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BBC backtracks on wordless Rule, Britannia plan

By | Published on Thursday 3 September 2020

Royal Albert Hall

After all that fuss, the BBC has caved and said that the words of ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ will now be performed at the Last Night Of The Proms.

There was uproar from at least four people when the broadcaster said last month that instrumental versions would be played this year, so as not to risk a big choir spitting COVID-19 everywhere. Patriotism trumps potential death for some people.

It’s not a full U-turn though. Maybe 70%. Because the full bombastic choral force of the songs will not be in effect. Instead, a “select group of BBC singers” will perform the songs’ controversial lyrics.

Last month, it was reported that the BBC was considering cutting the two songs entirely from the Last Night Of The Proms concert, where they traditionally form part of the closing of the show. It was suggested that this was in response to recent the Black Lives Matter protests and due to the songs’ celebration of British colonialism.

However, days later, the BBC said that instrumental versions of both ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ would definitely be included. It said that the changes would respect “the traditions and spirit of the event whilst adapting to very different circumstances at this moment in time”.

Those “very different circumstances at this moment in time” referred to all things COVID, not the recent BLM protests. The ongoing pandemic having already led to the decision not to have audiences at this year’s Proms, it was also deemed unsafe to have a large choir blasting germs out into the room over each other and the orchestra.

However, because of the ongoing debate over whether it’s still appropriate for the empire loving songs to appear at all, some people decided to get all angry over that decision, believing that the BBC opting for instrumentals only was actually political correctness gone mad.

In response to all that manufactured outrage, the BBC reckons it’s now come up with a solution. “Both pieces will now include a select group of BBC singers”, it says in a statement. “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”, it then said, forgetting all the people who have objected to the songs being included at all. “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. It will not be a usual Last Night, but it will be a night not just to look forward to, but to remember”.

Commenting on the news, the UK government’s Culture Minister Olive Dowden said on Twitter that he was “pleased to see common sense has prevailed on the BBC Proms”.

There’s more discussion of the row over ‘Rule, Britannia’ on this week’s edition of our Setlist podcast.