Groucho Club: Well done to owners of famous club for showing why it's not so grim up North - Christa Ackroyd

The first time I officially joined a club I was seven years old and very excited.

Becoming a member of the Sooty Club was to be in with the in crowd. Firstly, Sooty was always more than a glove puppet to me.

He was from Bradford, even though years later I would learn he was actually bought by Harry Corbett on the seafront in Blackpool. I, of course, forgave him his Lancashire roots. He is, after all, Sooty.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Oh and another interesting fact … did you know Harry’s uncle was another famous Bradford entrepreneur with the same first name, Harry Ramsden? No I didn’t either until I was looking for more information about his puppeteering cohort.

Bretton Hall in West YorkshireBretton Hall in West Yorkshire
Bretton Hall in West Yorkshire

I remember going there too with its gloved waitresses and its gleaming chandeliers when you had to queue out the door for at least an hour for a table, but only on special occasions, high days and holidays.

Otherwise it was a bag of chips with scraps after swimming club, the second club I formally joined, and don’t tell me they were bits – they were scraps in Bradford. Just as a teacake to put your chips in was not a bread cake and one with fruit in was a currant teacake.

But I digress. I wanted to be part of the Sooty club because Sooty was the television star of his day, not that even he was immune from controversy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It still makes me smile that the introduction of his girlfriend Soo caused a right rumpus when it was deemed entirely inappropriate to even to hint that a character in a children’s television programme should have a love interest.

But Sooty was a legend. To be in his club was literally a badge of honour. And as they say we revert to our childhood over time, he still makes me laugh.

Of course over the years I joined a number of other clubs. The aptly named Bradford Dolphins was my swimming club which I still blame for my broad shoulders. And of course no teenager growing up in the seventies didn’t attend the local youth club.

Down the road from me was the world famous Idle Working Men’s club, though it was in my day deemed far too blokey to ever go there. In fact there was it seemed to be a club on every street corner of my childhood, be it the Con Club, the Liberal club, the Irish club, the Polish Club and many more.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Later in my teenage years The Batley Variety Club was where dad took mum to see their all time favourites Morecambe and Wise and where I saw among others Shirley Bassey and the Bee Gees complete with scampi or chicken in a basket. Oh how sophisticated it all seemed. They even sold champagne.

A few miles away down the road at the Wakefield Theatre club equally huge stars including Michael Jackson, Danny La Rue and Cilla performed for us and for Royalty (Princess Margaret was the guest) to sell out crowds packing the 1,200 seater plush velvet auditorium.

And of course the hundreds of northern working men’s clubs saw the very best talent cut their teeth on their notoriously tough audiences. Just as brass bands had their own clubs as did the miners in the south of our glorious county.

Of course as I grew up I became aware of the patriarchy of many clubs, where quite frankly you would have had to drag me in even if I was actually allowed to be there, so ridiculously sexist were their policies.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Men only bars, men only voting rights and ‘special rooms’ for the ladies abounded in many a golf club or members clubs which is probably why so many of them went to the wall or at least struggled to survive. And I am glad they did too. There was no Sooty without Soo.

It took more than three decades of debate before the MCC, the home of cricket, would allow women to join them. But even dinosaurs realise that to deny half the population risks extinction.

And in the next few weeks the poshest of the posh, the Garrick club in London, is finally is to be to be brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century as they allow women inside their hallowed halls as full members. Bally for them.

It is this deliberate misogyny which has meant that apart from Sooty I, like many women, have always had a take it or leave it attitude when it come to ‘clubs’.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In other words if you won’t take me and others of my gender into your ranks unless you are forced to by either law or by finances I’ll leave it thank you very much.

And so the news that one of London’s poshest clubs is branching out in Yorkshire almost passed me by.

My immediate reaction when the Groucho Club announced it’s coming to Wakefield was why? Even the Guardian headline was a little dismissive with the writer adding the words “of all places”. And then it came to me. And why not?

Firstly at around a thousand pounds a year I won’t be joining. Not that I have anything against the Groucho club.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

At least when they formed forty years ago they did so with men and women allowed equal joining rights. No it is their recognition that the North is every bit as good as the south that has won my support.

Firstly, they plan on developing the incredible building that was the former Bretton Hall arts and education college in the grounds of the jewel that is the Yorkshire Sculpture park. Plans for a 60 bedroom five star hotel are to be welcomed.

If Yorkshire is to be seen as the best then why not offer the best? We deserve it and so do our visitors. But it is their plan for arts, culture and musical offerings that interests me the most. How can they not add to the rich tapestry which already exists here?

And let’s not forget that it is almost 50 years ago that there were many who raised an eyebrow when the sculpture park was opened, and that continues to attract more than 350,000 visitors a year.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Hepworth Museum in Wakefield is a joy and I even admire its grey concrete brutalist structure which dominates its riverside location as much as its inspirational content.

So bravo the Groucho club. Bravo to its chief executive who recognises Yorkshire’s wide and varied demographic and laughs at the suggestion that they should have gone to America first. So if he has chosen West Yorkshire above West side New York he’ll do for me.

Of course it will never be the Sooty Club for me, but a growing recognition that we in Yorkshire have a capacity and an aspiration for the arts and always have had is spot on. This year the old Odeon cinema in Bradford reopens.

Opera North and Northern Ballet are well established as being top of their tree and work is already underway to establish the National Poetry Centre in Leeds under the patronage of our very own Yorkshire born Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.

When it comes to the arts it has never been grim up North. I applaud the fact that at last everyone else seems to finally agree.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.