Britain's King Charles III speaks to actress Judi Dench, who has become one of the first female members of the Garrick Club
Britain's King Charles III speaks to actress Judi Dench, who has become one of the first female members of the Garrick Club AFP

Veteran actors Judi Dench and Sian Phillips have become the first woman members of London's esteemed Garrick Club after it voted in May to allow women to join, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

Founded in 1831 for actors and "men of refinement and education", the Garrick was one of the last such clubs not to allow women in, except as guests of men.

But following a bitter row, the club opened up its membership in May and fast-tracked the actors' applications during its annual general meeting on Monday, according to the Guardian.

Oscar-winner Dench, 89, is recognised as one of the UK's best ever actors, starring on stage and screen, notably as "M" in eight James Bond films.

Phillips, 91, is best known for her theatre work, and was nominated for a Tony Award and Olivier Award for her performance as Marlene Dietrich in "Marlene".

The club's membership is a closely guarded secret but is known to include leading figures from the civil service, the law, journalism, publicly funded institutions and the arts.

Several high-profile members had reportedly threatened to quit the club if the proposal to allow women was rejected.

In March, the head of Britain's spy service Richard Moore resigned after a list of the club's membership was made public for the first time.

Moore sent a message to MI6 employees acknowledging the reputational hit that news of his membership posed to the service -- in particular the risk of it undermining its work to attract more women to join MI6.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's most senior policy adviser, the civil service leader Simon Case, also quit his membership.

A petition launched in 2021 backing the admission of women attracted the support of Cherie Booth, a leading barrister, whose husband is former prime minister Tony Blair.

She recalled that in 1976 as a trainee lawyer she was left standing outside while her future husband was allowed in for dinner.

Organisers of the petition said the large number of judges and senior lawyers who were members deprived women of networking opportunities in a profession in which women were under-represented, particularly in the higher echelons.

The Garrick, located in Covent Garden in central London, offers members overnight accommodation, a restaurant, bars and a library.

Other high-profile figures reported to be members include "Sherlock" star Benedict Cumberbatch and senior minister Michael Gove.

An early member was Charles Dickens.