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May 01, 2006

Last Night of the Proms

Can someone tell me who this odious little twit, Tom Service is?

The first half of the Last Night is traditionally a conventional concert in miniature, a minor inconvenience tolerated by the audience in the hall before the bombastic beanfeast of the second half. It's the rituals of that second half that have defined a sense of British - or rather, English - patriotism that often curdles into jingoism, with tub-thumping renditions of Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory, and Rule, Britannia.

Appalling really, that people might actually sing lyrics like these:

Land of Hope and Glory
Mother of the Free
How shall we extol thee
Who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider
Shall thy bounds be set
God, who made thee mighty
Make thee mightier yet...
God, who made thee mighty
Make thee mightier yet.

Truly, how can anyone capable of walking upright actually get up on their hind legs and sing along to this? Pride in the nation of one’s birth is simply not allowed now, is it? Oooh, come along now, nationalism, sooo passe, after all, no other nation on earth appeals to such feelings in its national songs now does it? I mean, this mother of the free tosh, anyone who believes that will start thinking about jury trials, equality before the law, habeus corpus, the abolition of slavery even. We really can’t have the proles thinking that these were native inventions, can we?

It's precisely that crude nationalism

When Britain first at Heaven's command,
Arose from out the azure main,
This was the charter, the charter of the land,
And guardian Angels sung this strain,

Rule, Britannia, Britannia rule the waves,
Britons never will be slaves!

The Nations (not so blest as thee)
Must in their turns to Tyrants fall,
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.


Still more majestick shalt thou rise,
More dreadful from each foreign stroke;
As the loud blast that tears the skies,
Serves but to root thy native oak.

Thee, haughty Tyrants ne'er shall tame:
All their attempts to bend thee down,
Will but arouze thy gen'rous flame,
But work their woe, and thy renown.

To thee belongs the rural reign,
Thy cities shall with commerce shine;
All thine shall be the subject Main
And ev'ry shore it circles thine.


The Muses still with Freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coasts repair; Blest Isle!
With matchless beauty crown'd,
And manly hearts to guide the Fair.

Just look at that. Horrific. Glorying in the past of the country they come from. Thinking that they might actually have been fortunate in coming from one place, that there is, or has been, something distinctive about the British experience over the past centuries. How can this be allowed to pass un-noted, when we know that all are equal, all cultures, all nations and peoples the same?

As for this from Blake, can you simply not smell the stench of exceptionalism? 

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green
And was the holy lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen

And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills
And was Jerusalem builded there
Among those dark Satanic mills

Bring me my bow (my bow) of burning gold
Bring me my arrows of desire
Bring me my spears o'clouds unfold
Bring me my chariot of fire

I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my (my) sword sleep in hand
'Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land
'Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land

Jesus (who of course never existed) walking in England? Tosh! Just look at the misguided belief in progressive change! That it is possbile, without a radical restructuring of the economic order, to build a better place! Wholly against the tenets of Marxism that, thus not suitable for public consumption: as we all know revolution is the only way forward.

I mean, don’t people know where the tune comes from? Parry? The popularity stemming in part from its association with the Votes for Women campaign? How dare people think that such incremental change can solve the deep seated problems of the power inequities of society!

As for the extra work that  melody has created for the oppressed toilers in the organ factories! The proletariat has been forced to labour long into the night to increase the power of all organs built since its debut in 1918. Previous settings simply could not compete with the lung power of those deluded fools who would sing it, all organs now being fitted with three levels of overdrive. "Jerusalem, Labour Party", "Jerusalem, Women’s Institute" and "Jerusalem, Rugby Club", the latter only being allowable if the rafters have been checked for solidity. The only volume setting higher is "Cwm Rhondda" but as that is the nationalism of an oppressed celtic nation rather than of the English we must not protest.

No, no, clearly we cannot allow such a celebration of nationalism to last. The public must be educated into the proper state of consciousness, otherwise, how will revolutionary change ever actually arrive? How can we create the New Man so necessary for socialism’s victory if such glorying in national exceptionalism, in individuality, is allowed to persist?

...with the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, that great hymn to universal brotherhood, replacing the British warhorses in the second half. For once, the Last Night reflected classical music's unique ability to transcend national borders and give voice to the grief experienced by so many across the world.

Yes, that’s the solution! Get them to sing that hymn to trans-nationalism, the anthem of the European Union, instead.

Right, I’m off to get the tar and the feathers. Someone pick up the rope and the rail could you and we’ll meet up wherever this Tom Service hangs out. We’ll also need a ticket on the Eurostar for him if someone could be so kind.

May 1, 2006 in The English | Permalink


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We're not 'aving him over 'ere, either, thank you. Passionless and above all unmusical killjoy.

Send him to the States. He should OD on national symbols there.

Posted by: auntymarianne | May 1, 2006 9:59:24 AM

Let him live in North Korea and learn what might have been, had we not been a Land of Hope & Glory.

Posted by: EU Serf | May 1, 2006 10:29:35 AM

The dim-witted moron doesn't deserve to be British. He fails to realise that when I say 'I love my marvellous country', I don't necessarily mean 'Those other miserable little countries all stink'. He's a victim of the 'fixed quantity of goodness' fallacy.

