John Cleese has signed up to become a presenter on the right-wing television channel GB News, while also complaining that “cancel culture” is keeping people such as himself off TV screens.
The Monty Python star, who will present shows on GB News from next year, said: “There’s a large amount of important information that gets censored, both in TV and in the press. In my new show, I’ll be talking about a lot of it. You should be prepared to be shocked.”
Asked how his show with GB News came about, Cleese told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I was approached and I didn’t know who they were ... And then I met one or two of the [GB News] people concerned and had dinner with them, and I liked them very much. And what they said was: ‘People say it’s the right-wing channel — it’s a free speech channel.’”
The 82-year-old said he would not be offered such a show by the BBC: “The BBC have not come to me and said: ‘Would you like to have some one-hour shows?’ And if they did, I would say: ‘Not on your nelly!’ Because I wouldn’t get five minutes into the first show before I’d been cancelled or censored.”
Cleese said he would be working with the existing GB News presenter Andrew Doyle, a comedian who used to write scripts for Jonathan Pie, a fictional news reporter who appears in online videos.
Despite a rocky start in 2021 that resulted in the departure of Andrew Neil as chair, GB News has recovered to build a small but loyal audience. It easily beats Rupert Murdoch’s much better funded TalkTV as they compete for television ratings with cancel culture coverage, complaints about “wokery” in modern life, and anti-lockdown stories.
The station recently lost the US media company Discovery as a shareholder, with its funding now being largely covered by the pro-Brexit hedge fund boss Paul Marshall and the Dubai-based investment firm Legatum.
GB News is being investigated by British media regulator Ofcom over whether claims about the impact of Covid-19 vaccines breached the broadcasting code.
Asked whether free speech should extend to those spreading misinformation about public health matters, Cleese said: “If there’s a factual response to something like that, then that should be made. That’s the job, to put the facts out there, and then to have opinions slightly separate and have a proper argument about it, but not to try to avoid a public debate.”
He said he despaired at the state of British politics and sang the praises of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), a niche political party founded by supporters of David Owen who refused to join the Liberal Democrats in 1990. He said the SDP was for people who are “economically a little bit to the left and culturally a little bit to the right”.
He also said Monty Python would not get commissioned by the BBC today “because it’s six white people, five of whom went to Oxbridge”.
He said: “If people enjoy something, then the BBC should be making more of it. And if people don’t enjoy something, they should probably be making less of it. But their job is to produce the best possible programmes.” — Guardian