Ruled out Britannia? Concert finale in doubt over racism fears


It's a quintessentially British event: thousands of classical music lovers bobbing up and down at the Last Night of the Proms, waving the Union Flag, singing "Rule Britannia!" and "Land of Hope

and Glory".

But the government has now waded into a brewing storm about the two patriotic anthems celebrating the country's seafaring past, over suggestions they could be axed.

The Sunday Times said organisers of the festival feared a public backlash because of the songs' associations with colonialism and slavery, after Black Lives Matter protests.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman told reporters on Monday the programme for the series of concerts was a matter for the BBC, which broadcasts the event.

"The PM previously set out his position on like issues and has been clear that while he understands the strong emotions involved in these discussions, we need to tackle the substance of problems, not the symbols," he said.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden called the two songs "highlights" of the Proms, an annual series of daily classical music concerts which begin on Friday.

"Confident forward-looking nations don't erase their history, they add to it," he wrote on Twitter, adding that he had contacted the BBC to voice his concerns.

This year's Proms -- formally known as the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in west London -- will be a virtual event because of coronavirus restrictions.

The Sunday Times quoted an unnamed BBC insider as saying the lack of audience was an opportunity to diversify the programme, calling it the "Black Lives Matter Proms".

Classical music has long been accused of being overwhelmingly white and male, with the Last Night of the Proms the starkest example.

"Rule Britannia!" is based on a poem of the same name and includes the lyrics "Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves/Britons never, never, never shall be slaves".

"Land of Hope and Glory", with music by the composer Edward Elgar, is a similar hymn to British exceptionalism and viewed by some as a defence and celebration of colonialism.

But that could sit uneasily with moves to reassess Britain's historical legacy overseas, sparked by anti-racism protests sparked after the death of George Floyd in the United States.

Protesters toppled a statue to a slave trader in Bristol, and there have been calls for streets honouring figures who profited from the practice to be renamed.

Johnson though rejected what he said was an attempt to "edit or censor our past" after monuments across the country, including to wartime hero Winston Churchill, were defaced.

The BBC pointed to its efforts to make the concerts more representative in recent years, but said arrangements for this year's Last Night on September 12 were being finalised.

"Full details will be announced nearer the time of the concert," it added. AFP

The Era

  1. Popular
  2. Trend