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John Cleese ‘blacklists’ himself from Cambridge Union event

John Cleese has withdrawn from an event at Cambridge Union (PA)
John Cleese has withdrawn from an event at Cambridge Union (PA)

John Cleese says he has “blacklisted himself” from the Cambridge Union after a historian who impersonated Adolf Hitler during a society debate was banned.

The Monty Python star, who was due to address the union on Friday, said he had done a similar impression on the famous sketch show and had made the decision to withdraw from the event before he was asked to by someone else.

Cleese apologised to members of the union who were looking forward to his address and suggested an alternative venue be provided “where woke rules do not apply”.

He said on Twitter: “I was looking forward to talking to students at the Cambridge Union this Friday, but I hear that someone there has been blacklisted for doing an impersonation of Hitler.

“I regret that I did the same on a Monty Python show, so I am blacklisting myself before someone else does.

“I apologise to anyone at Cambridge who was hoping to talk with me, but perhaps some of you can find a venue where woke rules do not apply.”

The PA news agency understands that Mr Cleese was due to visit the University of Cambridge as part of a documentary he is making on “woke culture”.

Cambridge Union president Keir Bradwell said it was a “huge shame” that Mr Cleese felt he could no longer attend the event, but that his “blacklist” was merely a recommendation to future presidents.

“We were really looking forward to hosting John here.

“It would have been a really fantastic event and our members are really excited to hear from him, the documentary he is making is extremely topical,” he told PA.

“We very much hope that we will be able to host him at some point…he’s the kind of speaker that would thrive with our audience and in our room.

“It’s a huge shame has withdrawn but we’re hoping to resolve the situation as soon as possible.”

Mr Bradwell clarified that the “blacklist” was a list of speakers who were recommended not to be invited back to future events, but that these were not binding.

It comes following a backlash over art critic and historian Andrew Graham-Dixon’s impression of the German dictator.

The incident occurred on November 4 during a debate on the motion: “This house believes there is no such thing as good taste.”

Mr Bradwell said the remarks made by Graham-Dixon were “grotesque” but that his conduct during the event was the main reason for his not being invited back.

“As President of the Cambridge Union, I receive recommendations from my predecessors about who we think is and isn’t worth making the effort to invite back, based on how they behaved while a guest of our Society,” he said.

“When I leave office, I will pass on recommendations of my own.

“And when I do, Andrew Graham-Dixon will be someone I suggest future presidents leave be: he spoke over another of our speakers, insulted a student, and derailed our debate.

“Though it is not because of his views that I will encourage him not to be invited back, on a personal level I found his impersonation of Hitler and his use of racist language to be grotesque, and in exceptionally poor taste.

“It left a large number of our members feeling extremely uncomfortable, in what should have been a good-humoured and relaxing debate on the arts.

“I, and our Society, will now focus on rebuilding a sense of trust with those of our members who were appalled by what they heard.”

Responding to his ban Mr Graham-Dixon said: “I apologise sincerely to anyone who found my debating tactics and use of Hitler’s own language distressing; on reflection I can see that some of the words I used, even in quotation, are inherently offensive.

“It was not my intention to upset anybody, merely to persuade them that bad taste and bad morality often go hand in hand.

“Mr Bradwell’s implication that I am racist and antisemitic by placing me on his list is utterly rejected, and in the context surprising.

“The speech I gave was a strident attack on Hitler’s racism and antisemitism.”

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