Oxford drinking societies: a recent history of scandal

Drinking societies at Oxford University have once again become the focus of national interest, following the publication of claims that Prime Minister David Cameron once engaged in an “obscene act” with a dead pig, while he was a member of Oxford’s Piers Gaveston drinking society during the late 1980s.

The allegation was made by an anonymous MP who was a contemporary of Cameron’s at Oxford. They claim that Cameron inserted a “private part of his anatomy” into the pig’s mouth as part of an “outrageous initiation ceremony”. The allegation has whipped up a social media storm after being printed in today’s Daily Mail.

It would be a mistake, however, to believe that drinking society debauchery is a relic of the late 1980s, consigned to the elitist dustbin of our university’s history. Oxford is believed to still have 28 active drinking societies across its 38 colleges. Some, like the infamous Bullingdon Club, have existed for centuries and attained widespread name recognition, whilst others are far more obscure. These exclusive clubs still find their way into student headlines on a depressingly regular basis, with the last two years alone witnessing a number of incidents. Below we have collated the most outrageous drinking society scandals from recent years.


Bullingdon Club “burns £50 note in front of homeless person”

The Bullingdon Club. By far the best-known of Oxford’s public school cliques, the 235-year-old exclusive society counts not only the Prime Minister, but also Chancellor George Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson among its notable alumni. The inspiration for both a controversial film released last year, as well as a popular Oxford nightclub, the Bullers became mired once again in student controversy when, in 2013, its members allegedly burned a £50 note in front of a homeless beggar. Condemned immediately by Labour MP Ian Mearns, and used by David Cameron’s political rivals to draw attention to his seemingly privileged background, the incident was seen by many as encapsulating a darker side to Oxford life.


Peter Stringfellow fronted banned St John’s society

Idiotic students will be idiotic students, it is often said. Let them have their fun when they’re young, as long as they grow up at some point. This defence is somewhat harder to make, however, when a 73-year-old celebrity is involved.

In 2014, The Oxford Student revealed that strip club owner Peter Stringfellow fronted the King Charles Club, an all-male drinking society banned from St John’s College premises.

Speaking to The OxStu at the time, Stringfellow said that his job was to “throw a dinner” and “put the drinks on the table”, adding: “They can drink as much champagne as they want, and I’m happy with it.

“The drinks are all on me […] I might give them a few dances, but in the main, nobody ever takes advantage of my generosity at all – not even for five minutes.”

Stringfellow went on to say: “There’s every chance that one of these boys is a future Prime Minister.”

A sobering thought.


Trinity bursar gives special treatment to Claret Club

So what if Peter Stringfellow likes to rub shoulders with a bunch of posh kids, you might think? It wouldn’t be the first time.

It’s not like Oxford staff ever become involved in these elitist clubs. Now that would be outrageous.

Yep, that happens too.

A bursar at Trinity College faced criticism last year when he was revealed by The Oxford Student to have been a “senior member” of the all-male, public-school-dominated Claret Club. He even allowed the club private use of Trinity College lawns for their invitation-only events.

The bursar defended his actions at the time, telling this paper: “The lawns are ordinarily available throughout the year to students of the College … if any other student club or society of the college wishes to use them, they would also be able to do so without charge.”


Corpus Christi club tears down LGBT pride flags

A tiny college tucked between Christ Church and Merton, Corpus Christi rarely reaches student headlines. That changed in February 2015 when members of the all-male, black-tie society The Abbotts, tore down LGBT pride flags from the JCR wall during a night of drunken initiations.

The flags, which were being used to celebrate LGBT History Month, were then tossed in the JCR fridge, prompting anger across the college. First reported in The Oxford Student, the incident led to the condemnation of the individuals involved by an overwhelming majority of the JCR, which passed a motion describing the club’s actions as an “unacceptable way to tell [LGBT students] to get back in the closet”. Corpus also donated one-third of its annual charities budget to LGBT-related causes.

The club, which has traditionally admitted only privately educated males with right-wing political views, declined to apologise when approached for comment by The OxStu.


St Hugh’s club plans bizarre and “sexually aggressive” fox hunt chase

As well as his alleged interest in pigs, our dear Prime Minister has an apparent fondness for chasing foxes, with a promised legalisation of fox hunting finding its way into the Conservative 2015 election manifesto.

Perhaps, then, Cameron would have appreciated the antics of the Black Cygnets, a drinking society banned from St Hugh’s College. The club was condemned by the JCR in Michaelmas 2013 after planning a ‘fox hunt’ event slammed as “sexually aggressive”, in which male students ‘selected’ female freshers whom they considered attractive.

The club’s male members then planned to chase the women, who would be dressed as foxes, through Oxford’s streets. The invitation sent out by the club challenged female students to “evade mauling” before “eventual capture by huntsmen”.

The Black Cygnets also faced criticism from the student union, with then OUSU VP for Women Sarah Pine describing the “language of hunting women” as “oppressive”.

The incident, first reported in The Oxford Student, went on to reach national publicity.



So, there you have it. Meritocracy is alive and well in Oxford. Make sure you thank your keen student journalists for bringing these incidents to light. The Oxford Student would not recommend that any student readers join any one of the aforementioned groups. Unless you want to be a senior Cabinet minister, in which case such action is highly advised.


For any anxious incoming freshers reading this list with terror, please remember that ‘drinking society culture’ exists only on the margins of Oxford University life, and is viewed by most students with a combination of bemusement and disgust