Will the BBC now be FORCED to play ‘offensive’ Proms anthem lyrics? Dame Vera Lynn TOPS charts amid growing fury – as a BBC insider condemns left-wing bosses for ‘walking into a completely unnecessary and absurd row’
- Top songs are typically aired in full during BBC Radio 1’s Friday chart show – so Dame Vera’s song could feature
- The BBC’s decision to axe singing of Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia has sparked widespread fury
- Corporation insiders hinted at internal tensions, with one calling controversy a ‘totally self-generated f*** up’
The British public could force the BBC to play ‘offensive’ lyrics at the heart of the Proms row on Friday after Vera Lynn’s rendition of Land of Hope and Glory topped the charts – and insiders condemn left-wing bosses for ‘walking into a completely unnecessary and absurd row’.
The corporation could now be forced to play the patriotic anthem properly after all, because the UK’s top-selling songs are typically aired in full during BBC Radio 1’s Friday chart show.
The compromise, which followed a racism row, was drawn up after incoming director general Tim Davie intervened to insist both pieces were performed in some form.
The former Tory council candidate is thought to want to reset the BBC’s relationship with No 10 when he takes over next week.
The switch to an instrumental version for the Last Night of the Proms prompted the actor Laurence Fox to mount a social media drive to back a recording by Dame Vera Lynn, who died in June aged 103.
It came as a senior BBC insider hinted at internal tensions, saying last night: ‘This is another example of the BBC walking into a completely unnecessary and absurd row about culture.
‘It makes a lot of us despair when this kind of thing happens again and again. There’s lots of things you can say about both of the songs and they are not up to the minute. But that’s the case with 99 per cent of our culture one way or the other.’
Another insider told The Times ‘We have taken a relatively simple thing and made it a complete mess,’ one BBC source said. Another called it a ‘totally self-generated f*** up’.’
Anger grew over the decision yesterday, with Boris Johnson condemning the BBC for ‘wetness’ and accusing its senior figures of harbouring a ‘cringing embarrassment’ for Britain’s traditions.
Vera Lynn’s version of Land of Hope and Glory (left) has now topped the charts over anger at the BBC’s gagging of Britannia
BBC chairman Michael Grade told the Today programme this morning: ‘This is a ghastly mistake which shows how out of touch they are with their audience.
‘I would defend the BBC’s right to make decisions free of political influence but it is clearly a mistake, it’s just idiotic.’
Does the BBC always play chart toppers on live radio?
The UK’s top-selling songs are typically played in full during BBC Radio 1’s chart show – now broadcast on Fridays – although there have been exceptions.
A social media campaign to get Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead to the top of the charts following the death of Margaret Thatcher in 2013 saw the song from The Wizard of Oz reach number two.
The BBC declined to play the track in full, however, instead offering an explanation from a reporter stating why it had been so successful. Dame Vera remains the oldest artist ever to land an album in the top 40.
In April Captain Tom Moore, then 99, became the oldest ever singer to get a number one single after covering You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Dame Vera’s rendition of Land of Hope and Glory has reached the top spot in the charts (pictured)
The campaign to get Dame Vera to the top of the charts was launched by a group called Defund the BBC, which states that its main goal is to decriminalise failure to pay the licence fee.
The group urged those upset with the Proms decision to download Dame Vera’s version, tweeting yesterday: ‘Let’s get Land of Hope and Glory to No 1 in the charts and make the BBC play it… the words the BBC really don’t want you to hear, sung by Dame Vera Lynn.’
Those backing the appeal include actor Laurence Fox, who called the decision to drop the lyrics from Edward Elgar’s composition ‘shameful’.
He wrote online: ‘Would the BBC then have to play it? What a beautiful day that would be.’
By last night the song had already shot to number one in Apple’s charts for its own music services.
The BBC vowed last night that the patriotic lyrics would return in 2021 – when the concert season finale is again performed before an audience.
But MPs from both parties and Trevor Phillips, the former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, condemned this year’s decision. Almost 30,000 people have signed a change.org petition demanding that the lyrics be reinstated.
Mr Johnson said yesterday he was so passionate about the issue that his advisers had sought to ‘restrain’ his remarks.
Saying he could barely believe the BBC’s decision, he added: ‘It’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture, and we stopped this general fight of self-recrimination and wetness, I wanted to get that off my chest.’
Mr Phillips accused BBC bosses of being ‘rooms full of white men panicking that someone is going to think they are racist’.
He said: ‘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.’
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also weighed into the row, with a Labour spokesman saying the Proms was a ‘staple of the British summer’ and enjoying patriotic songs ‘was not a barrier to examining our past and learning lessons from it’.
The switch to an instrumental version for the Last Night of the Proms (pictured) prompted the actor Laurence Fox to mount a social media drive to back a recording by Dame Vera Lynn, who died in June aged 103
The lyrics to Land of Hope and Glory
Land of Hope and Glory
Mother of the Free
How shall we extol thee
Who are born of thee?
Wider still, and wider
Shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty
Make thee mightier yet!
Dear Land of Hope, thy hope is crowned
God make thee mightier yet!
On Sov’ran brows, beloved, renowned
Once more thy crown is set
Thine equal laws, by Freedom gained
Have ruled thee well and long;
By Freedom gained, by Truth maintained
Thine Empire shall be strong
Thy fame is ancient as the days
As Ocean large and wide:
A pride that dares, and heeds not praise
A stern and silent pride
Not that false joy that dreams content
With what our sires have won;
The blood a hero sire hath spent
Still nerves a hero son
The row over this year’s Proms began at the weekend when it was first reported that Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory could be ditched entirely. Critics have claimed the songs are inappropriate due to associations with colonialism and slavery.
The lyrics to Rule Britannia include the line ‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves’, while the 1902 words to Land of Hope and Glory were reputedly inspired by Cecil Rhodes, an imperialist and mining magnate whose statue is being removed from an Oxford college.
It was suggested that the Finnish Proms conductor, Dalia Stasevska, was keen to limit patriotic elements, and that this year – without an audience due to coronavirus – was the perfect moment for change.
Late on Monday, BBC bosses finally confirmed that the two anthems would be performed, but without the lyrics.
Government officials held talks with BBC executives to urge them to rethink the decision but to no avail.
David Mellor, the Tory former culture secretary, said: ‘This is a disgraceful cock-up at every level. What we get is a whole lot of woke claptrap and the BBC don’t know what to do about it.’
Business Secretary Alok Sharma suggested the BBC should put the lyrics on screen so viewers can decide for themselves whether to sing them.
Tensions between No 10 and the BBC have been growing since the election. Downing Street banned ministers from appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and was enraged by a monologue by Emily Maitlis on Newsnight about Dominic Cummings. Tony Hall, the BBC’s outgoing director general, yesterday tried to blame the coronavirus crisis for the Proms decision, pointing out that fewer performers are allowed on stage.
He said the issue had been determined by David Pickard, who became director of the BBC Proms in 2015. Asked whether there had been a discussion about dropping songs because of their link with imperialism, Lord Hall replied: ‘The whole thing has been discussed by David and his colleagues.’
He defended the compromise, adding: ‘It’s very, very hard in an Albert Hall that takes over 5,000 people to have the atmosphere of the Last Night of the Proms and to have things where the whole audience normally sing along.’
A BBC spokesman said last night: ‘For the avoidance of any doubt, these songs will be sung next year.
‘We obviously share the disappointment of everyone that the Proms will have to be different but we believe this is the best solution in the circumstances.’
Lord Digby Jones criticised the BBC today, while BBC TV presenter Simon McCoy also appeared to mock the decision, writing ‘There are no words’
Nigel Farage suggested the BBC ‘needs cancelling’ when reacting to the ongoing Last Night of the Proms row this morning
Kate Hoey, the former MP for Vauxhall, said the Proms was ‘not worth watching’ without the lyrics to the anthems
Tory MPs Andrew Griffith and Alexander Stafford both urged the BBC to row back on their decision not to sing the anthems’ lyrics
Yesterday, a Songs of Praise producer has compared Rule Britannia’s lyrics to neo-Nazis singing about the Holocaust.
What is the history of Rule, Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory?
Rule, Britannia originates from the poem of the same name by Scottish poet and playwright James Thomson, and was set to music by English composer Thomas Arne in 1740.
It gained popularity in the UK after it was first played in London in 1745 and became symbolic of the British Empire, most closely associated with the British Navy.
The song has been used as part of a number of compositions, including Wagner’s concert overture in D Major in 1837 and Beethoven’s orchestral work, Wellington’s Victory.
The song has been an integral part of the annual Remembrance Day ceremony since 1930, when it became the first song played in the programme known as The Traditional Music.
It regained popularity at the end of WWII in 1945 after it was played at the ceremonial surrender of the Japanese imperial army in Singapore.
Rule, Britannia is usually played annually during at the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms.
Left-wing critics claimed its inclusion has promoted controversy in recent years as it was deemed too patriotic.
The song ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ is based on the trio theme from Elgar’s Pomp And Circumstance March No. 1, which was originally premiered in 1901.
It caught the attention of King Edward VII after it became the only piece in the history of the Proms to receive a double encore.
King Edward suggested that this trio would make a good song, and so Elgar worked it into the last section of his Coronation Ode, to be performed at King Edward’s coronation.
Cat Lewis tweeted: ‘Do those Brits who believe it’s ok to sing an 18th Century song about never being enslaved… also believe it’s appropriate for neo-Nazis to shout ‘We will never be forced into a gas chamber’.’
Anti-Semitism campaigner Jonathan Sacerdoti called the comparison ‘outrageous’.
Several prominent left-wingers have come out against the traditional anthems in recent days.
Nwanoku, founder of the Chineke! Foundation which supports upcoming BAME musicians, told The Guardian: ‘The lyrics 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. If the BBC are talking about Black Lives Matter and their support for the movement, how could you possibly have Rule Britannia as the last concert – in any concert?’
Ms Kani also raised concerns with the line on slavery, telling BBC Radio 4: ‘I’m Indian, my parents came from India, I received a wonderful education in Britain, but I don’t actually feel very British when I hear things like that.
‘I don’t feel very British when I have people say to me ‘go home p***.”
The musician instead suggested the songs could be replaced with I Vow to Thee My Country or The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love.
Ms Kani, whose parents sought refuge in Britain after the partition of India in 1947, also told the Sunday Times: ‘I don’t listen to Land of Hope and Glory and say ‘thank God I’m British’ – it actually makes me feel more alienated.
‘Britain raped India and that is what that song is celebrating.’
The conductor of this year’s Proms, Dalia Stasevska, has reportedly voiced her desire to modernise the Proms and reduce its patriotic elements.
She is understood to have been part of a small group behind the decision to perform Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory without lyrics next month.
‘Dalia is a big supporter of Black Lives Matter and thinks a ceremony without an audience is the perfect moment to bring change,’ a BBC source said.
A corporation spokesman said: ‘The decisions taken are the BBC’s. We very much regret the unjustified personal attacks on Dalia Stasevska, BBC Symphony Orchestra Principal Guest Conductor made on social media and elsewhere.’
If the BBC knew its history, it would understand Rule Britannia ISN’T racist – and is adored across the world, writes ROBERT HARDMAN
At least, there is still one irredeemably British quality to this year’s Last Night of the Proms: the fudge. Not even the finest dairy herds of Devon and Cornwall could have confected something as thick, rich and clotted as the latest solution served up by the BBC.
Instead of either ignoring the usual half-hearted complaints about ‘jingoism’ – a recurring grumble ahead of every Last Night since the war – or else explaining why such charges are baseless, the BBC management has, this year, just caved in.
The result is a mess that has not merely satisfied no one at all but has now managed to kickstart a national debate about the BBC itself. And it is all so needless.
Instead of either ignoring the usual half-hearted complaints about ‘jingoism’ – a recurring grumble ahead of every Last Night since the war – or else explaining why such charges are baseless, the BBC management has, this year, just caved in
Come the grand finale of this year’s concert, ‘Rule Britannia’ will be just a shrivelled morsel. A few bars of Arne’s famous anthem will be bolted on to the end of the usual medley of nautical songs – but without any words. Next comes Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 (‘Land of Hope and Glory’) but, again, minus the words.
