The ‘blue’ comedian, renowned for his deeply offensive material - material which I, for the record, detest - is the most recent victim of the voracious cancel culture mob, with Sheffield City Trust the latest character in this particular play, having just pulled the plug on a Roy Chubby Brown show planned for Sheffield City Hall.
In a letter to me, written by Mr Simon Green of Sheffield - ccd to members of Sheffield City Trust - he spells out beautifully the precedent set by banning Chubby Brown from performing in the city.
In that letter Mr Green lists a flurry of other performers - Tez Illyas, Stewart Lee, Jason Manford, Danny Baker, to name a few - whose material is deemed fit for Steel City ears, apparently, despite there being evidence of some of the material performed by those people that, Mr Green says, people may find offensive.
One of the people ccd in the letter from Mr Green is Andrew Snelling, chief executive of Sheffield City Trust. On the decision to ban Chubby Brown from Sheffield, Mr Snelling said: “We don’t believe this show reflects Sheffield City Trust values, particularly our ambition that our leisure, culture and entertainment venues are inclusive for all in Sheffield.”
Now, frankly, I am amazed Mr Snelling cannot see the irony in his words. Talk about hoist by your own petard. Inclusive for all … except where you and your colleagues might take offense, Mr Snelling?
Can Mr Snelling not see that by cancelling one performer, citing misalignment with his - presumably? - values, he, by proxy, aligns himself with the values of every future performer, and their views on everything from, race and religion to love and hate. Danny Baker, anyone?
This is as dangerous as it is problematic for several reasons:
1. Sheffielders do not need some suit sitting in an ivory tower to tell them what should constitute their diet of leisure and entertainment. Sheffielders are clear-minded, often no-nonsense people who work hard all week to earn a living, and deserve the right to pick and choose how they spend that living. Testament to that is a petition to have Chubby Brown, whose real name is Royston Vasey, reinstated. It has surpassed 20,000 signatures. What right do you have to limit the freedoms of tens of thousands of people, Mr Snelling?;
2. Performance spaces are sacrosanct places preserved for expression; for exploring ideas; for pushing boundaries. The moment an individual takes it upon themselves to pick and choose for other people the ideas, thoughts and expressions that they are permitted to see, hear, contemplate, boundaries cease to be pushed. Debate dies on that strangulated vine. Society rots;
3. Ticketed events are by their very nature NOT for everyone, but only for those who buy the tickets. Mr Vasey’s controversial, sexist, misogynistic, hate-filled brand of so-called comedy is well documented, and his followers know that their sensibilities will be tested - that’s putting it mildly - but when they enter the auditorium they know it is an act, indeed a performance. Fans of Chubby Brown know his act will be outrageously offensive. Hell, they want to be offended - that’s why they’re there! But like anyone attending a fictional performance, the audience knowingly enters into a contract with the players known as the suspension of disbelief. Just for an hour or so, people want to forget about the real world and immerse themselves in another one. A make-believe one. That’s what performances do for us. Remember, Chubby Brown is not the man. Chubby Brown is the character. Royston Vasey is the man, and a quick Google search will bring you up plenty of instances where Mr Vasey has donated to worthy causes, helped people in need, supported charities. But, of course, none of that should get in the way of a man in a suit virtue signalling on behalf of an entire city!
I could go on listing reasons why this censorship of a performer represents an alarming precedent set. I am reminded of the horror I felt upon learning Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, had taken it upon himself to tell museum curators what they could and could not display. Dowden’s version of history? I’ll pass, thank you.
There are myriad reasons why we must not allow the cancel mafia, hell-bent on being the arbiters of decency, thrusting their own sanitised version of life down our throats, to win. But uppermost in my rationale for being prepared to die on Roy Chubby Brown’s hill - something I never thought I’d say - freedom of expression.
As the editor of a large regional newspaper, my comment editor will often commission and publish opinion pieces with which I vehemently disagree. But they run. Occasionally, opinion pieces arrive at my desk that I don’t just disagree with, I disapprove of. And they run. However, and perhaps you will roll your eyes here, Evelyn Hall was and always will be right; the guiding light, even, of democracy when she said [of Voltaire]: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
The moment cities like Sheffield forgo Hall’s sentiment for one more akin to I disapprove of what you say, and I have the power to stop you saying it freedom of speech, the foundation on which democracy is built, dies. Once it is lifeless, so are we.