Mike Armitage had been introduced to Rob Martin of Scottish & Newcastle Breweries who was meeting Joe Doyle, an M&E consultant. The three met at 12.30pm in the Argyll pub, Argyll Street, London on a Friday in February 1997, which history now records as the first meeting of what eventually has become affectionately known, worldwide, as The Doyle Club.
As they left after the first meeting, they all agreed; We must do this again; and bring someone else along too. The next meeting took place a couple of months later. Joe brought his business partner John Burke, and Rob Martin invited Richard Boardman of Balfour Beatty fame. Thereafter, more regular visits were made to the Argyll pub and more and more guests, all involved in property and construction related businesses, were introduced. Along with Mike Armitage, Joe Doyle, Rob Martin and Richard Boardman, the founder members included Steve Cole, Roger Howson, Ian Abley, Steve Rayner, Kevin Smith, Ritchie Clapson, John Burke, Andrew Pidgeon, Geoffrey Fox, John Towers and Tim Kier. There were probably some others too! But the mists of time (and mists produced by liberal imbibing as well) have clouded the recollections
As membership continued to increase it was decided to regularise the days of the meetings. For convenience, the first Thursday of the month rule was established. The name of the club was cast in stone as The Argyll Club, although this was occasionally shortened to The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Underwater Formation Drinking Club. However, this was considered a waste of breath and too difficult to say after a couple of pints. Regulation food of salt beef sandwiches was also introduced.
With the rapid growth, Club rules had to be introduced. One month Members were required to wear something yellow. Most were very bad on that one. Another rule was that male members had to bring a lady guest to the meetings. This should have been easy but people either forgot or had far more sinister motives. Another rule that still stands to this day is that you can only make a mobile telephone call to your sister during meetings. This arose when Kevin Smith was caught speaking animatedly to someone on his mobile phone. His explanation raised him to excellence beyond anyone’s wildest dreams with the mildest of excuses;
Eh? … I’m talking to my sister!
Sadly, Joe Doyle died from cancer, which left members and friends alike feeling pretty fed up with such sad news. Joe had been ill for some time but being the fighter he was, he kept the grim reaper at bay for a long, long time.
In 2001 a huge Christmas meeting was organised by Mike Armitage on David Berry’s fishing boat, Choice which was moored in Docklands. This was going to be a big success. Just as Mike was welcoming everyone on board with a rare and fumbling (even slurring by some accounts) appearance as host, Rob Martin stepped up, right in the middle of Mike’s oration and suggested that the name should be changed, in honour of Joe, from The Argyll to The Doyle Club.
It was the defining moment and agreed on the spot.
Subsequently it was decided that the Doyle Club should be formalised even further. With everyone’s agreement it was decided to meet on the same day, the first Thursday of the month but in Balls Brothers, Ryder Street. Everyone attending was charged £20 for a kitty to cover everything. Frankly, this just didn’t work. The money proved difficult to collect; particularly from late arrivals! As a consequence, it was decided to get everyone there via email communication and for members to pay for themselves at the bar. Brad Bamfield’s first meeting was early in 2003 but nobody took any notice or remembers it.
With ever increasing business commitments and at a time when he was having trouble with his drains, Mike Armitage took a step back from administering the Club. In the summer of 2005, with Mike’s blessing, Trevor Howard volunteered and nominated himself Chairman, no democracy even then..
Then in October 2005, Trevor moved The Doyle Club to a new City location, with a private room that could hold about 30 members where we met for the next 7 years.
Since then, numerous companies and individuals have magnanimously supported The Doyle Club by willingly and generously sponsoring the meetings to enable light refreshments to be available during lunchtime. This, along with assistance and support from Brad Bamfield, who unilaterally assumed the role of Vice Chairman in early 2006, has seen The Doyle Club firmly established as the premier networking forum for those connected with construction, development and property, growing to over 1,100 members by 2010. Fortunately they all don’t come to all the meetings but we regularly attracted 120 to 130 members and guests which meant we filled the private room and took over the whole bar. Unfortunately the air-conditioning could never cope with our numbers and it seemed we always had maximum attendance on the warmest days. That meant the consumption of cooling beverages increased exponentially and clothing became soggy.
