The furious row over whether Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory should be axed from Last Night of the Proms in three weeks’ time deepened today as the centuries-old patriotic songs were labelled ‘racist propaganda’.
The BBC is said to be considering dropping the anthems from the concert on September 12 amid fears of criticism in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement because of their apparent links to colonialism and slavery.
The songs are best known for being a triumphant finish to the BBC’s coverage of the Proms each year, when thousands of flag-waving ‘prommers’ normally descend on the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, West London.
Conductor Dalia Stasevska, 35, who is from Finland, is said to believe this year’s ceremony without an audience is ‘the perfect moment to bring change’, but critics have accused the BBC of pandering to political correctness.
During a debate on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today, freedom of speech campaigner Inaya Folarin Iman insisted criticism of the two songs was ‘absurd’, adding that they bring ‘a lot of people joy and happiness’.
However Kehinde Andrews, a black studies professor at Birmingham City University, claimed the line ‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves’ from Rule Britannia is ‘racist propaganda’ from the days of the British Empire.
His comments have been echoed by musicians Chi-chi Nwanoku, who founded the first BAME majority orchestra in Europe, and Wasfi Kani, founder of Grange Park Opera in Surrey, who are also uncomfortable with the line.
It comes as:
- A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: ‘We need to tackle the substance of problems, not the symbols’;
- One musician suggested replacing the songs I Vow to Thee My Country or The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love;
- Flag-waving crowds will be absent from the Royal Albert Hall during the 125th annual Last Night concert;
- The BBC refused to confirm reports that the songs could be dropped, but said plans were still being finalised;
- Live performances start this Friday with a piece written by Hannah Kendall, 36, a black British composer.
Black studies professor Kehinde Andrews (bottom right) clashed with freedom of speech campaigner Inaya Folarin Iman (bottom left) on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today in a debate hosted by Adil Ray (top left) and Charlotte Hawkins (top right)
During the debate on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today, freedom of speech campaigner Inaya Folarin Iman said criticism of Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory was ‘absurd’, adding that they bring ‘a lot of people joy and happiness’
Dalia Stasevska: Right-on Finnish conductor, 35, leading Last Night of the Proms who has pledged support for Black Lives Matter and urged for debate on race issues in classic music
Dalia Stasevska, who is conducting the Last Night
Dalia Stasevska is preparing for the biggest night of her career on September 12 when she conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the Last Night of the Proms.
But away from music, the 35-year-old, who moved from her birthplace of Ukraine to Finland when she was aged just five, is known to be a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In June, as protests took place over the death of black man George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ms Stasevska tweeted an image reading: ‘I stand for equality. I stand against racism. I stand for love and compassion.’
In June, as protests took place over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ms Stasevska tweeted the above image
She uses social media to campaign about race and gender equality, and last month encouraged followers to listen to a BBC Radio 3 debate about classical music and race.
Ms Stasevska is pictured with musciain Mr Lordi, who is the lead vocalist in heavy metal band Lordi
Ms Stasevska is married to the Finnish musician Lauri Porra, who is the bassist for power metal band Stratovarius and the great-grandson of composer Jean Sibelius.
Speaking to the Guardian in January 2019, she said: ‘He’s the famous one, not me. There’s no city or country where he doesn’t get recognised!’
Ms Stasevska originally training as a violinist, before developing a love of opera aged 13 then moving into conducting in her 20s.
She told the Guardian: ‘Opera was kind of my punk. My friends were listening to the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys, but I just wanted opera.’
Dalia Stasevska is married to the Finnish musician Lauri Porra, who is the bassist for power metal band Stratovarius
Speaking on Good Morning Britain today, Mr Andrews, who told how he did not watch the Proms, said: ‘I don’t think it’s about banning the songs, it’s about saying what songs are appropriate.
”Britons never, never, never shall be slaves,’ – that’s racist propaganda at a time when Britain was the leading slave trading nation in the world. The idea that we’re having this conversation now, that’s a disgrace.’
He added said: ‘The fact that the majority of people think this is OK doesn’t mean it’s OK. That’s because of a deficit in our school system that don’t teach the horrors of the British Empire. It’s not something to celebrate.
