‘in the pudding club’: meaning and origin

The informal British- and Irish-English phrase in the pudding club means pregnant, i.e., carrying a foetus or foetuses within the womb.

According to Robert Allen in Dictionary of English Phrases (Penguin Books, 2008):

The origin of the phrase lies most likely in the bulging puddinglike appearance of a pregnant woman.

Indeed, the following phrases meaning to be pregnant are based on similar images:
– In English: to have a bun in the oven;
– In French: avoir un polichinelle dans le tiroir, to have a Punchinello in the drawer, and avoir un polichinelle sous le tablier, to have a Punchinello under the apron. These French phrases might refer to Punchinello’s paunch or to the common origin of the name Polichinelle and of the noun poussin, which is post-classical Latin pullicenus, meaning chick.
—Cf. ‘proud as a louse’ and other linguistic notes on ‘Punchinello’.

The earliest occurrence of the phrase in the pudding club is from A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant: Embracing English, American, and Anglo-Indian Slang, Pidgin English, Tinkers’ Jargon and Other Irregular Phraseology (Edinburgh: The Ballantyne Press, 1889), by Albert Barrère and Charles Godfrey Leland:

Pudding club (popular), a woman in the family way is said to be in the pudding club.

Although first recorded in 1890, the phrase in the pudding club only reappears in print in The Gilt Kid (Jonathan Cape – London, 1936), a novel set in London, particularly in the underworld of Soho, by the British author James Curtis (born Geoffrey Basil Maiden – 1907-77):

She tried to smile. It made him feel a bit funny to see that her blue eyes were wet with tears. He didn’t want to be soft, but damn it, it kind of got a fellow to see a young jane like this kid on the ribs.
‘Thank you very much,’ she said at last, and as she spoke, he noticed from her accent that she was not a London kiddy. ‘I don’t know why you should do this for me.’ He felt embarrassed.
‘Oh, leave that part out,’ he said. ‘All I ask is that you don’t tell me that you’re a clergyman’s daughter or that you were put in the pudden club by the squire’s son.’

The following from the Daily Mirror (London, England) of Wednesday 4th March 1970 most probably alludes to the phrase:

Joan, of Worksop, Notts, writes:
Whilst doing a bit of cleaning upstairs the other day, my husband called out that a letter had arrived for me. He couldn’t wait for me to come down, so he opened it. The next thing he shouted was: “It’s all right, it’s only a card to say you’re a member of the Daily Mirror Pudding Club.”
He had lost his glasses a week ago.
In fact, the letter was from the Daily Mirror Punters’ Club.
► Bet that shook you for a minute! Always did think our old mate Noel Whitcomb * was a bit of a dark horse!

* Noel Whitcomb (1918-1993) was a British journalist; he founded the Daily Mirror Punters’ Club, aimed at democratising horse racing.

The phrase occurs in the review of The Bandwagon, a comedy by the British playwright, actor, director and producer Terence Frisby (1932-2020), produced at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry—review published in the Coventry Evening Telegraph (Coventry, Warwickshire, England) of Wednesday 17th June 1970:

This is an uproarious comedy based on the modern situation of a newspaper paying thousands of pounds for exclusive rights to news about a multiple birth.
Aurora Botterill is expecting quins. Press and television prick up their ears at the news, but they find that Aurora is no ordinary expectant mum.
[…]
At times the jokes do seem unnecessarily contrived: For example, we are told that the soldier-father of the quins is in the Catering Corps, just so that someone can crack a line about a catering man putting a girl in the pudding club.

The following is from the review of The Man Who Had Power Over Women (1970), a British comedy film directed by John Krish (1923-2016)—review published in the Evening Chronicle (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland, England) of Friday 30th October 1970:

At the recording studio, a young girl turns up claiming that the pop idol has put her in the pudding club.
Heads are put together and it is decided that she should have a cut-rate abortion so as not to sully the pop star’s good name.
For £200 she is fixed up with a back-street abortionist, this part did not ring true at all, and eventually dies in a cinema—very symbolic.

The phrase has been shortened to in the club—as in Apple Pie, by the Scottish poet Liz Lochhead (born 1947), published in True Confessions & New Cliches (Edinburgh: Polygon Books, 1985):

Apple Pie
When you’ve a bun in the oven
Everything is apple pie
Men on buses give up seats for you
And don’t give you the eye.
A man will tip his hat to you
But never nip your bum.
Even your ma-in-law will grovel
With total approval
At the contents of your tum.
Yes, when you’ve a bun in the oven
Everything is apple pie.
I’m a lady-in-waiting, I am
Into blatant understating
When you’re in the club.