Deep down, Tim Davie may be rather grateful to whoever came up with the bonkers idea of deleting the words of Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory from this year’s Last Night of the Proms.
In his very first week as director-general of the BBC, Mr Davie has been handed a very simple, headline grabbing and entirely cost-free means of making his mark on the Corporation.
And it is a decision which will be welcomed by most level-headed people around the country, not least within the BBC itself.
For Mr Davie has simply listened to a national chorus, led by this newspaper. He has told the managers of the Proms concerts to put the traditional words back into the traditional finale.
They have now done so. There has been some predictable bleating from predictable quarters – a Guardian executive yesterday voiced instant outrage at a lost opportunity ‘to end this annual supremacist indulgence once and for all’ – but there is no accusation (yet) that Mr Davie himself is a racist or a fascist.
Pictured: Sakari Oramo conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall. Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory will return for this years’ event
Rather, he has shown himself to be someone in tune with what ordinary people are thinking, as opposed to what an enlightened and virtuous minority believe they ought to be thinking.
That has to be a good thing, even if it has happened in a thoroughly BBC-ish sort of way.
For the statement announcing yesterday’s U-turn was both condescending and nonsensical.
‘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,’ it said.
That is simply not true. The original BBC announcement about the Proms stated that the Last Night would feature a soprano ‘and the BBC Singers’. If the BBC Singers do not count as ‘massed voices’ then what the hell were they doing there in the first place?
Pictured: Tim Davie, new Director General of the BBC, arrives at BBC Scotland in Glasgow for his first day in the role on September 1, 2020
It was also announced that the BBC Singers would be singing, among other things, the show tune-cum-football anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone.
They just wouldn’t be singing anything which might somehow irk the infallible forces of woke.
Yesterday’s U-turn continued: ‘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.’
Well that’s jolly decent of them. I am so glad that we are free to sing what we like in our own homes. Thank you, BBC. Spoken like a true Auntie.
Let’s not be churlish. Let’s not get carried away either. However, this is a sure sign that the BBC is very gently readjusting the dial from ‘transmit’ mode towards ‘listen’ mode. And I know plenty of people within the Beeb who are glad of it.
Some are BBC lifers, appalled by this pointless storm in a teacup and delighted at what appears to be a fresh direction of travel. This is still a world-beating organisation, which so often sets the standard in its radio and television output – from the big set piece occasions to so much of its news, its drama and, yes, the Proms themselves.
Even more stirring than the Last Night is another annual fixture at the Royal Albert Hall, which comes two months later – the Festival of Remembrance.
Pictured: The BBC Symphony Orchestra performs at the last night of the BBC Proms festival of classical music at the Royal Albert Hall in London, September 12, 2015
Year in year out, it is among the most powerful and moving productions in our national calendar, rivalled only by what happens the following morning at the Cenotaph. As for the World Service, I can only defer to the words of Land of Hope and Glory: ‘Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set’.
As an occasional BBC contributor myself, I want it to thrive. I’d hate to see it slowly corroded by the rise of free-range platforms like Netflix, helped on its way by a craven managerial cadre in relentless pursuit of a youth audience that doesn’t watch telly anyway.
In other words, stop sneering at the middle ground and embrace them a little more.
Some BBC trendies may scoff at Mr Davie’s past life in the marketing department of Pepsi, but it seems to have served him well. Hence the word from within – which no one has rebutted – that he will not be adopting a ‘preferred pronoun’ in deference to trans sensitivities, and that he regards the BBC’s comedy output as ‘too Left-wing’.
To read some of the responses on social media, you’d think he was about to censor every last shouty comedian in favour of round-the-clock Ealing comedies and repeats of Terry and June.
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden, MP Rob Butler and Talk Radio host Mike Graham were among many to react positively to the news of the BBC’s U-turn
But beyond the more fashionable London boroughs, the Glastonbury VIP zones and the after-parties on the awards circuit, there has long been a sense of disconnect.
Hence it is funny to crack jokes, say, about the death of Margaret Thatcher, but repeats of Little Britain are not allowed.
It is acceptable, for example, for Frankie Boyle to host a BBC2 show – as he did in 2017 – in which he said that the Grenfell Tower fire was ‘worse’ than murder by the Tories, that Brexit was ‘Christmas for racists’ and that Jeremy Corbyn ‘does make me feel hopeful’.
Yet when Jeremy Clarkson described Mexicans as ‘lazy’ on the same channel, he was reprimanded and forced to recant while the BBC sent a formal apology to the Mexican ambassador. I don’t want Frankie Boyle taken off air and I am sure that Mr Davie does not either. But viewers will need to feel a greater sense of balance during the culture wars that lie ahead.
After decades of this sort of thing, the public does not need some rent-a-quote Tory backbencher – or even a wise BBC insider like Andrew Neil – to warn them of a default London/liberal bias. They have absorbed it by osmosis anyway.
That same narrow mindset came close to removing Rule Britannia from the Proms – and who knows what thereafter.But based on the evidence so far – and it is, admittedly, early days – Mr Davie seems willing to stand his ground.