‘Land of Hope and Glory, a much more reasonable name for the song would have been Land of Racism and Servitude. I understand that’s not a catchy song, but that’s the nature of the country we’re talking about.’
But Ms Iman accused Mr Andrews of having a ‘one dimensional view of Britain’, adding: ‘He sees it as a land of racism and hate and all of these things, that’s completely and fundamentally divorced from what most people believe to Britain.
‘We recognise that it has a complex history full of horror and terror but also triumph and uplifting things. I think we need to teach history holistically and not try and teach a narrative of cultural self loathing, which I think is very divisive.
‘I don’t think this helps a single ethnic minority life. I find it very hypocritical that a lot of people don’t have a problem with music that talks about stabbing and violence and the N word this and the N word that, but a song that brings a lot of joy to the British people is somehow an issue of censorship.’
She also argued: ‘Many things are being done in the names of ethnic minorities, protecting them and stopping them being offended, when that’s simply not how they feel and I’m being spoken for when actually his song brings a lot of people joy and happiness.
‘The majority of people don’t listen to the song and go ‘oh we want to reimpose colonialism and slavery,’ songs can take on new meaning, it’s become part of a new story that represents pride.’
But Nwanoku, founder of the Chineke! Foundation which supports upcoming BAME musicians, told The Guardian : ‘The lyrics are just so offensive, talking about the ‘haughty tyrants’ – people that we are invading on their land and calling them haughty tyrants – and Britons shall never be slaves, which implies that it’s OK for others to be slaves but not us.
‘It’s so irrelevant to today’s society. It’s been irrelevant for generations, and we seem to keep perpetuating it. If the BBC are talking about Black Lives Matter and their support for the movement, how could you possibly have Rule Britannia as the last concert – in any concert?’
Ms Kani also raised concerns with the line on slavery, telling BBC Radio 4: ‘I’m Indian, my parents came from India, I received a wonderful education in Britain, but I don’t actually feel very British when I hear things like that.
‘I don’t feel very British when I have people say to me ‘go home p***.”
The musician instead suggested the songs could be replaced with I Vow to Thee My Country or The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love.
M s Kani, whose parents sought refuge in Britain after the partition of India in 1947, also told the Sunday Times: ‘I don’t listen to Land of Hope and Glory and say ‘thank God I’m British’ – it actually makes me feel more alienated.
‘Britain raped India and that is what that song is celebrating.’
Flag-waving crowds will be absent from London’s Royal Albert Hall during the 125th annual Last Night of the Proms concert due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Organisers have been forced to change the entire Proms season because of coronavirus restrictions, which limit the number of singers and musicians who can perform together.
Live audiences have been banned, and this year’s conductor for the Last Night, Dalia Stasevska, 35, from Finland, was said to be keen to modernise the evening’s repertoire and reduce its patriotic elements.
A BBC source told the Sunday Times: ‘Dalia is a big supporter of Black Lives Matter and thinks a ceremony without an audience is the perfect moment to bring change.’
A BBC spokesman refused to confirm or deny reports that the songs could be dropped, but said plans for the Last Night were still being finalised.
Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory are both popular anthems at the Proms but there have been previous calls for them to be dropped over perceived associations with colonialism and slavery.
The songs have become a popular fixture in the BBC’s programming for the final night of the Proms, when thousands of flag-waving ‘prommers’ normally descend on the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, West London (pictured on September 8, 2012)
Flags are waved during The Last Night of the Proms celebration at Hyde Park in London on September 14, 2019
The songs are best known for being a triumphant finish to the BBC’s coverage of the Proms each year (file picture)
What is the history of Rule, Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory?
Rule, Britannia originates from the poem of the same name by Scottish poet and playwright James Thomson, and was set to music by English composer Thomas Arne in 1740.
It gained popularity in the UK after it was first played in London in 1745 and became symbolic of the British Empire, most closely associated with the British Navy.
The song has been used as part of a number of compositions, including Wagner’s concert overture in D Major in 1837 and Beethoven’s orchestral work, Wellington’s Victory.