Posted by: The Weasel Bearder | May 1, 2006 11:14:56 AM

Few folk in Britain nowadays think of the Royal Navy but this history really does help to illuminate how Britain became the world superpower of the 19th century after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805:

NAM Rodger: The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649-1815
(Penguin Books, 2005)

For perspectives on the comparative international strength of Britain's armed services in the interwar years, try:

David Edgerton: The Warfare State, Britain 1920-1970
(Cambridge UP, 2005)

By the end of the 1930s, Britain's army was certainly the Cindarella armed service. In the late 1930s, government spending on the airforce had overtaken first spending on the army and then spending on the navy and that was the correct strategic set of priorities in the context.

The Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940 was the decisive battle of the European theatre of WW2 according to Von Runstedt, CiC West in the German high command, when he was interrogated by the Soviets on his capture at the end of the conflict in Europe. He was right. Had the Battle of Britain been lost there could have been no invasion of Normandy in June 1944 so Germany would not have had to disperse its military resources to fight simultaneously on eastern and western fronts. For the year June 1940 up to the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany. The Soviet Union signed a Friendship Treaty with Nazi Germany on 28 September 1939 (Norman Davies: Europe (OUP, 1996) p.1000)

Posted by: Bob B | May 1, 2006 11:15:15 AM

Well, Service is half right. As a former dedicated Prommer, I can agree that pretty much no one takes it seriously any more. However, he's way off the mark if he thinks the audience "reflects the demographic of the Conservative Party" - at five quid for an Arena ticket it's not stuffed with toffs. Anyway, 'Jerusalem's a socialist hymn, written in response to the exploitation of workers in rapidly industrialising Britain. So I have no problem in singing it.

Posted by: Oscar Wildebeest | May 1, 2006 11:47:30 AM

One of those illuminating but bitter ironies of history is how Karl Marx and family were hounded off mainland Europe after the round of revolutions there of 1848 and came here as asylum seekers to find refuge and settle in London - in Dean Street, Soho: see the offical Blue Plaque commemorating Marx's tenancy on the front of the Quo Vadis Restaurant. So Britain, the arch capitalist power of the 19th century, provided a secure refuge for the arch exponent of the inevitable collapse of capitalism thereby enabling him to spend the rest of his life researching for his turgid book: Das Kapital, in the reading room of the British Museum living off occasional subventions from his sponsor Engels who ran a successful family textile business in Manchester.

Would that Marx instead had read the works of JS Mill - an approximate contemporary - for that might have saved much misery for countless millions in the 20th century. Among the few concessions to reality seems to be this from the Preface to the English edition of Marx's Capital by Engels:

"Surely, at such a moment, the voice ought to be heard of a man whose whole theory is the result of a lifelong study of the economic history and condition of England, and whom that study led to the conclusion that, at least in Europe, England is the only country where the inevitable social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means. He certainly never forgot to add that he hardly expected the English ruling classes to submit, without a 'pro-slavery rebellion,' to this peaceful and legal revolution."
Frederick Engels
November 5, 1886

Posted by: Bob B | May 1, 2006 12:17:57 PM

Might not Mr Service stop and consider why the Last Night of the Proms is so popular? The promenade concerts go on for most of the summer, featuring a whole range of classical music. The extent of their televised popularity is a late night slot on BBC2. But even the BBC realise that there is something uniquely popular about the last night.

If the masses didn't like it, they'd not go. They would switch the tv over to "Channel Porno" or "Reality 24". People like the Last Night, it's as simple as that. Changing it because it offends the Islington taste of a few internationalists would be pure spite and deprive millions of what is perhaps their only exposure to classical music all year.

As to the demographic of the audience. Mr Service is way off base in my experience. I worked in a pub close to the Albert Hall for several summers in the 80's. Prommies made up a large chunk of our custom on concert nights. Most of them struck me as more LibDem types dragging their kids to something cultural. And, yes, they were back on the Last Night as well and strangely they and the kids seemed happier then all the other nights.

As bar staff we didn't really like them because their orders seemed to consist of halves of shandy and orange squash for the sprogs. They often pushed the boat out on the Last Night - whole pints of shandy and coke for the kids!

Mr Service strikes me as one of those intelectuals uncomfortable with his nationality and rather upset that others don't share his misery.


Posted by: The Remittance Man | May 1, 2006 2:39:18 PM

That Rodger book is terrif. Everyone should recommend that their Americam chums read his account of the War of 1812. That'll larn 'em.

Posted by: dearieme | May 1, 2006 3:00:58 PM

I'm quite persuaded by Niall Ferguson's thesis: Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World

"It has long been fashionable to decry the British empire as a relic of imperial repression, and while it is not my intention to excuse its worst excesses, it is important for a good-looking historian to take a contrary position. So I contend it was also a considerable force for good. Every iconoclast needs a neologism; mine is Anglobalisation. . . . "

His book: Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World, is available in Penguin (2004).

Posted by: Bob B | May 1, 2006 5:59:13 PM

I feel sad and disgusted that a great nation such as Britain has in its population ranks such a twisted ungrateful dim whit as the one who wrote such lies and half truths about The Last Night of the Proms.These are wonderful tunes much loved by 95% of Britons. Yes mate you're among the 5%. Good luck in your attempts to "re-educate us." I hope you waste your life trying it.

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Posted by: heating | Feb 13, 2007 3:44:34 PM

Mr Worstall is an ineffable dunce who has nothing to say and he says it with the liberal embellishment of bad delivery embroidering it with reasonless vulgarities of attitude gesture and attire there never has been a blockhead more stupid or offensively daft he makes me tired.
What an incompetant fool.

Posted by: Armstrong-Jones | Jun 12, 2007 6:19:31 AM