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October 10, 2022updated 07 Nov 2023 5:44am

John Cleese joins GB News after being told it’s ‘not a right-wing channel, it’s a free speech channel’

By Charlotte Tobitt

Former Monty Python star John Cleese is returning to British TV screens to join GB News for a regular slot in 2023.

Cleese said he would front a one-hour show produced by stand-up comedian and GB News presenter Andrew Doyle, who fronts the Free Speech Nation programme.

It has not yet been announced what time slot he will be in, or how many times a week he will be on air.

Cleese told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Monday: “I was approached and I didn’t know who they were and I don’t know much about modern television because I’d pretty much given up on it, I mean English television.

“And then I met one or two of the people concerned and had dinner with them and I liked them very much and what they said was: ‘people say it’s a right-wing channel, it’s a free speech channel’.”

Despite saying he did not know much about GB News, Cleese did tweet about the broadcaster in August saying it “is sometimes referred to, rather wittily, as ‘KGB News’. To what extent is GB News influenced by Russian interests?”

Asked if his position had changed, Cleese said: “I’ve been talking a lot with Andrew Doyle about it and one of the original founders seems to have made some money in Russia but it’s no more than that. I’m satisfied at the moment. But the whole point is: is it free speech or not? And after I start the show, we will find out.”

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Cleese agreed with presenter Amol Rajan that people sharing opinions on public health that are not based in fact “have got to be challenged”.

He added: “Somebody once said to me everyone’s in favour of free speech, particularly for the ideas that they like… if there’s a factual response to something like that then that’s the job, to put the facts out there and then to have opinions slightly separate and then have a proper argument about it – but not try to avoid public debate…”

Cleese, who is still performing comedy, suggested he was being given an opportunity on GB News that he would no longer get from the BBC.

He said: “The nice thing about talking to the GB News audience is that they may not be used to hearing the sorts of things I’ll be saying, but the only thing is – I mean, 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.”

Rajan responded by saying he had just been given five minutes on the BBC.

In response to similar criticism of this “irony” on Twitter, Cleese said: “It would depend on the subject, wouldn’t it ? The show I have in mind for GB News would never get on to the BBC.”

He added that his new show would be talking “important information that gets censored, both in TV and in the press”.

GB News has set itself up as an “anti-woke” channel – and Cleese, who described himself as “an old-fashioned liberal”, has also previously criticised ‘woke culture’.

He told Today it was a bigger threat in the US than the UK, but added: “The interesting thing is that the way that the woke people conduct their campaign is I think not very honest.”

Cleese is an outspoken critic of the UK press and has appeared in videos for campaign group Hacked Off backing press reform. He said in 2018 he planned to leave the UK because of the “lying and the triviality” of British newspapers. He has also presented the “Bad Press Awards” and supported the campaign for the second part of the Leveson Inquiry (exploring the relationship between journalists and the police) to take place.

Picture: Amanda Stronza/Getty Images for SXSW

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