The BBC yesterday performed a humiliating U-turn and brought back the singing of Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory at Last Night of the Proms.
In his first major intervention as director-general, Tim Davie – on only his second day in the job – overturned the hugely controversial decision to play only instrumental versions.
The broadcaster put out a shock statement at lunchtime announcing there would now be a ‘select group of BBC Singers’ performing the songs. It added: ‘We hope everyone will welcome this solution.’
It followed huge public outcry at the revelation last week – when Tony Hall was still director-general – that there would be ‘new orchestral versions’.
The decision came after controversy surrounding the songs’ alleged historical links with colonialism and slavery. Yesterday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he was pleased ‘common sense has prevailed’.
Pictured: The audience enjoying the BBC Last Night of the Proms, at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule Britannia! will be performed at this years’ Last Night Of The Proms, the BBC has said
Downing Street said Boris Johnson – who had accused the BBC of ‘wetness’ – ‘welcomes the decision’. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer added: ‘It is the right decision.’
A poll for the Daily Mail last week found that 59 per cent of Britons believed the broadcaster was in the wrong over the row, rising to 80 per cent among over-65s.
There was praise for Mr Davie, with former Tory minister David Mellor saying: ‘Well done him.’
A senior BBC executive called the U-turn ‘sensible and unsurprising’, and said if Mr Davie, 53, had been in charge earlier ‘this would have been the original decision’.
Mr Davie’s swift and decisive action is being seen as a statement of intent that he wants to tackle concerns that the BBC is dominated by ‘woke’ Left-wing politics.
He told staff on his first day on Tuesday that the BBC must represent ‘every part of this country’.
In its surprise statement yesterday, a BBC Proms spokesman said: ‘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 [Royal Albert] 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.’
The statement added: ‘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.’
Pictured: Tim Davie, new Director General of the BBC, arrives at BBC Scotland in Glasgow for his first day in the role on September 1, 2020. On his second day on the job, Davie overturned the hugely controversial decision
Musicians are playing live, without an audience because of coronavirus restrictions, for the final two weeks of the season. It concludes with the traditional Last Night.
The change in policy was warmly welcomed yesterday by the many critics of the earlier move.
Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, said: ‘This just shows the power of public pressure and how hopelessly out of touch the BBC are with their own licence fee payers.’
Rob Butler, the Conservative MP for Aylesbury, said: ‘I’m very pleased indeed. This should never have been in doubt.’
Actor Laurence Fox tweeted: ‘You are all amazing! They have to listen if we speak loud enough.’
Lord Hall previously said it was a ‘creative’ decision to remove the lyrics. But he confirmed that the issue of dropping songs because of their association with Britain’s imperial past had been discussed.
A sure sign Auntie is adjusting the dial to ‘listen’ mode: ROBERT HARDMAN is delighted the BBC has reversed decision over Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory at the Proms
By Robert Hardman for the Daily Mail
Deep down, Tim Davie may be rather grateful to whoever came up with the bonkers idea of deleting the words of Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory from this year’s Last Night of the Proms.
In his very first week as director-general of the BBC, Mr Davie has been handed a very simple, headline grabbing and entirely cost-free means of making his mark on the Corporation.
And it is a decision which will be welcomed by most level-headed people around the country, not least within the BBC itself.
For Mr Davie has simply listened to a national chorus, led by this newspaper. He has told the managers of the Proms concerts to put the traditional words back into the traditional finale.
They have now done so. There has been some predictable bleating from predictable quarters – a Guardian executive yesterday voiced instant outrage at a lost opportunity ‘to end this annual supremacist indulgence once and for all’ – but there is no accusation (yet) that Mr Davie himself is a racist or a fascist.
Pictured: Sakari Oramo conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall. Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory will return for this years’ event
Rather, he has shown himself to be someone in tune with what ordinary people are thinking, as opposed to what an enlightened and virtuous minority believe they ought to be thinking.
That has to be a good thing, even if it has happened in a thoroughly BBC-ish sort of way.
