Last Night of the Proms brouhaha is nothing more than a cynical diversion: Anthony Clavane

The Proms – the world’s biggest music festival – returns today. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, all live performances will take place without an audience.

People wave flags at the Royal Albert Hall on September 7, 2013 during the Last Night of the Proms. (Photo: CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

For some reason, this straightforward and seemingly-uncomplicated news item about one of Britain’s cultural assets having to reinvent itself in the wake of Covid-19 has become, well, a brouhaha.

This wonderful word is defined in my dictionary as a “noisy and overexcited reaction or response to something”.

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The noise has emanated from certain sections of the media who, with Parliament in recess, are in desperate need of silly season stories. And the overexcitement has been confected by populist politicians in desperate need of shock-horror, the-country’s-going-to-hell-in-a-handcart headlines to divert attention away from the Government’s mis-management of the pandemic.

Proms conductor Dalia Stasevska who has said in a statement that she "played no role in deciding the traditional elements of the programme" following the controversy over the Last Night. Picture: Jarmo Katila/PA Wire

Let us recap. The BBC announced earlier this week that the entire Proms repertoire will be reworked. Due to the lack of a live audience, and the fact that boisterous singing is classed in these Covid times as a risky activity, the iconic anthems Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule, Britannia! will be played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on the evening of September 12th, the festival’s finale.

The Last Night Of The Proms has a symbolic place in the cultural calendar. With its theatrical pageantry, patriotic flag-waving and 5,000-strong audience belting out exuberant choruses, it traditionally provides a stirring climax to the fortnight’s festivities.

Still, the BBC hopes, all things permitting, that normal service will be resumed next year.

At least both works will be performed, for the first time since 1905, as instrumental pieces. Needs must and all that.

There is, however, another way of reporting this straightforward and seemingly uncomplicated news item.

According to some newspapers, who have never been slow to bash the BBC, the broadcaster has been pressurised into dropping Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule, Britannia! by the so-called Radical Woke Extreme Left.

The Daily Mail, one of several papers to lead with the Proms story on Tuesday, ran with the noisy and overexcited headline: “Surrender”. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden declared that “confident forward-looking nations don’t erase their history, they add to it”. Actor Laurence Fox berated the Beeb for “hating Britain so much” and Piers Morgan denounced this “insane, woke, cancel culture nonsense”.

It was not long, of course, before Boris Johnson waded in. “I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture,” the prime minister thundered. “And we stopped this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness. I wanted to get that off my chest.”

Somehow, this non-story has been manufactured into a brouhaha, a political controversy, the latest battle in a fabricated culture war.

It appears to me to be an invented row, triggered by a claim in a Sunday broadsheet that Rule, Britannia! would be axed in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

An anonymous source at the BBC implied the new Proms conductor, Dalia Stasevska, wanted to make the change. This, according to the paper, was due to the anthem’s perceived association with colonialism and slavery.

Another newspaper revealed that Stasevska’s husband was a bassist in a Finnish heavy metal band. And that he had once written a song which referred to Adolf Hitler. Enough said.

I have looked, in vain, for any official Black Lives Matter criticism of Last Night Of The Proms. And I can’t recall one major anti-racist organisation ever asking for any of the songs to be axed.

True, Stasevska tweeted, in response to the death of George Floyd: “I stand for equality. I stand against racism. I stand for love and compassion.” All laudable sentiments which hardly amount to a Radical Woke Extreme Leftist attack on our history, traditions and culture.

In launching his chest-beating attack on an imaginary enemy, Boris reminded me of the fictional character Don Quixote.

The hero of Miguel de Cervantes’ early 17th century novel wastes a great deal of his time tilting at windmills, thinking they are “monstrous giants”, completely out of touch with reality.

As the renowned broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby put it: “Surely the prime minister has more important things to do than lambast the BBC for a cheap headline.”

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Thank you

James Mitchinson