The BBC has ditched the lyrics of “Rule Britannia!”
The BBC has ditched the lyrics of “Rule Britannia!” for its traditional end-of-summer concert amid a debate about the song’s celebration of the British Empire at a time when critics are reevaluating the nation’s colonial past.
Britain’s publicly funded broadcaster said late Monday that the final night of its Proms concert series would feature instrumental versions of “Rule Britannia!” and another patriotic mainstay, “Land of Hope and Glory,” instead of traditional singalongs.
The BBC said it changed this year’s event in light of “much-reduced musical forces” and because there would be no live audience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But critics accused the broadcaster of caving in to political correctness and pressure from social justice campaigners.
“The BBC will allow the tune to be played but not sung, thereby offending all shades of opinion all the time,’’ music critic and author Norman Lebrecht wrote in a blog post after the BBC announced the program for the Sept. 12 concert. “There is no excuse for such cowardice. At least one BBC head should roll.’′
The controversy arose Sunday when the Sunday Times newspaper reported that the BBC was considering scrapping the songs amid concerns about their “perceived association with colonialism and slavery.’’
Dalia Stasevska, the 35-year-old Finn who will conduct the concert, had pushed to modernize the event and reduce the “patriotic elements,’’ the newspaper said, without citing a source for the information.
The BBC on Monday rejected the “unjustified personal attacks’’ on Stasevska and said the company had chosen the concert program after consulting all the artists involved.
“The Proms will reinvent the Last Night in this extraordinary year so that it respects the traditions and spirit of the event whilst adapting to very different circumstances at this moment in time,″ the BBC said.
A classical musical festival held at the Royal Albert Hall every summer, the Proms has always featured a triumphant emotional singalong on its final day. It is a flag-waving fixture on the calendar and is seen as an expression of national pride in Britain.
After the Sunday Times story, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office said he believed in tackling the “substance” not the “symbols” of problems. His culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, also leapt to the defense of the songs.
”Share concerns of many about their potential removal and have raised this with BBC,” Dowden wrote on Twitter. “Confident forward-looking nations don’t erase their history, they add to it.”