The song has been an integral part of the annual Remembrance Day ceremony since 1930, when it became the first song played in the programme known as The Traditional Music.
It regained popularity at the end of WWII in 1945 after it was played at the ceremonial surrender of the Japanese imperial army in Singapore.
Rule, Britannia is usually played annually during at the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms.
But its inclusion has promoted controversy in recent years as it was deemed too patriotic.
The song ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ is based on the trio theme from Elgar’s Pomp And Circumstance March No. 1, which was originally premiered in 1901.
It caught the attention of King Edward VII after it became the only piece in the history of the Proms to receive a double encore.
King Edward suggested that this trio would make a good song, and so Elgar worked it into the last section of his Coronation Ode, to be performed at King Edward’s coronation.
Organisers of this year’s Proms were said to be considering ditching them in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests but have yet to agree the controversial move, according to the Sunday Times.
Miss Stasevska has been involved in regular Zoom calls with David Pickard, 60, director of the BBC Proms, to discuss the night’s programme, along with South African soprano Golda Schultz, 36, who will perform.
Organisers have had to scale back the number of musicians on stage because of social distancing requirements.
Rule Britannia is usually performed by 80 members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and a 100-strong choir, but this year a much smaller orchestra will play alongside just 18 singers.
Jan Younghusband, head of BBC music TV commissioning, confirmed that Rule Britannia’s inclusion in the Last Night repertoire was still under review.
She said: ‘We have a lot of problems about how many instruments we can have. It is hard to know whether it is physically possible to do it.
‘Some of the traditional tunes, like Jerusalem, are easier to perform… We also don’t know if we’ll be in a worse situation in two weeks’ time.’
Rule Britannia, a poem by Scottish playwright James Thomson, was set to music by English composer Thomas Arne in 1740.
But lyrics including the line ‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves’ have prompted anger in light of Britain’s own role in the slave trade.
Land of Hope and Glory was composed by Edward Elgar and Arthur Benson later added the lyrics in 1902.
The words were reputedly inspired by colonialist Cecil Rhodes, whose statue was among those targeted for removal by the Black Lives Matter protests.
Politicians and campaigners voiced their anger over moves to drop the songs.
International trade minister Ranil Jayawardena, the MP for North East Hampshire, shared an article about the row with his followers on Twitter.
He wrote: ‘What a load of… [sic] This is a chance for BBC bosses to prove they have ventured outside the M25 and understand the British people, rather than just campaign groups and lobbyists in London.’
Conservative MP Paul Bristow tweeted: ‘Is it time to put the BBC out of its licence fee misery? It must be painful for them to be funded by millions of people it no longer has anything in common with?’
Protesters at a Black Lives Matter demonstration outside Tottenham police station in North London on August 8
Dalia Stasevska (pictured front with her violin in Peenemuende, Germany, in September 2012) is conducting the Last Night
Who is Kehinde Andrews and how has he caused controversy before?
Kehinde Andrews earned a PhD in sociology and cultural studies from the University of Birmingham in 2011 and is now a professor of black studies in the school of social sciences at Birmingham City University.
In 2013 Dr Andrews wrote his first book Resisting Racism: Race, Inequality and the Black Supplementary School Movement and went on to write Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century in 2018
The professor has caused fury on Good Morning Britain in the past. In October 2018 he claimed that Sir Winston Churchill was a ‘clear racist’ in a heated debate in which Piers Morgan asked him: ‘Why do you live in a country that you loathe?’
Mr Andrews clashed with Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan as he claimed that Britain was ‘built on racism’ and that ‘everyone involved in it probably has a really racist past’.
The academic also compared Britain’s war-time Prime Minister to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler for his treatment of Indians when the country endured a famine in 1943. Mr Andrews said that British imperialism had ‘ruined’ many other parts of the world, including the Caribbean and Africa.
On January 2019 Dr Andrews faced to wrath of Britain’s veterans and their families after calling the RAF airmen who bombed Nazi Germany war criminals. He said the decision to build tributes like the Bomber Command Memorial was like ‘justifying terrorism’.
