Cantabrigians are stupid too

It’s not all Nobel prizes and political glory amongst our alumnae. ELOISE DAVIES wants you to choose the worst of the worst.

Alastair Campbell alchemy alumnae baby Cambridge Earl of Essex Enoch Powell irish Isaac Newton Jimmy Carr michael portillo Nick Griffin nobel prize oliver cromwell racism Shit stupid swearing syria Titus Oates worst

It can get boring hearing how brilliant Cambridge is. Top of the Complete University Guide, top of the Guardian University Guide, and top of the Times and Sunday Times League Table (and, erm… seventh in the Times Higher Education rankings. But let’s be honest, Oxford probably paid them).

A Trinity alumnus wins a Nobel Prize on average every 3.5 years. Flash a student card for a discount in a shop and you get the response “Ooh Cambridge… Get you”. Extended family assume now you are a Cambridge student a world-changing discovery/high political office/an Olympic medal/your own TV show is just around the corner.

El Dorado, Paradise, the Land of Milk and Honey etc etc

But then Cantabrigians also cycle drunk. We set off to a lecture 15 minutes away 2 minutes after it starts. We decide “Yes, of course I can have one last tequila shot”, and then throw up on our supervisor at 9 o’clock the next morning.

In summary, we are often total idiots.

It’s time that the alternative tradition got some attention. Cue “Eye of the Tiger” music, the “race to the bottom” has begun…

Isaac Newton (Trinity)

Scientist, 1642 – 1727

Yes, admittedly gravity and the laws of motion are not a bad effort. Some of his later activity, however, begs questions about how hard that apple might have hit our dear friend Isaac.

Far from being an enlightened genius helping the march onwards to modernity, Isaac, like most other scientists of his age, was really after the philosopher’s stone and enjoyed dabbling in alchemy. In one particularly bonkers experiment on optics, he nearly blinding himself by sticking a knitting needle into his eye.

He had a deep interest in theology and unorthodox religious beliefs, for example, he thought worshipping the Trinity was idolatry. Ironic, given his college. So you’d think he might have remembered that the Bible talks about passing through the eye of the needle, not passing a needle through your eye.

Alastair Campbell (Gonville and Caius)

Spin Doctor, 1957 – Present

Famous for being the power behind Tony Blair’s throne and producer of the “Dodgy Dossier” and the inspiration for the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker.

His participation in a Swear-a-thon in aid of Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research with his on-screen alter ego, Peter Capaldi, is encouraging evidence that the man isn’t all bad.

Sadly, said Swear-a-thon was accidentally broadcast throughout the building, which included a creche a few floors below.

Corrupt my innocent little ears, will you? Fucking shitbag

Michael Portillo (Peterhouse)

Politician, 1953 – Present

In the “blue corner” in our battle today is a Thatcherite politician and presenter of TV shows about obsolete railways. A life path second only to Satan for immorality in the eyes of many (those railways are damn controversial).

The room in which he allegedly lost his anal virginity continues to be a source of much fascination in Peterhouse. Possibly more exciting than the event itself, though I may be doing Portillo’s partner a disservice.

Lovingly referred to as “Porterloo” in Private Eye, our brave politician’s most inglorious moment came when he unexpectedly lost his seat at the 1997 election. The “Portillo moment” came to epitomise the end of a political era, and political embarrassment more generally.

As Portillo himself later said: “My name is now synonymous with eating a bucketload of shit in public.”

It’s ok, eating shit is easy after 3 years of Peterhouse cuisine

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (Trinity)

Favourite of Elizabeth I, 1565 – 1601

It was all going so well for Robert in his early years. Then he talked himself into the job of Lord Lieutenant in Ireland.

There he managed to lose a war and only kept his army loyal by giving out loads of knighthoods, a prerogative Elizabeth jealously guarded. As the old joke had it, “he never drew his sword but to create knights”.

On his return to England (against the Queen’s wishes) he compounded his error by bursting into her bedchamber before she was gowned and wigged: not looking exactly “reem”. Oh yes, and then he led an attempted coup. Good one.

Elizabeth had run out of patience and had him executed, proving once and for all that the only way isn’t Essex.

The jury is out on whether he had a pejazzle

Oliver Cromwell (Sidney Sussex)

Politician, 1599-1658

A keen opponent of arbitrary rule by Charles I and an even keener proponent of arbitrary rule by himself. The grinch who stole Christmas, and about as attractive. There’s also the small matter of his genocidal tendencies in Ireland.

Famously, after metaphorically losing his head whilst running the country, he posthumously lost his head in a more literal manner. Charles I’s decapitated upper extremity must have chuckled to itself over the irony.

But will he manage to stay a-head in the polls?

Someone should have told Oliver to look beyond the label

Jimmy Carr (Gonville and Caius)

Comedian, 1972 – Present

Did you hear the one about the comedian who used to write sketches poking fun at Barclays’ 1% tax rate?

Turned he was actually part of the K2 tax avoidance scheme.

Ok, not the snappiest punchline ever. But top marks for irony.

Titus Oates (Gonville and Caius/St. John’s)

Perjurer, 1649 –1705

He invented the “Popish plot“, a supposed Catholic conspiracy to kill Charles II. Managing to lie about popes and Catholics – there’s skill there.

After 15 innocent men were killed as a result of his accusations.

Eventually the truth was discovered and Titus was publicly whipped and pilloried. Hooray for the inevitable triumph of justice!

Or not. Then the Glorious Revolution happened, and in the new climate of anti-Catholic sentiment Oates was pardoned and given a living of £250 a year.

Lady Justice taking an off day

Enoch Powell (Trinity)

Politician, 1912 – 1998

Powell did some very admirable things during his career. He was a Professor of Ancient Greek by the age of 25. He opposed Appeasement, saying the blame lay with “the English, not their Government; for if they were not blind cowards, they would lynch Chamberlain and Halifax and all the other smarmy traitors”. During his time as Health Minister he encouraged a large number of Commonwealth immigrants into the understaffed NHS. He spoke out against the Mau Mau massacre.

Then, unfortunately, in a river-related story even more depressing that this year’s boat race, Powell made his famous “Rivers of Blood” anti-immigration speech. It was responsible for the escalation of racist violence across the country.


“What? But anti-immigration works so well for me…”

Nick Griffin (Downing)

Politician, 1951 – Present

Enoch Powell was arguably not actually a racist. So now, just to be sure, here’s an example of your proper fully-fledged, “send ’em home”, “Farage is a ponce” type.

This doesn’t need much explaining. Setting up a far right party isn’t really the smartest of moves. And setting up a far right party that goes bankrupt is a whole new low.

On the plus side his choice to run for election in the aptly-named Barking in 2010 was a gift to the world of comedy. And he did “literally prevent war in Syria”, according to his spokesman. It’s a shame nobody seems to have told President Assad.

Move over Ban Ki Moon, Nick’s got this

 But who’s the worst? Vote now: