Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
“I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture, and we stopped this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness. I wanted to get that off my chest.”–Boris Johnson
Well, my dear Ricochet peeps, this is not the quote of the day post that I planned to lay on you when I went to bed last night. That one, a sweet little rumination on one of my favorite childhood authors, will have to wait.
Instead, I bring you heartening news from across the pond. News which concerns, of all things, that particular rite of British end-of-summer passage known as “The Last Night of the Proms.”
A bit of background: The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts (“the Proms”) are an annual series of classical summer concerts held at the Royal Albert Hall in London and broadcast by the BBC. The term ‘promenade’ is a throwback to the outdoor concerts of prior centuries, and here refers to the fact that the Hall, unusually, sells standing-room tickets for these concerts, so people are moving about much more than is typical at a classical music performance and the atmosphere is more relaxed than is usually the case at such events. That is particularly true each year on the “Last Night.”
The current series of promenade concerts traces its roots back to 1895 and the Queen’s Hall Orchestra conducted by 26-year old Henry Wood, funded by George Cathcart, a prominent London doctor, and managed by impresario Robert Newman. The concerts featuring accessible classical music and lower ticket prices than usual, proved popular and gained the then forty-two-year-old Henry Wood his knighthood in 1911.
The BBC took over the concert series in 1928, following Robert Newman’s death and the newly-formed BBC Symphony Orchestra took over the bulk of the performances. In 1947, Malcolm Sargent began his legendary career as Proms chief conductor, a position he held until 1966. He was the conductor of my childhood, the one I remember watching on Granny and Grandpa’s tiny black and white television with them when we were in the UK on the second Saturday in September, and the one I remember listening to on the old red short-wave transistor radio in Nigeria when we weren’t.
The Proms, as a series, remain popular still today, but “The Last Night of the Proms” has taken on a life of its own in popular culture and exists almost as a separate entity from the rest of the concerts. Its audience, both in-person in London and at associated “Proms in the Park” gatherings across the United Kingdom, is enormous. Its program, which was developed and set during Malcolm Sargent’s tenure, is lighter and more accessible even than the regular concert series, and is peppered with patriotic music and song, including “Pomp and Circumstance March #1” (Elgar), “Rule, Britannia” (Arne), “Jerusalem” (Parry), and the national anthem. The first contains, as part of its score, the music for which the words of the song “Land of Hope and Glory” were written. The second needs no explanation. The third is the music written for William Blake’s poem. And the national anthem is what it’s been since before 1831 when a man from the former Massachusetts Bay Colony stole the melody and put the words of “America: My Country ‘Tis of Thee” to it.
I’m sure, by now, that you’re beginning to spot the worm at the core of the apple, the serpent in the garden, the fly in the ointment. That which makes it impossible, in these woke times, for “The Last Night of the Proms” to continue any longer in its current form and content.
The BBC (click here if you’d like to learn more about the very active, and increasingly popular, grass-roots campaign to “Defund the BBC”), in the audience-less age of Covid-19 and under real or imagined pressure from the social justice Left, has announced that this year’s “Last Night” although it will still feature “Rule, Britannia” and “Land of Hope and Glory,” will do so without lyrics. For once, even The Guardian sees through the charade:
The traditional flag-waving anthems Rule Britannia and Land of Hope of Glory could be dropped from the Last Night of the Proms because of their perceived links with colonialism and slavery.
The BBC is reportedly considering whether to axe the patriotic staples in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, and the Covid restrictions are seen as an opportunity to make the change.
In the immortal words of Rahm Emmanuel, “never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Although the BBC backed off its initial announcement that the songs would likely be dropped–probably a trial balloon–the subsequent announcement that they would just not be sung has not sat well with the Great British Public. Or, apparently, with its Prime Minister. (To give you an idea of the affection in which these traditions are held, and the enthusiasm, good humor, and spirit of fun in which they take place, here’s “Rule, Britannia,” from the 2011 Last Night. Trigger warning: The song contains two words “rule,” and “slaves” which are about to consign it to the ash-heap of history. Hide your children, stiffen your spines, and consider yourselves warned):
Enter, Stage Right, the actor Laurence Fox. And a lady and national icon I’ve written about here many times before.
And . . . it’s done.
Two months after her death at the age of 103, Dame Vera Lynn has once again topped the British music download charts and will, one supposes, have to be played on the BBC, on this upcoming weekend’s pops countdown program.
From the Telegraph:
Land of Hope and Glory has been propelled to the top of the charts by campaigners amid a growing backlash against the BBC’s choice of music for the Last Night of the Proms.
The corporation was accused of “panicking” about race after announcing that only orchestral versions of the rousing patriotic anthems would be performed at next month’s event.
As Lord Hall, the BBC’s outgoing director-general, admitted they had considered ditching the songs because of their association with Britain’s imperial history, almost 25,000 people signed a petition demanding they be saved.
Laurence Fox, the outspoken actor, led calls for the licence fee to be scrapped while Alok Sharma, the business secretary, urged the BBC to show subtitles amid a mounting campaign for a living room sing-along.
Here, apparently, is where the rot started:
The decision to buck tradition and reinvent the finale of the Proms season began when Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska, who is conducting the Last Night, and David Pickard, the BBC Proms director, discussed changing the repertoire to reflect the international debates about racism.
No idea who “Dalia Stasevska” is, but perhaps she needs to start her own series of concerts somewhere else and stop ordering the British about. From the Guardian article linked above: “‘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 told the Sunday Times.”
My native country disagrees.
Well done, Laurence Fox, Boris Johnson, and the late, great, Dame Vera Lynn.
Here she is:
Dad would be so proud. Somewhere, he’s applauding from the wings.
Gagara Yasin. (Loose translation: “Back atcha, BBC!”)Published in