Secrets of a Brighton nightclub bouncer

Confessions of a nightclub bouncer Title Sussex Magazine

An inside look at one of the city’s most notorious and difficult industries. Ben Marshall shares some of the tricks of the security trade with us…

You didn’t use to need any training to work in the security industry. Everyone from night-watchmen through store detectives, wheel-clampers and private eyes to nightclub bouncers and bodyguards had only one qualification; they looked like they could handle themselves. Which in basic terms means looking like you are good at violence.

This meant that the industry attracted a disproportionate amount of brutal, brutalised men, of whom a small but significant percentage were psychopaths. Men who were otherwise unable to find any work could always earn decent cash intimidating and hurting members of the general public. Bouncing was pretty much synonymous with thuggery and gangsterism.

Men who were otherwise unable to find any work could always earn decent cash intimidating and hurting members of the general public

The three men, Tony Tucker, Patrick Tate and Craig Rolfe, who were murdered in Essex in 1995 were all bouncers. Or rather they were drug dealers who used their control of nightclub doors to sell MDMA and cocaine. It was their drugs that killed the young Leah Betts.

Carlton Leach, the sole remaining member of their gang (now known as the Essex Boys) is a notorious football hooligan, who boasts that while working in security, doing doors and debt collecting in Essex, he was happy to use the most grotesque forms of torture. Including crucifixion.

The serial killer and rapist Levi Bellfield was also a wheel-clamper and bouncer. He used both jobs to pick his victims. It would not be unreasonable to say that the private security industry in the UK was an unseemly, utterly unregulated, but completely legal form of racketeering. People nominally involved in the security of the general public were actually more like shake-down artists and protection men. At the turn of the last century the situation had become so intolerable that Labour brought in a strict licensing policy.

In 2001 they passed the Private Security Industry Act and established the Security Industry Authority (SIA), a non-departmental body charged with overseeing and granting licences to anyone who wants to work in private security. Almost overnight the worst criminals and thugs were pushed out. Bouncers, officially known as Door Supervisors or occasionally by the acronym SIAs, are now trained in the law governing self-defence and reasonable force, and have also to be au fait with sexual, racial and religious discrimination.

I got my badge two years ago and was genuinely surprised by how much time the trainer spent familiarising the class with the Human Rights Act and duty of care. Of course, rather like learning to drive only really teaches you how to pass your driving test, training to be a bouncer only teaches you to pass the Home Office exam. The real training comes on working actual doors.

What I have learnt controlling violence in pubs and clubs in the South East has taught me a good deal about how to avoid confrontation in real life. We could all learn a bit from this…

In Gavin de Becker’s excellent book The Gift of Fear the author tells us to trust our instincts. De Becker, who works for the US government advising on security assessing threats, contends that fear is good. He points out that millions of years of evolution has armed us with primal senses that allow us to predict the possibility of violence. So if you walk into a pub and it doesn’t feel right, or the guy attempting to buy you a drink seems a bit creepy, trust those feelings and remove yourself from the situation. I have stopped quite a few people from coming into pubs simply because I felt there was something wrong about them.

If you walk into a pub and it doesn’t feel right, or the guy attempting to buy you a drink seems a bit creepy, trust those feelings

The single biggest cause of violence in pubs and nightclubs is embarrassment. If someone feels humiliated they are very likely to lash out. As bouncers we are governed by the Human Rights Act, which says that everyone has a right to personal dignity. This may sound like a rather vague idea, but it works because we try our best not to embarrass or otherwise undermine people. By the way, this also works very well when arguing with a partner or family member. Don’t belittle. That way lies madness.

Most people do not enjoy confrontation. However, if they feel trapped they will try to fight their way out. When I am refusing someone entry to a club I try to do so by offering alternatives. If someone is dangerously drunk, I will simply tell them the club is full, but that we would love to see them back the following night. Nearly everyone wants an honourable way out. Give it to them, and they will take it.

If a man is overdressed, or dressed too expensively they are likely to be trouble. Most single young men go to clubs not to dance, but to meet young women. The peacocks, in their cheap gold jewellery and fake Armani Jeans, are out to make a big impression. Nothing essentially wrong with that, but as the night wears on they will become pushier and pushier, which invariably results in either embarrassment for them or embarrassment for someone else (normally another peacock) which often ends in violence.

Vulnerable Female bodyguards on Title Sussex

A very drunk girl attempting to negotiate city streets late at night is about as vulnerable as it gets

One of the hardest things to deal with as a bouncer is a single drunken female. We try and find the people she arrived with and make sure they are looking after her. If however she is on her own we now have quite a knotty problem. We cannot throw her out of the club on the grounds that we have a duty of care. And a very drunk girl attempting to negotiate city streets late at night is about as vulnerable as it gets. We can try to call her a cab (reputable clubs will always pay for a taxi to get a vulnerable person home, this is less to do with generosity and more to do with a fear of losing their licence). But if she refuses a cab then it is our duty to keep an eye on her. Nowadays with more and more women being employed as security in clubs this job is slightly easier. But my personal advice to women is always go out with friends. And always make sure they’re nearby.

Seriously, smile at people. As doormen we are taught to do that. Smiling, being friendly and good humoured; these are genuinely disarming tactics. Our principle job is to de-escalate violence, and smiling is an easy way. If you smile too your whole evening will improve. You may even discover that we are not the monsters of yore.


About Ben Marshall
Ben Marshall is a journalist and writer whose back catalogue sits in the Melody Maker, Loaded, GQ, Golf Punk, The Guardian, The Evening Standard, Marie Claire, Red, Rolling Stone, and Men's Health amongst others. He works part time as a bouncer and boxing instructor. Violence is not something Ben enjoys. He just happens to be good at it.