Break out the brandy as adland enters 20th century
A view from Jeremy Lee

Break out the brandy as adland enters 20th century

As advertising milestones go, the Solus Club's decision to finally admit women might appear a relatively minor one.

But, for some readers, it not only heals a sore but shows that one of the last emblems of the gender divide has finally been brought kicking and screaming into somewhere between the early and mid-20th century.

It is to the credit of Don Thomson, the president of the club, that he pushed through his reforms and got 90 per cent of members to agree to the change where others had failed. But it is still surprising that this debate was taking place in 2013 in the first place – something that many at the club acknowledge as embarrassing.

The last vote led to a schism a decade ago, with the ridiculousness that Christine Walker – one of the most high-profile women (as well as one of the most fun people) the industry has ever produced – would have been automatically blackballed because of her gender. Several members, including Martin Bowley, Jim Hytner and David Kershaw, had already walked out and formed their own club, Blakes 7, precisely because of this.

At the time of the 2003 vote, Solus prided itself on retaining some of the trappings of the old gentlemen’s club system as an excuse for its male-only status. However, as was also pointed out then, the truly traditional gentlemen’s clubs, such as White’s and Boodle’s, were not places for those who work "in trade", whatever their gender.

The Solus Club has been keen to dispel the image of old men sat in a fug of cigar smoke and sharing off-colour jokes

The Solus Club of today is rather different to the one of yesteryear, so Thomson would have us believe. It has been keen to dispel the image of old men sat in a fug of cigar smoke, swilling brandy and sharing slightly off-colour jokes – indeed, the nature of chronology means that these days would inevitably come to an end.

For its president, the club is more about friendship and camaraderie than who the "good old boys" are, so the issue of gender had become effectively redundant. And if it was absurd when Walker was in her pomp, it has become indefensible since then given how many women are in senior management positions in agencies, media owners and client companies.

Quite how many women will want to join is open to question. In these pages, Camilla Harrisson, the newly appointed chief executive of M&C Saatchi, credits Wacl with giving her the confidence to climb the career ladder – it’s unlikely that Solus will fulfil the same emotional need.

But far from being emasculated, the club and its members have at least shown its relevance. The fact that it will continue to meet in the Orchid Room at The Dorchester ("orchid" being derived from the Ancient Greek word for testicle) is now merely a quirky footnote in its history.

jeremy.lee@haymarket.com
@jezzalee

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