Proms row shows what the BBC does matters, director-general says

The ongoing row over plans to perform traditional songs at the BBC Proms without lyrics shows “what the BBC does matters”, the corporation’s outgoing director-general has said.

Lord Tony Hall told the Daily Telegraph the move to play orchestral versions of Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory that do not feature singing was “the right creative decision”.

He added that “when you haven’t got an audience… it’s going to feel very, very flat”.

Coronavirus – Sun May 24, 2020
Coronavirus – Sun May 24, 2020

Traditional songs, which some find controversial because of their perceived ties to imperialism, will be played without lyrics at this year’s Last Night, although the BBC has confirmed they will be sung again in 2021.

Lord Hall’s comments come after composer Errollyn Wallen, who has written a new arrangement of Jerusalem which will be played during the Last Night performance, hit out at Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his intervention on the issue.

She said that his comments were “irresponsible”.

Earlier this week, Mr Johnson said he found the decision to remove the lyrics difficult to believe.

Appledore Shipyard to reopen
Appledore Shipyard to reopen

“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,” he added.

Responding to his comments, Ms Wallen said: “I think that is the first step, certainly cringe with embarrassment, and then go further and let’s open up the history that we are all part of.

“So that is the first step.”

She added: “I think he was being irresponsible at a time when the arts gets so little support.

“It has been hung out to dry, especially with all that’s happened with Covid-19.

“His remarks weren’t at all helpful.”

The Ivor Novello Awards – London
The Ivor Novello Awards – London

Ms Wallen she was “dismayed” that so many politicians waded into the row.

There is a “hullabaloo” over the Last Night, she said, adding: “Some of that was whipped up, to be honest.”

Earlier this week, Lord Hall confirmed the issue of dropping songs because of their association with Britain’s imperial past had been discussed.

The live music leg of the BBC Proms kicked off on Friday with a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

At the beginning of the BBC Two coverage of Friday’s performance, Stephen Fry, who was presenting, said it was “extraordinary” to be there.

He added: “It is exciting, as a Prom always is, except without the audience it’s exciting for other reasons because this is such a great moment in the cultural history of our nation, that the grass is growing back up through the concrete and finally there’s live music.”

The Last Night will be performed on September 12.

During the classical musical festival there will also be performances held in locations including Salford Quays and Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall.