Boris Johnson accuses BBC of 'wetness' for removing 'Rule Britannia!' lyrics at Proms

Ross McGuinness
·5-min read

Boris Johnson has accused the BBC of “wetness” for removing the lyrics of Rule, Britannia! at the Last Night of the Proms.

The prime minister criticised the corporation for its decision to have the anthem, along with Land Of Hope And Glory, performed without its words.

The move comes in the face of criticism that the traditional anthems’ lyrics contain references to colonialism and slavery.

On Tuesday, Johnson said: "I think it's time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions and about our culture.

File photo dated 13/09/14 of the audience enjoying the BBC Last Night of the Proms, at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule Britannia! will be performed at the Last Night Of The Proms, the BBC has said.
The BBC has said Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule, Britannia! will be performed at the Last Night Of The Proms but without lyrics. (PA)

"And we stop this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness.”

In an interview during a visit to a shipyard in Devon, Johnson said: “They're trying to restrain me from saying this.”

He added: "I wanted to get that off my chest".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his visit to Appledore Shipyard in Devon which was bought by InfraStrata, the firm which also owns Belfast's Harland & Wolff (H&W), in a �7 million deal.
Prime minister Boris Johnson, during a visit to Appledore Shipyard in Devon on Tuesday, has criticised the BBC. (PA)

Downing Street had previously distanced itself from the BBC’s decision and culture secretary Oliver Dowden has written to the corporation about the issue.

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Father Marcus Walker, rector at Great St Bartholomew’s in London, tweeted: “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.”

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.

There will be no live audience at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 12 September because of coronavirus restrictions.

In a statement, the BBC said: “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.”

Dalia Stasevska, from Finland, is conducting the Last Night of the Proms this year, with soprano Golda Schultz and the BBC Symphony Orchestra performing.

The corporation’s statement said: “We very much regret the unjustified personal attacks on Dalia Stasevska, BBC Symphony Orchestra principal guest conductor, made on social media and elsewhere.

AUGUST 13, 2019: ADELAIDE, SA - (EUROPE AND AUSTRALASIA OUT) Finnish Conductor Dalia Stasevska poses during a photo shoot in Adelaide, South Australia. (Photo by Matt Turner / Newspix via Getty Images)
Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska will conduct the Last Night Of The Proms next month. (Getty Images)

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

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

In the statement, the broadcaster 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.”

The lyrics of Rule, Britannia! are based on a poem by James Thomson. It was set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740.

Its lyrics include: “Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves! / Britons never, never, never will be slaves.”

"The nations, not so blest as thee / Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall.”

"While thou shalt flourish great and free / The dread and envy of them all.”

When asked on the matter, Number 10 spokesman said prime minister Boris Johnson believes in tackling the “substance” not the “symbols” of problems.

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“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.”

Members of the audience during the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
There will be no audience at the Royal Albert Hall for this year's Last Night Of The Proms. (PA)

Dowden said on Monday 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. Share concerns of many about their potential removal and have raised this with BBC.

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

The former chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, on Tuesday told Times Radio 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.”