There are times while reading Behind Closed Doors: The Secret Life Of London’s Private Members’ Clubs that you’ll feel like reporting the title to the Trade Descriptions Act. Author Seth Alexander Thévoz is a wonderful, impressively well-informed tour guide, leading you past the heavily guarded Porter’s Lodge into the vaulted halls of clubland.
Starting with the formation of White’s in 1693 and meticulously recounting the highs and lows of private members’ clubs up to the present day, the book would be better off styling itself as a comprehensive official history than a daring exposé. There’s often the frustrating sense that the juiciest secrets remain untold, and that the closed doors have been prised ajar rather than blown wide open.
That said, the anecdotes that pepper the narrative are worth waiting for. Tales of trysts in alcoves, scammers posing as nobility and the long-held custom of shoving members who pass away onsite into the nearest available cupboard light up the page and grow more frequent as the book goes on. A galaxy of stars make an appearance, too – from Wilde to Wodehouse, to a genuinely hilarious encounter involving David Niven and Ian Fleming that will leave Bond fans shaken (not stirred).
Behind Closed Doors: The Secret Life Of London’s Private Members’ Clubs, Seth Alexander Thévoz (Robinson)
Price: £25. Info: here
words RACHEL REES
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