Howard Croft column: Flirtation with clubland has left a lasting memory

The  Reform Club, London.
The Reform Club, London.
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I suppose that I am not the first to discover that when you reach the dark side of seventy more time is spent thinking about the past than contemplating the future. This is a time when long forgotten events and people re-emerge with great clarity, providing fresh anecdotes with which to bore one’s friends. As a young man I was constantly surprised that my father, who was a long distance lorry driver, could recollect in great detail the circumstances surrounding a puncture that had inconvenienced him near Scotch Corner several decades earlier, but regularly confused the names of his grandchildren of whom there were only four.

Revived memories from my past are now increasingly piling in and I frequently refer to my grandson, Oscar, as Rufus, the name of his family’s Labrador, and vice versa. Neither of them seems to mind. I recently remembered very clearly from over forty years ago when I was taken by my then boss, Adrian, to lunch at his gentlemen’s club in London, the Reform.

He drew me aside outside the club before we entered and rightly suspecting that his young employee, from Hull no less, might not be well versed in the conventions and courtesies of clubland, gave me some advice. Once inside, he told me, it is likely that you will see some famous faces; it is important that you pretend not to notice them.

He was quite right, I recognised several faces, a rather dishevelled looking bishop and a cabinet minister among them, but I managed not to embarrass Adrian by gaping. It was a pleasant and productive lunch and his other guest, a rather dull fellow I thought, unloaded some useful commercial secrets. As we left, Adrian glanced into a side room and froze. “Ooh, look there” he cried in some excitement, “that’s Reginald Bosanquet!” And sure enough, it was.

Bosanquet, you may recall, was a news presenter on ITN News at Ten famous at the time for his genial manner, his flirty relationship with his co-presenter, the attractive Anna Ford and his ill-fitting wig, which moved about quite a bit during the news broadcast. And his drinking. On one notorious occasion the TV screens went black in the middle of the news and when service was resumed Anna Ford appeared alone to carry on without help from Reggie. It had been pretty obvious from the start that he was tipsy and someone in the studio had decided that enough was enough. Later, there occurred a similar incident involving another news reader who, as it happens, was an old boy of my school. My lips are sealed.

Subsequently I was frequently a guest at several gentlemen’s clubs and became familiar with the rules and conventions; for example, always wear a tie, never consult papers in the dining room and, crucially, on no account be a woman. I faithfully observed these requirements, especially the last one, although I never became a member of one of these clubs. None of my friends with membership, ever proposed me, presumably on the principle “you can take the boy out
of Hull, but you can’t take Hull out of the boy”.

However, I did eventually scrape into the Groucho Club, whose membership was open to women and “don’t knows” as well as men, but the membership committee members were harsh scrutineers. I passed through the system like you-know-what through a goose, the only occasion I passed anything first time except for my driving test.

Membership was theoretically confined to actors, publishers and writers, although eccentrics from other fields seemed to get in. It was (still is for all I know – I am no longer a member) a fine place for spotting celebs, although they were on the whole an unapproachable lot. The only time I touched the glitter was when I was given a digestive biscuit by Jonathan Ross, who claimed that I looked hung-over. He would know.