BBC Reverses Decision to Omit ‘Rule Britannia’ Lyrics

September 2, 2020 Updated: September 3, 2020

The BBC has reversed a plan to omit the words from two patriotic songs at the pomp-laden climax of a traditional classical music festival this month after critics, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, accused the broadcaster of seeking to censor Britain’s past.

With CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus restrictions limiting the size of the choir and preventing an audience from attending, the broadcaster had planned to play only orchestral versions of “Rule Britannia!” and “Land of Hope and Glory,” which are normally sung by flag-waving fans during The Last Night of the Proms concert.

Revellers waving British flags as they enjoy 'The Last Night of the Proms' celebration in Hyde Park, in London on Sept. 14, 2018
In this file photo revelers wave British flags as they enjoy The Last Night of the Proms celebration in Hyde Park, London, on Sept. 14, 2018. (Reuters/Dylan Martinez)

Critics, however, accused the broadcaster of caving in to political correctness and pressure from social justice campaigners.

‘Cringing Embarrassment’

Johnson told reporters last week that he couldn’t believe that the BBC had determined to strip the two iconic patriotic songs of their lyrics.

“If it is correct and I cannot believe that it really is … 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 The Last Night of The Proms, I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, and about our culture,” he said.

Johnson added that it was time “we stopped this bout of general self-recrimination and wetness.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden had also objected to the BBC’s original decision and last week said that “confident forward-looking nations don’t erase their history, they add to it.”

Following the BBC’s decision not to censor the two traditional songs, Dowden wrote in a tweet on Wednesday that he was “pleased to see common sense has prevailed on the BBC Proms.”

The BBC, having changed their decision, said on Wednesday that a select group of BBC singers would now sing the words at The Last Night of the Proms on Sept. 12.

“Rule Britannia!” includes the line, “Rule, Britannia! Britannia rules the waves, Britons never, never, never, shall be slaves.” Black Lives Matter activists had, according to reports, objected to the traditional song lyrics due to a perceived association with colonialism and slavery.

Looking for a Solution

The BBC said it had been looking for a solution.

“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,” the broadcaster said in a statement.

“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.

“We hope everyone will welcome this solution,” the BBC said.

The Last Night of the Proms is the finale much loved by fans, who normally sing along to the traditional anthems, marking the end of a series of annual musical events held throughout the summer.

The Last Night is customarily held at the Royal Albert Hall in London and is known for its jubilant celebration of British tradition and patriotism.

The outgoing boss of the BBC, Tony Hall, had said the initial decision to remove the traditional lyrics was taken purely due to CCP virus restrictions, but a report in The Sunday Times said the principal guest conductor had wanted to “modernise” the event.

Reuters contributed to this report