It would have been easier for the BBC if they had simply said they were removing these pieces on a temporary basis, as indeed they did in 2001. Back then, in those dumbstruck days immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA, it was decided that these boisterous crowd-pleasers would hit the wrong note. So out they went, without complaint.
The lyrics to Rule Britannia
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.
When Britain first, at heaven’s command,
Arose from out the azure main,
This was the charter of the land,
And Guardian Angels sang this strain:
The nations not so blest as thee
Must, in their turn, to tyrants fall,
While thou shalt flourish great and free:
The dread and envy of them all.
Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
More dreadful from each foreign stroke,
As the loud blast that tears the skies
Serves but to root thy native oak.
Thee haughty tyrants ne’er shall tame;
All their attempts to bend thee down
Will but arouse thy generous flame,
But work their woe and thy renown.
To thee belongs the rural reign;
Thy cities shall with commerce shine;
All thine shall be the subject main,
And every shore it circles, thine.
The Muses, still with freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coasts repair.
Blest isle! with matchless beauty crowned,
And manly hearts to guard the fair.
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves
This time around, the BBC is floundering, meekly trying to blame this mess on the coronavirus while not denying that it has something to do with the culture wars raging beyond.
Yesterday, the director-general Lord [Tony] Hall claimed it was a ‘creative conclusion’ in response to Covid-19, insisting: ‘It’s very, very hard to have things where the whole audience normally sing along.’
This argument simply falls apart given that the song which has now overtaken Elgar – ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ – is a singalong classic which will be sung by the guest soprano and by the BBC Singers. So, too, will ‘Jerusalem’ and the National Anthem.
In other words, some songs are safe to sing in a pandemic but not others. Pull the other one.
This year’s guest conductor, Finland’s Dalia Stasevska, 35, reportedly regards the virus as a good excuse for pruning a much-loved script. As a BBC source told the Sunday Times: ‘Dalia is a big supporter of Black Lives Matter and thinks a ceremony without an audience is the perfect moment to bring change.’
Miss Stasevska has made no comment and has chosen to let this remark stand. With no substantial ethnic minorities beyond a tiny percentage of Swedes and Russians, Finland is among the least diverse societies in Europe. Finns are perhaps not best-placed to lecture the British on multiculturalism.
I suggest that Miss Stasevska has a word with her compatriot, Sakari Oramo. He was the Finnish conductor with a very difficult task – conducting the Last Night of the Proms in 2016 in the toxic aftermath of the Brexit referendum. Back then, the BBC was crippled by the same old anxieties about orgies of jingoism.
Former Proms director Nicholas Kenyon wrote darkly in the Guardian of his ‘sense of foreboding that this most British of occasions might be hijacked to celebrate the triumph of Little England’.
As ever, it was nonsense – as I discovered when I went along myself. The only people who hijacked the event were an enterprising band of Remainers who had purchased a lorry load of EU flags which were given to everyone going through the door. A few Brexiteers tried to do the same with Union flags. Mr Oramo ignored it all.
Perhaps the loudest cheer of the night came when he led on his star vocalist, Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, to sing Rule Britannia. Florez had come not in white tie and tails, nor dressed as Britannia. Instead, he was in the full regalia of the King of the Incas, complete with feathered cloak and Sun God helmet.
The audience was ecstatic. Here was a proud Peruvian in ancient native dress, conducted by a proud Finn, leading the entire Albert Hall – plus tens of thousands gathered around the jumbo screens in Hyde Park, Glasgow and elsewhere plus millions more watching on telly – in a bravura rendition of one of Britain’s best-loved tunes.
It was a perfect illustration of a point completely lost on these panicky BBC executives: the Last Night is a global event. It is also one with a healthy sense of irony – an alien concept, of course, to the woke. The thing which most sticks in my mind about that night in 2016 (like all the other Last Nights, in fact) is the range of nationalities. In addition to the EU and Union flags, the next most popular is usually that of Germany.
What about other countries?
Is Rule Britannia really so offensive compared to the lyrics of other countries’ hymns? Judge for yourself…
France: La Marseillaise
‘They’re coming right into your arms, to cut the throats of your sons, your comrades! Let’s march, let’s march, that their impure blood should water our fields.’
