BBC Announces 'Rule Britannia!' Will Not Be Ditched From Last Night Of Proms Concert

Music, but not lyrics, will feature amid coronavirus restrictions. Announcement follows pressure from culture secretary and from No.10.
Members of the audience during the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
Members of the audience during the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

‘Rule Britannia!’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ will be performed at the Last Night Of The Proms - despite reports that the BBC was considering ditching the tunes in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.

The broadcaster issued a statement insisting that orchestral versions of the tunes will go ahead.

Coronavirus restrictions on audiences mean the ‘Rule Britannia!’ lyrics - including a reference to “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves” that campaigners have said is racist - will not be sung.

There will be no live audience, many of whom usually sing the words to the music and wave flags at the end-of-summer concert.

The BBC said the orchestra-only arrangement was how the tunes were first performed at the Proms in 1905 and reported that it would “sound odd and perhaps rather bleak with just a handful of singers spread around an empty hall”.

However, BBC Singers will sing the National Anthem and Jerusalem with lyrics.

The sing-along tradition is intended to be restored once coronavirus restrictions are lifted in future, and live audiences allowed once more.

The statement came just hours after culture secretary Oliver Dowden and Boris Johnson signalled their opposition to any attempt to axe them from the classical music event.

Dowden had tweeted that he had raised the issue with the BBC on Monday, and No.10 Downing Street made clear that the prime minister felt that “substance” mattered more than “symbols” when tackling racism.

The Sunday Times reported BBC sources claiming that the corporation was considering ditching the flag-waving anthem from the classical music concert, amid concerns about racist and colonial content of the lyrics.

The paper suggested that conductor Dalia Stasevska believed this year’s ceremony without an audience would be “the perfect moment to bring change”.

A statement from the BBC said a new arrangement of Jerusalem will be performed, along with orchestral versions of Land Of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia!

“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.”

It added: “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.”

Several Twitter users suspected the songs were never seriously considered for the axe and the issue was being used to create a ‘culture war’ issue that would deflect from government failings on coronavirus and the exams chaos.

Earlier, the prime minister’s spokesperson said while scheduling was a matter for the BBC and the Proms organisers, he was clear in his view that “substance” was more important than “symbols” on such issues.

Dowden went even further, revealing he had raised concerns with the BBC and declaring that “confident forward-looking nations don’t erase their history, they add to it”.

The PM’s spokesperson pointed to the PM’s previous remarks on the toppling of statues of slave owners and colonialists earlier this summer, when Johnson said it was wrong to “censor our past” and claimed protests had been “hijacked by extremists”.


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