How Judi Dench and Siân Phillips just broke a 200-year tradition

Virgin Radio

3 Jul 2024, 10:09

Dame Judi Dench, Dame Siân Phillips

Credit: Rex / Getty

After nearly 200 years, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Siân Phillips have become the first women to join the exclusive Garrick Club. 

The controversial London private members club has barred women from joining since it began in 1831, but recently overturned that rule in May, where 60 percent of the members voted to start opening the doors to female members. 

Until now, women could only be allowed in if they were invited and accompanied by a man, but at the most recent general meeting, both Dench and Phillips officially joined the 1,500 members. 



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As reported in The Guardian, applause broke out during the announcement on Monday (1st July) when the Bond star and Dune actress were officially listed as members. 

The Garrick Club rules also stipulate that the process of nominating men or women takes between two to five years, leading to fears that the first women might not walk through the doors as members until 2026 at the earliest. 

However, both Dench and Phillips were fast-tracked under regulation 15, which means that “the general committee may in its discretion elect four members in each year in consideration of their public eminence or distinction”. Other women in prominent positions - including classicist Mary Beard and broadcaster Cathy Newman - were also considered for a speedy membership. 

The Garrick is named after actor David Garrick, and describes itself as a place where “actors and men of refinement and education might meet on equal terms.”

It’s not been an easy journey for women to be accepted into the Garrick Club, with Douglas is Cancelled actor Hugh Bonneville receiving major backlash within the institution for suggesting Dame Joanna Lumley should be able to join. 

The Garrick Club had its closely guarded membership list leaked by The Guardian in March, and that release started the pressure from the public to allow women through the doors for the first time. 

Those on the illustrious list included King Charles, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Brian Cox and Matthew Macfadyen. Simon Case, the Head of civil service, and MI6 chief Richard Moore both resigned after the membership list leaked. 

In order to become a member, Garrick hopefuls need to write their name in a leather-bound book, with other members then seconding your nomination. Two pages of signatures are needed to get you to the next stage. 

You then have to dine at the club before the nomination is considered by the committee, but there’s also a chance of being blacklisted if you find yourself on the wrong side of any members.