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BBC U-turns on singing ‘Rule, Britannia!’

3 min read
3 September 2020 | UK NEWS

The BBC have reversed their decision to play only the instrumental versions of Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory, following a barrage of criticism and public condemnation.

The BBC released a statement saying that they “are doing everything possible to make it special and want a Last Night truly to remember”.

Criticisms of the BBC’s decision came from many, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said of the decision: “I cannot believe … that the BBC is saying that they will not sing the words of Land of Hope and Glory or Rule, Britannia! as they traditionally do at the end of The Last Night of The Proms.

“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.”

The BBC’s U-turn marked the second day in office for incoming Director-General, Tim Davie, who replaced the outgoing Tony Hall.

The BBC’s full statement went as follows:

“The pandemic means a different Proms this year and one of the consequences, under COVID-19 restrictions, is we are not able to bring together massed voices. For that reason we took the artistic decision not to sing Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory in the Hall.

We have been looking hard at what else might be possible and we have a solution. Both pieces will now include a select group of BBC Singers. 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. 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.”

A group of fourteen Conservative MPs had written to Mr Davie, asking him to reverse the decision and make it known that impartiality standards were seen to be dropping.

They wrote in their letter that there was a “distinct lack of impartiality in BBC reporting and commentary”. On the issue of Rule, Britannia!, they said: “As the national broadcaster, the BBC should have explored the full context of those lyrics within British history. Instead, all the BBC can offer is censorship and ahistorical apologism for doing so.”

Attacks on the BBC continued during the first instalment of PMQs since Parliament resumed. Responding to a question from Conservative backbencher Andrew Lewer concerning the legitimacy of the BBC license fee, Boris Johnson promised that the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport was preparing a “roadmap for reform” of the BBC.

The details of this roadmap have not yet been released.

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