BBC row continues as Proms favourites stripped of vocals

·5-min read

The BBC risked a fresh row after announcing that traditional favourites such as Land Of Hope And Glory will be performed without lyrics at the Proms.

The broadcaster revealed details of the Last Night after reports that anthems Rule Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory could face the axe over their perceived association with colonialism and slavery.

On Monday night, after Downing Street waded into the controversy, the BBC issued a statement saying Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule Britannia! will be performed at the Last Night Of The Proms, but without singing.

Orchestral versions, without vocals, will be performed at the famous concert on September 12.

Father Marcus Walker, rector at Great St Bartholomew’s in London, wrote on Twitter: “Hilarious that people are dressing the BBC promising ‘orchestral versions’ of Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule Britannia as a retreat.

“It’s nothing of the sort, it’s gutting the songs of their words – of their meaning. You may think that’s a good thing or not, but it’s no retreat.”

The BBC said there had been “unjustified personal attacks” on social media on Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska, who will be at the helm of the Last Night this year.

“Decisions about the Proms are made by the BBC, in consultation with all artists involved,” it said.

There will be no live audience to sing along because of coronavirus restrictions.

The national anthem will be sung at the event, which will air on BBC Radio 3 and on BBC One and feature soprano Golda Schultz and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The BBC said: “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.”

A new arrangement of Jerusalem will be performed, along with orchestral versions of Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule Britannia!

The BBC said: “The programme will include a new arrangement by Errollyn Wallen of Hubert Parry’s Jerusalem alongside new orchestral versions of Pomp And Circumstance March No 1 Land Of Hope And Glory’ (arr Anne Dudley) and Rule Britannia! as part of the Sea Songs, as Henry Wood did in 1905.”

Earlier, a Number 10 spokesman said Prime Minister Boris Johnson believes in tackling the “substance” not the “symbols” of problems, after the Sunday Times reported that the songs could face the axe.

Last Night of the Proms
The audience enjoying the BBC Last Night Of The Proms at the Royal Albert Hall (Yui Mok/PA)

“This is a decision and a matter for the organisers of the Proms and the BBC,” the spokesman said.

“But the PM previously has set out his position on like issues and has been clear that, while he understands the strong emotions involved in these discussions, we need to tackle the substance of problems, not the symbols.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that “confident, forward-looking nations don’t erase their history”.

He wrote on Twitter: “Rule Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory are highlights of the Last Night of the Proms.

“(I) Share concerns of many about their potential removal and have raised this with (the) BBC.

“Confident forward-looking nations don’t erase their history, they add to it.”

Business secretary Alok Sharma suggested the BBC use subtitles so viewers can sing along at home.

He told Times Radio: “We’ve heard the BBC’s position that they will maintain the traditions.

“Personally, I would like to see the lyrics sung and of course it is always possible to put lyrics up as  subtitles on the screen so if people want to they can join in at home.”

The former chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, told the station that the BBC panicked when it came to issues of race.

“The real problem the corporation has is that it is always in a panic about race, and one of the reasons it is always in a panic is that it has no confidence.

“The principle reason it has no confidence… is that there is no ethnic diversity at the top of its decision-making tree,” he said.

“What you have is rooms full of white men panicking that someone is going to think they are racist.”

But TV choirmaster Gareth Malone suggested Rule Britannia! was outdated, tweeting: It’s time for Rule Britannia! to go.”

Rule Britannia! – strongly associated with the Royal Navy – is deemed problematic by some because of Britain’s role in the slave trade.

It has lyrics such as Britons “never shall be slaves” and that “while thou shalt flourish great and free, the dread and envy of them all”.

Land Of Hope And Glory features the music of Edward Elgar and the lyrics of  Arthur Benson and has lyrics such as “Thine Empire shall be strong” and “God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.”

It is understood that the songs will return to the Proms with singing when the coronavirus restrictions are lifted, according to BBC media and arts correspondent David Sillito.

Jerusalem – as well as the national anthem  – will be sung in the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Last Night concert.