Ireland: The Soldier’s Song
‘Some have come from a land beyond the wave, sworn to be free, no more our ancient sireland shall shelter the despot or the slave.’
US: The Star-Spangled Banner
The US anthem celebrates ‘bombs bursting in the air’ as they ‘gave proof through the night that our flag was still there’. It then celebrates the spilling of ‘their blood’… for ‘conquer we must’.
Italy: The Song of Italians
‘The Austrian eagle has lost his plumes. This eagle that drunk the blood of Italy and Poland, together with the Cossack.’
Hungary: National Anthem
Remembering the Ottoman Empire as a ‘barbarian nation’, Hungary’s anthem still includes the following suspect line about the suffering it endured at the hands of a nearby neighbour: ‘the Turks’ slave yoke we took upon our shoulders’.
Portugal: A Portuguesa
‘To march against the enemy guns! … To arms, to arms, on land and sea!’
Mexico: National Anthem
‘War, war without truce against who would attempt to blemish the honour of the fatherland!’ … The patriotic banners saturate in waves of blood.’
People get up at all hours around the world to tune in and hold ‘Last Night’ parties. For many of them, it is a lifelong ambition to get a ticket to the real thing. All those German and Japanese viewers will be just as dismayed as the crustiest British ancient mariner this year when they witness Miss Stasevska’s joyless, truncated snippet of a wordless Rule Britannia.
Sir Henry Wood’s Promenade Concerts (to give them their full name) have always been the greatest festival of world music anywhere. They are anything but a celebration of national music, like so many lesser festivals.
Those eccentrics with their little rituals whom viewers always see at the front of the Last Night crowd are very serious about their music.
I have interviewed a few of them over the years. They are an eclectic bunch but the last thing you can accuse them of is jingoism. They might sing Rule Britannia with gusto but they will have been just as enthusiastic for the French, African, Indian – even Finnish – music at other concerts over the season.
Besides, Rule Britannia has nothing to do with ‘enslavement’ as its critics claim. Indeed, the words are an exhortation, not a triumphalist boast. Note that the words say ‘Britannia, rule the waves’ – not ‘rules’.
The song was written for an 18th-century royal masque about Alfred the Great defeating the Vikings. It acquired its popularity not as a military marching tune, like, say, France’s unashamedly brutal Marseillaise, but as a catchy musical number sung by barmaid-turned-West End star, Kitty Clive. In other words, it’s a Georgian X-Factor hit. It then went on to be a favourite tune of the Royal Navy – the same navy, of course, which abolished slavery.
Similarly, Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory was called no such thing when it was first performed at the Proms in 1901 – because Arthur Benson had not yet got round to writing any words. It was just Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1.
These songs have never been imposed on the British public – like a national anthem or school song – but they endure through their universal appeal. The Germans, Brazilians and Japanese whom I have seen singing ‘Rule Britannia’ at the Royal Albert Hall, while waving their EU flags, had no more enthusiasm for British imperialism than Dalia Stasevska, Jeremy Corbyn or Karl Marx’s cat. Like all the other Prommers, they were there for the music and for the occasion.
It is often said that the BBC is far too sensitive to the prevailing wind on Twitter. So the Broadcasting House high-ups must have been mortified to see that the most popular Twitter thread yesterday lunchtime was ‘#DefundtheBBC’ followed closely by ‘#RuleBritannia’. Then, the Prime Minister weighed in for the second day running, accusing the BBC of ‘cringing’ and ‘wetness’.
They need not cringe. Rather, they should point out that it was the BBC which saved the Proms from insolvency in 1927 and which has kept it all going ever since with generations of great musicians, conductors and presenters. Then they should tell their critics on both sides to pipe down and enjoy the music.
But perhaps, we should have seen this coming. For last year’s Last Night, the BBC commissioned a new work to open the concert. It was entitled, simple, ‘Woke’.
So what songs WILL be sung at the proms? The words to Jerusalem and You’ll Never Walk Alone
And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy lamb of god
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear, oh clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Til we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land
When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone, you’ll never walk alone
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