John Cleese has signed up to be a presenter on right-wing TV channel GB News, while also complaining that “cancel culture” is keeping people like himself off TV screens.
The Monty Python star, who will present shows on GB News from next year, said: “There’s a huge amount of important information being censored, both on TV and in the press. In my new show, I’m going to talk about a lot of it. You have to 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] worried people and had dinner with them and I liked them. 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 hasn’t come to me and said, ‘Do you want some one-hour shows?’ And if they did, I’d say, ‘Not on your nelly!’ Because I wouldn’t make it five minutes into the first show before I was canceled or censored.”
Cleese said he would work with 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 launch in 2021 that resulted in Andrew Neil’s departure as chairman, GB News has recovered to build a small but loyal audience. It easily beats Rupert Murdoch’s much better funded talk TV as they compete for TV ratings with cancellation culture coverage, complaints about the “wokery” of modern life and anti-lockdown stories.
The station recently lost the American media company Discovery as a shareholderwith its funding now largely covered by pro-Brexit hedge fund boss Sir Paul Marshall and Dubai-based investment firm Legatum.
GB News is created investigated by the media regulator Ofcom on claims about the effectiveness of Covid vaccines broke the broadcasting code.
When asked whether freedom of speech should be extended to those who spread misinformation about public health issues, Cleese said: “If there is a factual response to something like this, then it should be done. That’s the job, to put the facts out there and then have opinions a little separate and have a proper argument about it, but not to try to avoid a public debate.”
He said he despaired of the state of British politics and praised 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 the people which is “economically a little bit to the left and culturally a little bit to the right”.
He also said that Monty Python would not be 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 doing more of it. And if people are not enjoying something, they should probably be doing less of it. But their job is to produce the best programs possible.”