BBC U-turn allows Rule Britannia to be sung at Proms


London (AFP)

The BBC on Wednesday said it would allow "Rule Britannia!" and "Land of Hope and Glory" to be sung at the Last Night of the Proms following a political backlash.

Last week the BBC -- which organises the annual Proms music festival -- had said it would feature only orchestral versions of the pieces because of their associations with colonialism and slavery, in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests.

The move sparked a furious public row, with even Prime Minister Boris Johnson getting involved, saying that Britain should halt its "cringing embarrassment about our history".

But in a U-turn on Wednesday, the British broadcaster announced that a "select group of BBC singers" would now perform the patriotic anthems.

"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," it said in a statement.

"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."

The UK's culture minister Oliver Dowden responded by tweeting that "common sense has prevailed".

The Proms are an annual classical musical event dating back to 1895 and this year's festival is being staged virtually rather than with a large crowd at its traditional Albert Hall venue, due to the coronavirus.

"Rule Britannia!" and "Land of Hope and Glory" are usually performed by an orchestra and a patriotic crowd singing along while waving Union Jack and other flags.

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

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

Organisers feared the anthems could sit uneasily with moves to reassess Britain's imperial history, renewed by anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd in the United States.

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

But others, particularly those on the political right, have argued the pieces should not prompt shame and their continued inclusion in the Proms demonstrate that Britain can acknowledge its history.