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Monday, 5 March, 2001, 11:48 GMT
Oxford's star chamber
Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon was a famous speaker in 1975
The Oxford Union is one of the world's most famous debating chambers and has attracted its fair share of the famous and the infamous.

Generations of politicians, academics and writers have debated in what former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan called "one of the last bastions of freedom of speech in the Western World".

Founded in 1823, the union's officers include five British Prime Ministers, Gladstone, Lord Salisbury, Herbert Asquith, Edward Heath and MacMillan.

Jerry Hall
West End star Jerry Hall has made a star appearance in Oxford

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was union president in 1977.

Scores of other politicians have also honed their debating skills in the chamber.

Debates about the armed services in 1933, the Common Market in 1975 and Ian Paisley's attack on Catholicism have all made national news headlines.

Disgraced former American President Richard Nixon gave his first speech at the Oxford Union after he was ousted from office in 1975.

Lighter touch

Along with the pressing issues of the day, the Oxford Union, especially in recent years, has also been a forum for less weighty matters.

Kermit the Frog, controversial television host Jerry Springer, model Jerry Hall and Leonard Nimoy - Star Trek's Captain Spock - have all addressed the union.

Footballer Diego Maradona famously juggled a golf ball on his foot during his stint while former footballer-turned-presenter Gary Lineker debated the motion "this house would rather participate than commentate".

Barry White
Barry White lent his weight to the union last year

Acquitted American football star OJ Simpson also braved the 900 or so students who pack the chamber for the main debates.

Last year Barry White was invited to address the union as "the world's most romantic singer-songwriter", and spoke of his worries about music on the internet.

This term's guests have included quiz show presenter Nicholas Parsons, footballer Gareth Southgate and actress Helen Baxendale, and Michael Jackson's appearance is followed on Wednesday by the founder of the Orange telecommunications company, Hans Snook.

While not part of the university itself, the Oxford Union also provides social facilities for the city's thousands of students, who would otherwise be split across its forty separate colleges.

It also boasts the city's only late-night student bar - thanks to the efforts of former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine, an officer of the union in the 1950s.

See also:

22 Nov 00 | Education
Oxford Union rejects elitist charge
10 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Barry White wows Oxford
05 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Jackson hobbles into UK
05 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Jackson's life in the spotlight
05 Mar 01 | Entertainment
A life in pictures: Michael Jackson
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