Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory to be sung at Proms after BBC U-turn

Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory will be sung at the Proms, the BBC has announced, one day after Tim Davie took over as director-general.

The broadcaster previously said the pieces would feature without lyrics, following controversy over their perceived historical links with colonialism and slavery, but they will now be performed by a select group of vocalists.

Musicians are performing live at the Royal Albert Hall – but without an audience due to coronavirus restrictions – across the final two weeks of the season, ending in the much-talked about Last Night.

The run-up to the Last Night has seen musicians, media industry figures and even Prime Minister Boris Johnson weigh into the debate over the pieces.

A spokesperson for the BBC Proms said: “The pandemic means a different Proms this year and one of the consequences, under Covid-19 restrictions, is we are not able to bring together massed voices.

“For that reason, we took the artistic decision not to sing Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory in the Hall.

“We have been looking hard at what else might be possible and we have a solution.

“Both pieces will now include a select group of BBC singers. This means the words will be sung in the Hall, and as we have always made clear, audiences will be free to sing along at home.

“While it can’t be a full choir, and we are unable to have audiences in the Hall, we are doing everything possible to make it special and want a Last Night truly to remember.

“We hope everyone will welcome this solution. We think the night itself will be a very special moment for the country – and one that is much needed after a difficult period for everyone.

BBC Director General
Tim Davie, new director-general of the BBC (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“It will not be a usual Last Night, but it will be a night not just to look forward to, but to remember.”

The BBC’s former director-general Lord Tony Hall previously insisted the decision to remove the lyrics was a “creative” one.

But he confirmed that the issue of dropping songs because of their association with Britain’s imperial past had been discussed.

Later, the BBC said the traditional anthems would be sung at next year’s Last Night of the Proms.

The U-turn comes after Lord Hall was succeeded in the role by Tim Davie, the former chief executive of commercial arm BBC Studios.

Davie has said the BBC needs reform “with urgency” and stressed it must be “a universal public service”.

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden reacted to the news tweeting: “Pleased to see common sense has prevailed on the BBC Proms.”

Mr Johnson later told a meeting of the 2019 intake of Tory MPs that the party should “speak out loud and proud” for the UK’s history amid an “orgy of national embarrassment”.

In a speech in Parliament, the Prime Minister said: “I do think this country is going through an orgy of national embarrassment about some of the things that other people around the world love most about us.

Cabinet Meeting
Prime Minister Boris Johnson weighed into the debate (Toby Melville/PA)

“People love our traditions and our history with all its imperfections. It’s crazy for us to go around trying to censor it. It’s absolutely absurd and I think we should speak out loud and proud for the UK and our history.”

A spokesman for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was the “right decision” but that “enjoying patriotic songs does not and should not be a barrier to examining our past and learning lessons from it”.

Some of the lyrics deemed controversial in the songs include the Rule, Britannia! lines: “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves”, and: “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.”

Land Of Hope And Glory, which was composed by Edward Elgar, also has colonialist lyrics, including: “By freedom gained, by truth maintained / Thine Empire shall be strong”, and: “God, who made thee mighty / Make thee mightier yet!”

Some, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, previously suggested the offending lyrics could be partially cut or adapted to suit modern tastes.