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Hail Britannia! : Jolly Good Club in Garden Grove Offers a Bit of the Motherland in the Southland

February 26, 1988|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

It's a slice of the United Kingdom, a bit of jolly old England in our own back yard.

It's the British and Dominion Social Club, population 250. On a good night.

Sunday is usually a good night.

The 5,000-square-foot club, tucked away in the southeast corner of Bridgecreek Business Park in Garden Grove, is open from 4 in the afternoon until 2 in the morning Monday through Saturday.

But on Sundays it opens at noon and closes when "there's nobody here," usually about midnight.

"There's always a crowd on Sunday nights," promised Portsmouth, England-born charter member Ed Miles of Yorba Linda. "A lot of people play cricket, soccer and rugby in the afternoon and then come by for a spot on the way home, just like a pub back home."

To gain admittance to Orange County's largest private British social club, dues-paying members insert a plastic membership card into a slot next to the front door. All others must press a buzzer and state their business.

At 4:30 p.m., the club was just beginning to fill up, but it looked as though it would be a typically busy Sunday evening, particularly when the tour bus to Las Vegas returned to the club at 6.

By then guitarist Gene McEwen would be on stage singing, and the cavernous club would be abuzz with all manner of British accents and Scottish burrs, some as thick as the haze of cigar and cigarette smoke settling over the bar.

For now, it was rather quiet, a bit like a Sunday afternoon in the park.

In the red-carpeted bar area, several members were playing pool. Three of the six dart boards were in use. The big-screen TV was tuned to a basketball game. And club president Matt Dennett, manager of the Downey Savings & Loan branch in Los Alamitos, was busy at his post behind the bar.

Seated at a table next to the empty 3,000-square-foot dance floor were Miles, his wife, Sally, and Miles' visiting sister-in-law, Joan Miles, who lives on Hayling Island near Portsmouth.

"You should have been here last night," said Sally Miles, eyeing the empty dance floor that had been packed for the Saturday night dance.

"Some of the younger rock bands are nervous the first time they play the club," said Ed Miles, ruddy-faced and dapper with a trim mustache and a sport coat with an open-necked white shirt. "They see some old people here and say, 'What the hell you going to play for those people?' "

That is not to say all of the 930 members of the 25-year-old club are old enough to remember buzz bombs over London or to have heard the reassuring words of Winston Churchill over the BBC. It is also not to say that the older members

don't enjoy rock music--or at least, amends Miles, soft rock music.

"Sometimes when we have a major event here, the place is jumping," said Miles, recalling performances by the Ink Spots, Al Wilson, the Drifters and the Coasters. Indeed, those are the times when attendance swells beyond "a good night" at the club to more than 300.

This weekend, there may be barely enough room for members to squeeze in.

The club has extended a formal invitation, through the British consulate in Los Angeles, to the 250 crewmen of the Britannia to come down to the club.

The 412-foot-long ship, bearing the Duke and Duchess of York to Los Angeles for "U.K.-L.A.--A Celebration of British Arts," is sheduled to arrive at Long Beach Naval Station this morning.

The club, however, has not extended an invitation to Prince Andrew and Fergie. Club vice president Marjorie McNaughton, who had joined the Mileses at their table, grinned at the thought of inviting the Duke and Duchess down for a complimentary stout or two: "Maybe we should go a little higher with our ideals, go to the top!"

If the crew of the royal yacht accepts the club's invitation, it won't be a first. During the two-month Falkland Islands War in 1982, sailors on the Active, a British warship, dropped by for drinks.

During the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles when the club raised more than $6,000 for the British Olympic Assn., Australian cycling gold medal winner Kevin Nichols spent 90 minutes at the club signing autographs. Sir Stanley Matthews, "one of the greatest wingers in soccer," also came by once to make a presentation to the club's soccer team.

It is not hard to guess the appeal of this suburban British outpost.

"It brings the British together, real cozy," said Miles, a certified public accountant, taking a sip from his screwdriver, a drink he says is unknown to most bartenders in England ("You have to say, 'orange juice and vodka' ").

"Don't forget the Canadians as well," said Canadian-born McNaughton.

"They come because they enjoy being here. It's like old England," said Sally Miles, laughing: "But I'm Italian!"

The Mileses, who came to the United States in 1957, have been with the club since it was founded in 1962. In fact, they hold membership card numbers 1 and 2.

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