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BBC may drop Rule, Britannia from Last Night Of The Proms following Black Lives Matter protests

By | Published on Monday 24 August 2020

Royal Albert Hall

The BBC is reportedly considering dropping ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ from its ‘Last Night Of The Proms’ concert this year. This follows mounting pressure for the broadcaster to ditch the colonial anthems in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests.

Scenes of white people waving Union Jacks and singing joyously about colonialism and slavery during the event’s closing concert are the most famous images of the BBC’s annual orchestral music festival, of course. Whatever happens, those will not be seen this year, as the entire programme – which began last month – is taking place with no audiences at all, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The final concert of the series this year is set to be conducted by Dalia Stasevska. And the Sunday Times cites a “BBC source” as saying: “Dalia is a big supporter of Black Lives Matter and thinks a ceremony without an audience is the perfect moment to bring change”.

One of those who has been calling for changes to the musical line-up of the big Proms finale is Chi-chi Nwanoku, founder of black and minority ethnic orchestra Chineke.

Having recently written to the BBC on this matter, she tells the Guardian: “The lyrics [of ‘Rule, Britannia’] are just so offensive, talking about the ‘haughty tyrants’ – people that we are invading on their land and calling them haughty tyrants – and Britons shall never be slaves, which implies that it’s OK for others to be slaves but not us. It’s so irrelevant to today’s society. It’s been irrelevant for generations, and we seem to keep perpetuating it”.

Classical music critic Richard Morrison also recently used his column in BBC Music Magazine to call for such changes to be made, arguing that ‘Rule, Britainna’ and ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’, as well as ‘Jerusalem’, form a “crudely jingoistic” trilogy that “provoke[s] offence or ridicule”.

“When I look around me [at The Last Night Of The Proms concert] – particularly at the people sitting in the posh seats whom I’ve never seen at any other Proms – [I] realise that I can detect absolutely no sign of irony as they roar out these crudely jingoistic texts”, he wrote. “On the contrary, they seem to mean every single word. And even if they don’t, what comes across to the worldwide TV audience is a stereotype of Little England that was already being lampooned when I first went to the Proms half a century ago”.

“With massed choirs and a packed, flag-waving audience ruled out on medical grounds, there will never be a better moment to drop that toe-curling embarrassing anachronistic farrago of nationalistic songs that concludes the Last Night Of The Proms”, he continued. “And I don’t mean drop them just for this year. I mean forever”.

This would not actually be the first time that the BBC has dropped ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ from the Last Night show. In 2001, just days after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, they were replaced by more “reflective music”, such as ‘Choral’ from Beethoven’s ‘Ninth Symphony’.

‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ was reinstated the following year, although further up the programme, rather than forming part of the closing of the show. ‘Rule, Britannia’ did not return to the programme until 2008, bringing back the traditional finale of that, ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ and ‘Jerusalem’, followed by the National Anthem.

This year’s Proms series began last month, with the Last Night Of The Proms show scheduled to take place at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 12 Sep.