For the statement announcing yesterday’s U-turn was both condescending and nonsensical.
‘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,’ it said.
That is simply not true. The original BBC announcement about the Proms stated that the Last Night would feature a soprano ‘and the BBC Singers’. If the BBC Singers do not count as ‘massed voices’ then what the hell were they doing there in the first place?
Pictured: Tim Davie, new Director General of the BBC, arrives at BBC Scotland in Glasgow for his first day in the role on September 1, 2020
It was also announced that the BBC Singers would be singing, among other things, the show tune-cum-football anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone.
They just wouldn’t be singing anything which might somehow irk the infallible forces of woke.
Yesterday’s U-turn continued: ‘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.’
Well that’s jolly decent of them. I am so glad that we are free to sing what we like in our own homes. Thank you, BBC. Spoken like a true Auntie.
Let’s not be churlish. Let’s not get carried away either. However, this is a sure sign that the BBC is very gently readjusting the dial from ‘transmit’ mode towards ‘listen’ mode. And I know plenty of people within the Beeb who are glad of it.
Some are BBC lifers, appalled by this pointless storm in a teacup and delighted at what appears to be a fresh direction of travel. This is still a world-beating organisation, which so often sets the standard in its radio and television output – from the big set piece occasions to so much of its news, its drama and, yes, the Proms themselves.
Even more stirring than the Last Night is another annual fixture at the Royal Albert Hall, which comes two months later – the Festival of Remembrance.
Pictured: The BBC Symphony Orchestra performs at the last night of the BBC Proms festival of classical music at the Royal Albert Hall in London, September 12, 2015
Year in year out, it is among the most powerful and moving productions in our national calendar, rivalled only by what happens the following morning at the Cenotaph. As for the World Service, I can only defer to the words of Land of Hope and Glory: ‘Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set’.
As an occasional BBC contributor myself, I want it to thrive. I’d hate to see it slowly corroded by the rise of free-range platforms like Netflix, helped on its way by a craven managerial cadre in relentless pursuit of a youth audience that doesn’t watch telly anyway.
In other words, stop sneering at the middle ground and embrace them a little more.
Some BBC trendies may scoff at Mr Davie’s past life in the marketing department of Pepsi, but it seems to have served him well. Hence the word from within – which no one has rebutted – that he will not be adopting a ‘preferred pronoun’ in deference to trans sensitivities, and that he regards the BBC’s comedy output as ‘too Left-wing’.
To read some of the responses on social media, you’d think he was about to censor every last shouty comedian in favour of round-the-clock Ealing comedies and repeats of Terry and June.
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden, MP Rob Butler and Talk Radio host Mike Graham were among many to react positively to the news of the BBC’s U-turn
But beyond the more fashionable London boroughs, the Glastonbury VIP zones and the after-parties on the awards circuit, there has long been a sense of disconnect.
Hence it is funny to crack jokes, say, about the death of Margaret Thatcher, but repeats of Little Britain are not allowed.
It is acceptable, for example, for Frankie Boyle to host a BBC2 show – as he did in 2017 – in which he said that the Grenfell Tower fire was ‘worse’ than murder by the Tories, that Brexit was ‘Christmas for racists’ and that Jeremy Corbyn ‘does make me feel hopeful’.
Yet when Jeremy Clarkson described Mexicans as ‘lazy’ on the same channel, he was reprimanded and forced to recant while the BBC sent a formal apology to the Mexican ambassador. I don’t want Frankie Boyle taken off air and I am sure that Mr Davie does not either. But viewers will need to feel a greater sense of balance during the culture wars that lie ahead.
After decades of this sort of thing, the public does not need some rent-a-quote Tory backbencher – or even a wise BBC insider like Andrew Neil – to warn them of a default London/liberal bias. They have absorbed it by osmosis anyway.
That same narrow mindset came close to removing Rule Britannia from the Proms – and who knows what thereafter.But based on the evidence so far – and it is, admittedly, early days – Mr Davie seems willing to stand his ground.