LONDON — The English upper classes, who like to think they set a good example, have a wild side that Americans rarely glimpse, or even suspect.
The doubtful may confirm this with a glance through the champagne-soaked party pages of the cheeky Tatler magazine, or with a visit to the even cheekier School Dinners Club.
At this campy London club, members check their dignity at the door and happily romp back into the adolescence they spent–or wish they had spent–at one of the posh private schools the English call “public.“
That these schools, along with an excellent education, are known for cold quarters, miserable food and assorted humiliations at the hands of older“boys“ and masters is apparently of little consequence. Survivors tend to remember these as the best years of their lives.
The School Dinners Club understands this perfectly and obliges. Members are greeted by a headmaster/maitre d`, dressed in a black academic gown and mortarboard, who patrols the dining room, occasionally “caning“ errant“boys“ who fail to raise their hands before leaving the table or neglect to eat their “greens and veggies.“
Indeed, once across its threshold, all 4,500 of the club`s scattered members, no matter how tender or tottering, are “boys“ again. Although there are some female members, the club caters primarily to men, who pay for this retreat into their salad days with an annual membership fee of 45 pounds (about $56), or 5 pounds (about $6.25) for a temporary overseas membership.
Dinners, from the traditional school dinner fare (roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and lumpy mashed potatoes awash in gravy) to more sophisticated Continental cuisine (Mediterranean prawns “whacked onto the grill–very stimulating“), cost from about $6.25 to $10.50.
The club was founded in 1981 by a young Englishman named Peter Byfield, who re-created the atmosphere and food of a typical public school dining room and went it one better. “He thought how nice it would be to be served by every chap`s fantasy: schoolgirls, you know, Belles of St. Trinian`s,“ said David de Mountfalcon, the club`s managing director.
Thus, assisting the headmaster is a bevy of curvy, tart-tongued School Dinnergirls outfitted in naughtily modified school uniforms: white shirt, rep tie, pleated navy miniskirt, black stockings, garters and spike heels. At the Baker Street club, the complement is filled out by Peepee, an exquisitely pretty, sassy young man in hot pants with the kind of male legs one sees only in the chorus line of “La Cage Aux Folles.“
The result, a peculiar cross between Eton and “Animal House,“ has been so successful that the club now occupies two premises. One is in the City, London`s central business hub, which does a lively lunchtime business in its stained-glass, 14th-Century digs. The other, on Baker Street, off Portman Square near Marble Arch, packs them in for dinner in its 60-seat dining room. “We have two main rules, really,“ said de Mountfalcon, a rather donnish young man with curly hair and steel-rimmed spectacles and who played the headmaster at the Baker Street club on a recent evening.
“The first is that members should be courteous to the girls–no manhandling. The second is that we don`t allow the throwing of food. When I get parties of public school boys in here, all they want to do is throw food, but we`re very strict on that,“ he said. Quite.