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Wed, 25 November 2020

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Boris Johnson wades into BBC Proms row as he says broadcaster should end 'cringing embarrassment about our history'

Boris Johnson wades into BBC Proms row as he says broadcaster should end 'cringing embarrassment about our history'

The Last Night of the Proms will happen without an audience this year because of Covid-19 restrictions. (PA)

4 min read

Boris Johnson has waded into a row over the BBC's decision to play an orchestral version of Rule Britannia at this year’s Last Night of the Proms.

The Prime Minister said it was "time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history" after the corporation unveiled plans for “a poignant and inclusive” rethink of the annual event.

And he appeared to accuse the BBC of "self-recrimination and wetness" as Conservative MPs berated the broadcaster.

But Labour accused him of trying to "start a culture war" to distract from the Govrnment's coronavirus response.

The BBC has promised to include “familiar, patriotic elements” in this year’s musical line-up, but promised to adapt the event “so that it respects the traditions and spirit of the event whilst adapting to very different circumstances at this moment in time”.

The corporation on Monday confirmed that the songs would not be axed from the line-up of this year’s Proms, a move that had reportedly been under consideration.

But wordless versions of both Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia will be played, with the September 12 Last Night taking place without an audience in light of coronavirus restrictions.

The move has prompted some on the Right to accuse the BBC of censoring the songs amid a focus on racial injustice sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement.

And, speaking on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said: "They're trying to restrain me from saying this.

"But, if it is correct, which I cannot believe that it really is, but if it is correct that the BBC is saying that they will not sing the words of Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia as they traditionally do at the end of Last Night of the Proms, 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."

And he added: "I wanted to get that off my chest."

The comments mark a significant ramping up of the rhetoric from the Government, after Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden on Monday warned the corporation not to “erase history”, and said: “Confident forward-looking nations don’t erase their history, they add to it.”

North West Durham MP Richard Holden was among the Tory backbenchers to take aim at the broadcaster, saying: “At every turn the BBC just dig the hole they’re in a bit deeper. They need to stop with this attempt to appease the woke morons.”

The Government has already clashed with the broadcaster this year over a decision to end free TV licenses for the over-75s, a decision taken by the BBC after it was asked to take on responsibility for funding them from its own budget for the first time.

In its statement confirming the orchestral versions would be used, the BBC pointed out that conductor Henry Wood had made a similar move in 1905.

The full versions are also slated to return in future years, BBC director general Tony Hall has suggested.

Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy said: "Boris Johnson will take any opportunity he gets to start a culture war in this pandemic because he wants to distract from his government's relentless incompetence.

"The UK has suffered the highest Covid-19 death toll and the worst economic impact in Europe. This is pathetic."


Defending the Proms move on Tuesday morning, Lord Hall said the BBC had "come to the right conclusion" in the wake of of coronavirus restrictions which curb normal live performances.

The outgoing BBC director general told the Today programme: "It is there in a medley of instrumentals playing around sea shanties and all of that, and I suspect it will be back next year."

And he added: "The point is they've come to the right conclusion which is it's very, very hard in an Albert Hall that takes over 5,000 people to have the atmosphere of the Last Night of the Proms.

"And to have things where the whole audience normally sing along, it's quite hard creatively, artistically to make that work"

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