Sometime between 2009 and 2010, no one can actually recall, Brad introduced the Doyle Club web site and it soon became the key information route for members. Then we added the LinkedIn Doyle Group shortly followed by Twitter.
In August 2012 there was a seismic upheaval in the calm waters of Trevor and Brad’s running of the Doyle Club. In a putsch reminiscent of the Soviet era Brad decided to reorganise the Doyle Club.
Trevor was transitioned into President, Brad assumed the Chairman’s role and then appointed Mark Lye and Tim Farmer as Joint Vice Chairmen to assist him in the numerous tasks involved in running the most successful and talked about, premier London network (which by now we had become).
However, as much as Brad tried to drag the Doyle Club into the 21st century he still maintained the years old tradition of no consultation, no election and no warning. Construction has always been a very male business but since we started the Doyle Club we have been proud that ladies have been members and that we have so many of them and that they give as good as they get. However, Brad in his modernisation plan could see the the committee had a bit of an older male bias – well lets be honest it was 100% male and getting longer in the tooth every year.
So once again Brad used the tried and tested Doyle management methods and Gwen Gordon was duly elected to Vice Chairman with the unanimous support of Mark and Tim once they had been told about the result of the election. This was a magnificent initiative by Brad and one that was warmly welcomed by the members when he announced it at the following meeting.
The final stunning move of 2012 was to transfer the Doyle Club to a new larger home, as with 130 members attending each meeting we had outgrown the venue that had done us proud for over 7 years. The new venue just 800m from the old location holds 300+ people, has proper air-conditioning (who would not welcome that when we remember the hottest summer meetings), a large screen for presentations and a stage with a pa (which of course Brad thinks is his alone).
The first meeting at the new venue attracted 325 members and was a stunning success and the meetings since have all been around the 250 to 300 mark. The video on our home page here shows just how popular we are. If this increasing attendance continues we will need to move again.
By early 2013 we had 1,400 members and 11 members in our fine art division (yes I know but who said Doyle was a normal club). Brad then exercised his ultimate authority and elected Debbie and Derry as additional Vice Chairmen.
By 2014 the old web site was creaking and falling over all the time and in April 2014 the new web site was launched along with the fabulous Members Directory and the stunning Market Place. Brad was heard to compare these developments to the changes Henry VIII made to England’s structure in 1540.
By early 2016 membership had risen to 2,800 and sometimes the new venue is nearly full however, we were back to just 2 VCs old old stagers Mark and Tim. Brad then exercised executive rights again and invited Mireille Bernadac to become a VC just before the EU Referendum – which shows the Doyle commitment to the free market.
We have transitioned again from sandwiches to bowl food lunches including thai curry and mini fish and chips. Brad is often quoted as saying “who ever said there is no such thing as a free lunch?” There is with Doyle.
Well Brad the ‘there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch‘ version of the phrase is often reduced to the acronym TANSTAAFL. This is widely associated with the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein (co-incidentally Brad’s favourite author alongside David Webber) in his 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but the origin of the acronym pre-dates that by at least a quarter of a century. The earliest citation for tanstaafl is in October 1949 in a US newspaper article.
With lockdown in 2020 and the subsequent disruption the Doyle Club was unable to hold any meetings and once allowed to restart we had to change the structure with a new venue, we found it impossible to find sponsors and so had to introduce a membership fee after 26 years of free membership. We also reluctantly had to discontinue the free lunches as the sponsorship dried up.
January 2023 saw us relaunch under the new structure and while the membership dropped to under 300 the attendance at meetings held up at around 80 and as they say its not the quantity it’s the quality that counts. The meetings went from strength to strength with excellent meetings.
The Doyle Club always has been and always will be – as long as Brad and Mark have a stranglehold on the management, a club dedicated to networking amongst professionals who have become friends with business following along.
We are relaxed and informal, and that is the way we like it. However; the spirit and camaraderie of The Doyle Club remains priceless.