The BBC today announced Land of Hope and Glory and Rule, Britannia! will be sung at the Last Night of the Proms in a remarkable U-turn following a huge backlash from the British public.
More than 100,000 people signed MailOnline’s petition urging the broadcaster to overturn the controversial decision to have no singing during the songs at the Royal Albert Hall in West London on September 12.
The broadcaster had announced on Monday last week that the anthems would feature as ‘new orchestral versions’ in the concert, following controversy over their perceived historical links with colonialism and slavery.
The shock change of mind marks the first major decision taken by Tim Davie who took over just yesterday as the BBC’s new £450,000-a-year director-general and is clearly looking to stamp his mark on it as soon as possible.
A BBC Proms spokesman said this afternoon: ‘The pandemic means a different Proms this year and one of the consequences, under Covid-19 restrictions, is we are not able to bring together massed voices.
Prommers wave flags at the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in West London on September 8, 2012
‘For that reason we took the artistic decision not to sing Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory in the Hall.
‘We have been looking hard at what else might be possible and we have a solution. Both pieces will now include a select group of BBC Singers.
‘This means the words will be sung in the Hall, and as we have always made clear, audiences will be free to sing along at home.
‘While it can’t be a full choir, and we are unable to have audiences in the Hall, we are doing everything possible to make it special and want a Last Night truly to remember. We hope everyone will welcome this solution.
‘We think the night itself will be a very special moment for the country – and one that is much needed after a difficult period for everyone. It will not be a usual Last Night, but it will be a night not just to look forward to, but to remember.’
The decision comes after Boris Johnson accused the BBC of ‘wetness’, demanding an end to ‘self-recrimination’ over the past and saying the corporation harboured a ‘cringing embarrassment’ about Britain’s traditions.
Last week’s compromise to have no singing in the songs, which followed the racism row, was drawn up after Mr Davie intervened before he took over from Tony Hall to insist both pieces were performed in some form.
MPs from both parties and Trevor Phillips, the former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, had condemned this year’s decision last week, before today’s U-turn took place.
Mr Johnson said last week that he was so passionate about the issue that his advisers had sought to ‘restrain’ his remarks.
Saying he could barely believe the BBC’s decision, Mr Johnson added: ‘It’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture, and we stopped this general fight of self-recrimination and wetness, I wanted to get that off my chest.’
Before the U-turn, Mr Phillips had accused BBC bosses of being ‘rooms full of white men panicking that someone is going to think they are racist’.
He said: ‘The real problem the corporation has is that it is always in a panic about race, and one of the reasons it is always in a panic is that it has no confidence.
‘The principle reason it has no confidence … is that there is no ethnic diversity at the top of its decision-making tree.’
The row over this year’s Proms began two weekends ago when it was first reported that Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory could be ditched entirely.
Critics have claimed the songs are inappropriate due to associations with colonialism and slavery.
The lyrics to Rule Britannia include the line ‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves’, while the 1902 words to Land of Hope and Glory were reputedly inspired by Cecil Rhodes, an imperialist and mining magnate whose statue is being removed from an Oxford college.
It was suggested that the Finnish Proms conductor, Dalia Stasevska, was keen to limit patriotic elements, and that this year – without an audience due to coronavirus – was the perfect moment for change.
Late last Monday, BBC bosses finally confirmed that the two anthems would be performed, but without the lyrics. Government officials had held talks with BBC executives to urge them to rethink the decision but to no avail.
Speaking before the U-turn, David Mellor, the Tory former culture secretary, said: ‘This is a disgraceful cockup at every level. What we get is a whole lot of woke claptrap and the BBC don’t know what to do about it.’
Meanwhile Business Secretary Alok Sharma had suggested the BBC should put the lyrics on screen so viewers can decide for themselves whether to sing them.
Tony Hall, who was the BBC’s outgoing director general until yesterday, tried last week to blame the coronavirus crisis for the Proms decision, pointing out that fewer performers are allowed on stage.
He had said the issue had been determined by David Pickard, who became director of the BBC Proms in 2015. Asked whether there had been a discussion about dropping songs because of their link with imperialism, Lord Hall replied: ‘The whole thing has been discussed by David and his colleagues.’
He had also defended the compromise, adding: ‘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.’
Mr Davie, 53, began his new job in jeans and trainers yesterday and is set to target bloated management and tighten rules on impartiality as he reforms the corporation ‘with urgency’ to survive ‘in this digital age’.
He plans to wield the axe in order to focus spending on the broadcaster’s programmes themselves. Sources said bosses will be expected to justify their positions – and those who fail to do so face the chop.
Mr Davie’s plans also reportedly include steps to prevent the BBC from being viewed as a campaigning organisation. It has faced increased criticism that it has become dominated by a ‘woke’ Left-wing agenda.
In his opening email to staff, Mr Davie stressed yesterday that the corporation must represent ‘every part of this country’ and spent his first day in charge meeting workers at BBC Scotland in Glasgow.
Mr Davie, who will lay out plans in more detail in a speech to staff tomorrow, takes over as the BBC faces battles on several fronts, from rows over the licence fee to competition from US giants Netflix, Amazon and Disney.
A source said of Mr Davie’s planned staff cull: ‘We need to ensure that the running of the BBC is as lean and effective as possible and that we maximise value to the public who pay for us.’
The last BBC annual report revealed that it has 250 ‘senior leaders’ on £50,000 or more. Mr Davie himself had been due to receive £525,000 a year but has taken a ‘salary stand-still’ until August 2021.
Until then he will be paid a mere £450,000 – the same as his predecessor Tony Hall.
This represents a considerable step down from the new director-general’s previous role as head of the corporation’s commercial arm, BBC Studios, which saw him paid £600,000 in base salary and bonuses.
A poll commissioned by the Mail last week found that more than half of respondents think the BBC is too politically correct.
A similar proportion said it does not reflect their values. Impartiality is known to be one of Mr Davie’s priorities, and he is expected to take a tougher line than his predecessor.
BBC journalists face a crackdown on their use of social media, as well as lucrative outside work.
Stars could be forced to declare their non-BBC earnings in an attempt to shame them from taking on other jobs that could compromise the broadcaster’s reputation.
Mr Davie also plans to target ‘BBC bloke’ by pursuing more sports programming, after the corporation broadcast its first live cricket match for 21 years last weekend.
The BBC hopes to strike deals by pointing to its wider audiences compared with rivals such as Sky and BT.
In his email to staff, Mr Davie wrote: ‘Overall my guiding principle is that we are a universal public service, a BBC for all, that serves and represents every part of this country.
‘Our focus must be to ensure that we deliver outstanding and unique value to all audiences, those who pay for us and are in effect our customers, in return for their licence fee.
‘To do this we will need to keep reforming the BBC with urgency so that we are trusted, relevant and indispensable in this digital age. Your work is admired… across the world. I am here to ensure that continues.’
His comments came after the Mail’s poll found that 67 per cent believe that online rivals have made the BBC ‘less relevant’. Some 71 per cent said the licence fee is ‘outdated’, while 65 per cent said it should be scrapped.
Amid outcry over the decision to drop the lyrics to Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia, 59 per cent said the BBC had got it wrong – rising to 80 per cent among over-65s.