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They're Not All Meathead Wankers: In Defence of Britain's Battered Bouncers

They might not like your trainers, but the most hated people in British clubland could end up saving your life.

There are plenty of situations that lend themselves to making new friends. A street fight in which three men are trying to stamp your face in is not one of them.

However, it was that exact scenario that led to a friendship between Henry Pepperell and doorman Ashley Brown, who rescued the 23-year-old from an unprovoked attack in Cambridge last year. Ashley, 25, is one of scores of bouncers across the country who provide a helping hand to those in need every week, despite generally being thought of as meathead wankers by a large proportion of the population.


Henry said: "At the time, I was unconscious, and all three were stamping on me and kicking me in the head. Depending on how long they went on for, the worst thing that could have happened is that I could have died. It was just Ash and those three blokes, and he put himself in danger even though he'd just walked out of work. It's a good job he was there to help me."

It wasn't until the trial, which came about because Ashley chased down the culprits and handed them over to police (after providing first aid to Henry), that their friendship was born.

"The first time I met Ashley was in the court witness room, and they introduced him. After that we got each other on Facebook, and then we went to have a drink. He's a good lad. Not a bad bone his body. The whole experience has made me see doormen in a new light," Henry said.

Ashley Brown (left) and Henry Pepperell

Other examples of bouncer heroics abound. On the 16th of December last year, a Manchester doorman was stabbed in the face after leaving his post outside a cocktail bar to stop a woman being assaulted in the city's Northern Quarter. His manager said he was "a hero". Also in December, a court in Derby heard how a bouncer saved a man who had been stabbed in the neck by a broken-bottle-wielding maniac, despite having the tendons in his own hand slashed by the bottle.

The victim said the doorman "probably saved my life. If the bottle hadn't hit him on the hand then I probably wouldn't be here."


Ashley was lucky to be recognised for his efforts in the form of a commendation from the judge and a lack of serious injuries. But for decent door staff whose stories are not told in court, there are no door supervisor awards to publicly celebrate good practices and exceptional service – which aren't just limited to acts of bravery. Nor do examples of doormen risking their lives for others usually make it past local news reports and into the wider public consciousness. The Security Industry Authority (SIA), which regulates private security in Britain, acknowledges the problem and says it would support awards to recognise the achievements of door supervisors.

The situation needs changing, because right now the public perception of doormen is completely off, says Ashley: "People think we're typical arseholes who just want to fight everybody when we get the chance. It isn't like that. We're taking action for the sake of people's health and safety. People end up in hospital and we're trying to stop that.

"There really isn't enough recognition that doormen put themselves on the line for other people on a regular basis. There are some bad doormen out there, but there's a hell of a lot of decent doormen as well."

The thing is, for as many good examples of door work, there are just as many bad, and these often stick around in people's minds longer – especially if you've been on the receiving end. A modern bouncer is expected to look after a venue's customers rather than just keep them in line. Breaking up fights and preventing people in trainers entering establishments are the most obvious duties for security. However, since most customers wear the right shoes and avoid brawls, it's the duty of care displayed by a doorman that will be remembered by most.


In 2013, Channel Four aired Bouncers, a three-part documentary series following the exploits of doormen in Sunderland and Tyneside. It featured 44-year-old Shaun Scullion and 25-year-old Ben Taylor on the door of a pub called The Quay in Blythe. I was sickened when the pair dragged an obviously dead drunk man out of the bar, held him up and told him to "start walking home". They watched helplessly as the man stumbled a few paces, fell face first into the road and smashed his eye socket to bits.

After the ambulance had been called, Shaun told the camera crew that "if we weren't here helping him, he'd be snookered, really".

I rang Brighton doorman Kenny Rogers, 27 – who is described as "ideal" by his bar manager at the Queen's Arms and spoken highly of by the customers there – and asked him what he would do in the same situation.

He told me: "If somebody was paralytic I would get them out the venue and sit them down outside with a glass of water and go from there. If someone does get into a vulnerable situation, I make sure there's someone to help make sure they get home safely. Either use their mobile to call their friends or get in touch with the Brighton Safe Zone volunteers who look after people too drunk to look after themselves."

Kenny says part of his job is to look after people "who might be vulnerable". The most important aspect of door work, he says, is "how you talk to people and keeping an eye on body language. You go in, work out the situation as best you can and talk to people. Sometimes it's not possible."


Despite working in an LGBT-friendly venue, Kenny says it doesn't preclude a responsibility for keeping an eye on male customers sleazing on women.

He said: "Lots of straight girls go to gay venues to get away from sleazy men, but you've still got to be a bit vigilant. It's striking a happy medium between people being left alone to have a good time and knowing when somebody is uncomfortable."


That sentiment was echoed by 26-year-old Alex O'Mahoney, who was at a club in Chester last year when she started getting hit on by a guy in suit.

Alex said: "There was a guy in his late forties who clearly had a lot of money. He had an expensive suit, everyone seemed to know who he was and he buying all sorts of people drinks. He wouldn't leave me alone and it seemed to me like he was on drugs. He was following me and getting very touchy-feely, and I was terribly uncomfortable."

Just as she was about to leave, the doorman did something unexpected.

"He came over and said he was my boyfriend. The guy completely backed off," she told me. "It was a probably a difficult situation for the doorman. I think he would have been in trouble with the bar manager if he'd just asked the guy to leave me alone, because he was spending loads of money. It was a really good way to deal with it, because it stopped any need for aggression or awkwardness. I was relieved and it make me feel safe knowing someone was looking out for me."


There is an SIA "Approved Contractor Scheme" that promotes companies who encourage best working practices in the security industry, but publicised examples of individuals and teams who have their shit together are harder to come by. The SIA was set up in 2003 in part to regulate a market that, in many cases, operates through the law of the jungle; well-meaning bouncers just trying to earn a crust can be as vulnerable to that system as anyone else. Door supervisors must have a clean criminal record and undergo training before they are licensed by the SIA to work, yet many men and women providing a valuable front-line service are still stigmatised as dodgy thugs.

SIA spokesman Robert Buxton said that, while there are awards for other parts of the security industry, the proliferation of freelance and fragmentary agency work within door supervision is one of the reasons there isn't an awards ceremony for bouncers. Although it's impossible to state that door supervision will ever be a completely "clean industry", championing best working practices and outstanding conduct would raise morals and encourage better standards.

Best of all, it might prevent the odd drunken punter from needlessly being a twat to the boys and girls in black.


More stories about bouncing:

A London Nightclub Bouncer Explains Himself

Strip Club Bouncers Have Feelings Too