Working Men’s Club feature for http://www.independent.co.uk
Ray Von – the fluoro clad disc jockey in Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights – pumps out an old school 90s club mix to a crowd of bemused octogenarians as he urges them to step up to the decks with their song requests.
Elsewhere, a giant inflatable phallus acquired from an insalubrious Dutch festival is disguised as a children’s bouncy castle and renamed ‘Sammy The Snake’ and Jerry ‘The Saint’ St. Clair enters a state of herbal induced apoplexy during his weekly Free and Easy night. The anecdotes flow and the good times roll.
Set in a fictional working men’s club in Greater Manchester, Phoenix Nights parodied and immortalised a quintessentially British institution – following in the grand tradition of the sitcom – but at the same time championed the unwavering spirit of community woven tightly into the fabric of the working men’s club.
These not-for-profit private members’ clubs were built by Reverend Henry Solly in the late 19th century as a place for working men and their families to go to partake in educational, recreational and charitable pursuits.
The Working Men’s Club and Institute Union (WMCIU), established in 1862, celebrated its 150th anniversary this year and currently has 2,000 clubs – all with their own sets of rules – registered under The Friendly Societies Act, with over 3 million members.
The clubs still serve their original function but have evolved, to an extent, and thanks to the Equality Bill, women are now granted full membership status, as well as the opportunity to hold official positions (although the gender specific namesake is of course still palpably out of date).
But they have been in decline since the 1970s and have fallen on hard times in recent years as a result of the smoking ban and the proliferation of low-cost booze. Eighty clubs in total have been forced to shut down since the ban in 2007, but all over the country, dedicated groups and individuals are doing all they can to secure their future, casting their nets further and embracing diversity and new beginnings.
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