institutions have recently opened their doors to me, and I haven’t parted with a farthing. Jolly decent of them.

The social dancing and niceties aside, I mention all this merely to make an objection. Perform a Google operation on the phrase ‘gentleman’s club’ and you will be appalled to find that the vast majority of institutions listed rather fall short of the description. No doubt, gentlemen have always visited houses of uncertain repute, but the institutions had not the audacity to presume that the presence of gentlemen signified for them a like status. I know that the word ‘gentleman’ has been emptied of its meaning in the last hundred years, but that is no reason completely to derogate it. It is horrifying to think that the drunken hordes who tonight revel at post-modernity’s rather tangible version of the greasy pole will wake up tomorrow and think themselves upright men of social standing. The gentleman’s club need no longer be the exclusive resort of the social drone, but it ought still to be something more than a grotesque projection of the gutter.


  1. Yes ..."Gentlemen's Club" now conjurs an image of brass poles...not bells...and women removing clothing....not men putting on a jacket and tie.
    Enjoyable read....

  2. Thank you, Mr. Sportsman, for the comment, and also for following along. One of these days, someone will reinvigorate the notion of the dress code.


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