Last Night of the Proms controversy after Rule Britannia lyrics ‘banned’ by BBC

The Last Night of the Proms is in the news after BBC bosses announced that the regular classical music event dating back to 1895 would be changed to reflect modern sensitivities about race and patriotism.

BBC bosses announced that the concert’s programme for September 12 would still feature "familiar, patriotic elements” such as Land of Hope and Glory and the national anthem but with a few notable changes.

Land Of Hope and Glory, better known to classical buffs as Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March No 1,” would be performed in a new instrumental arrangement written by former Art of Noise keyboard player Anne Dudley.

Rule Britannia, another traditional element of the Proms programme, includes the lyrics: “Britons never, never, never will be slaves.”

That, too, will be performed as an instrumental, although it’s possible that people watching at home will know some of the words and sing along anyway.

Gareth Malone, well known for shows such as The Choir, says it’s the right time to make the change.

He told The Times: “If people want to sing about the subjugation and enslavement of other nations, I don’t think that should be given a platform in 2020.”

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Composer and writer Howard Goodall agreed with him. Writing about another Proms controversy in 2016 when audience members waved European flags instead of Union Jacks the Vicar of Dibley composer said : “Prommers, first and foremost, worship classical music, which, between the Renaissance and 1900 was an overwhelmingly European achievement.”

He added that seeing the Last Night of the Proms as a nationalistic event was to misunderstand it completely.

Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska, who will be conducting the orchestra on the Last Night, is said to be keen to modernise the evening’s repertoire and reduce the “jingoistic” elements.

Leonard Slatkin, chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 2000 to 2004, has also expressed a desire to tone down the overt nationalism of the Last Night.

Numerous right wing commentators, including former MEP Nigel Farage and former Lewis actor Laurence Fox, have taken to Twitter to complain about the decision. Farage said “The only thing that needs cancelling is the BBC itself,” and Fox suggested: “Why don’t we just organise our own proms in the park and play the old hits?”

Piers Morgan added “The BBC needs to grow a pair & stop grovelling to such insane ‘woke’ cancel culture nonsense that most Britons find utterly absurd.”

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However one Twitter user pointed out that the instrumental versions are more traditional, and that the absence of singing is as much to do with limiting the spread of coronavirus as it is the Black Lives Matter protests.

Alias Joe replied to Farage: "Well, the BBC says the orchestra-only arrangement was how the tunes were first performed at the Proms in 1905.

"The songs will return with their lyrics when the coronavirus restrictions come to an end – what's your hysteria all about?”

A Number 10 spokesman said on Monday: "It is obviously a decision for the organiser of the Proms and the BBC.

They added that Boris Johnson "has previously set out his position on these issues and has been clear that, while he understands the strong emotions in this, we need to tackle the substance of issues and not the symbols."

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A BBC spokesperson told Daily Star Online: "We very much regret the unjustified personal attacks on Dalia Stasevska, BBC Symphony Orchestra Principal Guest Conductor made on social media and elsewhere.

"As ever, decisions about the Proms are made by the BBC in consultation with all artists involved."

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They added: "The Proms will reinvent the Last Night in this extraordinary year so that it respects the traditions and spirit of the event whilst adapting to very different circumstances at this moment in time.

"With much reduced musical forces and no live audience, the Proms will curate a concert that includes familiar, patriotic elements such as Jerusalem and the National Anthem, and bring in new moments capturing the mood of this unique time, including You’ll Never Walk Alone, presenting a poignant and inclusive event for 2020. "

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