Rule Britannia… Or Don’t…

Bit late today but not so late that I can’t wade into a debate I don’t care about, about a music festival I don’t watch, about music I’m largely indifferent to, and sensibilities that usually wind me up the wrong way.

I’m talking about the suggestion that they might dump ‘Rule Britannia’ from this years’ Proms.

I admit that I feel about this issue how I feel about the Torture Garden. If there are people out there who enjoy being whipped by strangers, then it’s none of my business to interfere. And if there are other people (or perhaps even the same people) who like to whip themselves up into a frenzy about a song reminding them of an Empire they never got to see, then, again, not my business to stop them.

Yet I guess the problem is that the BBC fund some of the Proms and that’s our cash they using. And, yes, I’d probably get a bit sniffy if the BBC was funding sadomasochism in London (what do you mean they do and that’s what is means to work for the BBC?).

The problem is that the BBC now have to make a decision that makes one side happy, leaving the other side infuriated. It’s an impossible position the BBC finds itself in, though that’s been true for the past five years or more.

In the US, Trump is telling his supporters not to buy Goodyear tyres because the company has banned workers from wearing MAGA hats on the shop floor. Yet, clearly, the Goodyear ruling was sensible. They’d ban Biden hats as well. The rule is simple. Don’t display your political allegiances in the workplace. You’re there to work, not to get into fights about the culture war.

By a similar logic, politics shouldn’t be involved in The Last Night of the Proms. Except, Last Night of the Proms has always had a political edge and it’s not always obvious what that edge is…

It was noticeable after Brexit that the Proms gave voice to lots of pro-European sentiment. Suddenly, the epitome of British nationalism was seen as a place for the Remainer elite. In which case, what’s the difference now? Which bit of political gesturing should the BBC be paying for?

The correct answer is probably “none of it”. Yet, of course, not paying is itself a political gesture. Play ‘Rule Britannia’ and it says one thing. Don’t play it and it says another…

In which case, cancel the whole bloody thing. In fact, we should cancel everything because everything says something that somebody will object to.

Problem solved. You’re welcome…

But seriously, there is no answer. One person’s anger is another person’s trigger. Even my ambivalence could wind some people up. Myself, I’d rather they didn’t sing about ruling the waves (I’m okay with a bit of tyrant crushing) but I’m perfectly happy with the tune. Different lyrics wouldn’t bother me, but, I also don’t watch it, so the current lyrics aren’t going to upset me.

I guess the key word is sensitivity. If they play it, do it with sensitivity and, perhaps, a little context. Use it to educate, not just about the good of Empire (there was some) but the bad done in its name (there’s plenty). Very little is totally black and white in the world but there is a hell of a lot of grey. We need to become nuanced people, especially in these things that divide us. Just as the people who enjoy ‘Rule Britannia’ need to understand why it’s objectionable, so too do the people who object to it need to learn why it’s cherished.

4 thoughts on “Rule Britannia… Or Don’t…”

  1. If I found out these folk were being paid by white supremacists I wouldn’t be surprised. Next they will be calling for the Grand National to be axed and a ban on Kit Kats. And people wonder why the tories still have an 8 point lead in the polls after the current shitshow.

    I personally can’t stand Rule Britannia and have always thought it was fate tempting of the highest order to claim “Britons never never never shall be slaves”. Never is a very long time after all. I have always imagined some future invader ironically singing it as they crack the whip on some newly enslaved Britons.

    I am partial to a bit of classical music and down to Wigmore hall fairly regularly, but have never had any time for the last night of the proms. The season itself is ok, but has been massively dumbed down with electric proms and music from the movies etc, but the last night may as well be called last night of the wally’s, all that bobbing up and down, urghh.

    1. I have a deeply rebellious side to my nature and hate to be told what to do, especially by people claiming to hold the higher moral ground, so my instinctive reaction is to sneer and play the music louder. That said, like you say, Rule Britannia is such an awful lyric, tempts fate but also does that (supposedly) very anti-British thing which is to boast about our accomplishments. Like the music. Just hate everything else about it.

      Agree about the Last Night. It’s slightly above Hooked On Classics, which I’ve never had much time for. Music from the movies: depends on the movie and depends on the music. Currently been listening to an album of Kubrick tracks, which I’m too lazy to go looking for in their original guise.

  2. I suppose they could use the compromise lyrics that they used to sing in the playground.

    “Rule Britannia, marmalade and jam.
    Three chinese crackers up the arsehole, bang, bang, bang.”

    On reflection maybe that would please no one…..

    If you like Kubrick you may like the documentary S is for Stanley, if you event already seen it.

    1. Well, I always preferred Paul McCartney’s original lyrics to Yesterday (“Scrambled eggs/Oh my baby how I love your legs/”) so that sounds like an improvement to me…

      Yes, love Kubrick. Seen quite a few docs (read a few books) but not sure about that one. I’ll have to have a hunt for it. I think there’s a new one out (or was due out before the pandemic). This is a reminder that I need to find it!

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It’s a cool domain name and it was available. Yes, I know. Available. Crazy, isn’t it?


Yes. It also helps that it’s also my favourite satire written by Alexander Pope, one of the most metrically pure English poets who also knew his way around a crude insult or two. If you’ve not read it, you should give it a try.

So this is satire, right?

Can’t deny it. There will be some. But it’s also an experiment in writing and drawing, giving work away for free in order to see how many people are willing to support a writer doing his thing. It’s the weird stuff that I wouldn’t get published elsewhere in this word of diminishing demands and cookie-cutter tastes.