BBC BACKS DOWN IN LAST NIGHT OF PROMS BATTLE
Land of Hope and Glory will stay after PM steps in
BBC chiefs have caved in to popular demand by announcing a Proms reprieve for Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory.
They abandoned plans to drop the patriotic anthems from the televised music festival after Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted they should
stay. Both pieces featured in the traditional rousing, singalong finale were under review amid fears they could be linked with colonialism and slavery.
But after pressure from the Daily Express the corporation announced that the orchestral versions of both would feature in a reinvention of the Last Night for the year of coronavirus.
The organisers also hit out at critics who had blamed the guest conductor Dalia Staveska for the uncertainty surrounding the great British favourites.
Mr Johnson waded in earlier, stressing the anti-racism debate sparked by this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests should focus on “problems, not the symbols”.
Downing Street’s official spokesman said: “This is a decision and a matter for the organisers of the Proms and the BBC.
“But the PM previously has set out his position on like issues and has been clear.”
The spokesman added: “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, whose departmental brief covers the BBC, tweeted: “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 Cabinet intervention came as a snap survey for Express Online showed that an overwhelming 95 per cent of readers wanted both songs to stay.
Of 17, 639 people asked whether Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory should be dropped from the Proms, only 735 – four per cent – said yes.
No fewer than 16,806 wanted the traditional favourites to stay for the Last Night, while 98 or 0.5 per cent did not now.
By last night, an online petition calling for a parliamentary debate on the issue to “ensure our cultural history is protected” had been signed by more than 4,400 people.
Former Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom tweeted: “Seriously? Has the Beeb totally lost touch?”
And former trade minister Lord Digby Jones said: “Is there no end to their wokeness?
“How about the enjoyment of the millions of Brits who pay the licence fee?
“You can’t choose history on your terms It doesn’t belong to you.”
The row began after it emerged that the annual music festival screened by the BBC was considering a more “inclusive” programme for its 125th anniversary.
Sources said the series organisers wanted to be wanted to avoid a “perceived association of colonialism and slavery”.
The stance mirrors those of universities and local authorities which during the BLM protests, reviewed the historical statues they were responsible for.
Oriel College, Oxford, voted to remove its statue of Cecil Rhodes, the colonial developer of South Africa, after criticism from anti-racists.
Bristol councillors moved the statue of slave merchant Edward Colston to a museum after fishing it out of the harbour where BLM activists pushed it.
Finnish composer Ms Stasevska is conducting the September 12 finale with soprano Golda Schultz and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
A BBC source said:
“Dalia is a big supporter of Black Lives Matter and thinks a ceremony without an audience is the perfect moment to bring change.” But a statement released yesterday said this year’s show, performed in an audience-free Royal Albert Hall, would also include the National Anthem and Jerusalem. It read: “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.”
But the organisers also said they wanted to “bring in new moments capturing the mood of this unique time” with numbers like You’ll Never Walk Alone, the Rodgers and Hammerstein number adopted by Liverpool Football fans.
After doubts were raised about this year’s show, pressure group Defund the BBC – which is campaigning for licence-fee reform – accused the
corporation of showing “disdain for the British people”.
Defund the BBC’s director Rebecca Ryan said: “The BBC’s continued assault on the heritage of this country is unacceptable.”
Tory MP Philip Davies said: “It is this sort of politically correct drivel that shows how out of step the BBC is with the British public.”
Actor Laurence Fox tweeted:
“Without the past, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I wish the BBC would stop hating Britain so much.”
Paul Bristow, Conservative MP for Peterborough, said: “Is it time to put the BBC out of its licence-fee misery?
“It must be painful for them to be funded by millions of people it no longer has anything in common with.”