He said: ‘We are talking about a war crime. I think it is a tragedy they died, but we don’t need a statue.’
Meanwhile on August 2019 Kehinde Andrews appeared on Good Morning Britain to argue that author Enid Blyton was not ‘worthy’ of the honour of a commemorative coin.
He said: ‘The reason why Enid isn’t worthy …it’s just widely inappropriate, she was racist her books were racist. What the committee said was yeah she’s popular but [it’s] because of that racism, it’s the 21st century. ‘
Mr Andrews added: ‘If you look at children’s books, they still are really conservative. We shouldn’t be deifying Enid Blyton – there’s other things to read just move on.’
And Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage tweeted: ‘So the BBC may drop Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory from The Proms because the Finnish conductor is too woke. Why not drop her instead?’
Headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh, whose father was Indian-Guyanese and whose mother was Jamaican, said she had ‘waved flags and sang Rule Britannia’ at the Royal Albert Hall last year with black friends.
She said: ‘The white people in the audience did not tell us to stop, that the song isn’t ours, that we are too black to sing it. So what’s the problem?’
Susan Hall, the leader of the Conservatives in the Greater London Authority, said: ‘Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory are favourites for millions of us.
‘Why should so many of us have traditions wrecked because it’s considered non PC – ridiculous.’
Former Brexit MEP Alexandra Phillips tweeted: ‘Do this at your peril, BBC. If you ban patriotic songs at Last Night of the Proms you should have the name British Broadcasting Corporation rescinded.
‘You do not represent our nation, culture or heritage. You represent those who wish to destroy it.’
Former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton said the BBC had ‘decided to surrender to the Black Lives Matter mob’.
Proms presenter Josie d’Arby, who is black, said the Proms programme this year reflected ‘respect for the current climate’.
She said the Last Night should be inclusive but retain tradition, adding: ‘Part of being inclusive involves including your traditional audience and the diehard fans.’
Live performances at the Royal Albert Hall start on Friday with a piece written by Hannah Kendall, 36, a black British composer.
The Proms’ live soloists include Anoushka Shankar, who will perform on the sitar in honour of her late father, Ravi; the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason – who played at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – and his sister, the pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason; and the Japanese-born pianist Mitsuko Uchida.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘We are still finalising arrangements for the Last Night of the Proms so that we are able to respond to the latest advice in regards to Covid-19 and deliver the best offering possible for audiences.
‘We have announced that conductor Dalia Stasevska, soprano Golda Schultz and the BBC Symphony Orchestra will perform at the Last Night of the Proms this year. Full details will be announced nearer the time.’
Rule, Britannia! lyrics
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.
When Britain first, at heaven’s command,
Arose from out the azure main,
This was the charter of the land,
And Guardian Angels sang this strain:
The nations not so blest as thee
Must, in their turn, to tyrants fall,
While thou shalt flourish great and free:
The dread and envy of them all.
Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
More dreadful from each foreign stroke,
As the loud blast that tears the skies
Serves but to root thy native oak.
Thee haughty tyrants ne’er shall tame;
All their attempts to bend thee down
Will but arouse thy generous flame,
But work their woe and thy renown.
To thee belongs the rural reign;
Thy cities shall with commerce shine;
All thine shall be the subject main,
And every shore it circles, thine.
The Muses, still with freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coasts repair.
Blest isle! with matchless beauty crowned,
And manly hearts to guard the fair.
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves
Land of Hope and Glory lyrics
Land of Hope and Glory
Mother of the Free
How shall we extol thee
Who are born of thee?
Wider still, and wider
Shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty
Make thee mightier yet!
Dear Land of Hope, thy hope is crowned
God make thee mightier yet!
On Sov’ran brows, beloved, renowned
Once more thy crown is set
Thine equal laws, by Freedom gained
Have ruled thee well and long;
By Freedom gained, by Truth maintained
Thine Empire shall be strong
Thy fame is ancient as the days
As Ocean large and wide:
A pride that dares, and heeds not praise
A stern and silent pride
Not that false joy that dreams content
With what our sires have won;
The blood a hero sire hath spent
Still nerves a hero son