Opinion with Jane Wenham-Jones: You can hum Britannia while you clear the table

Stick to the music for Last Night of the Proms

Boris Johnson thinks we should stop “our cringing embarrassment about our history,” and allow the full vocals of ‘Rule, Britannia!’ to go ahead on the Last Night of the Proms.

The BBC say they are only playing the instrumental version because of Covid 19 factors and the lyrics referencing slavery will be back next year. Predictably, a great many people – many of whom no doubt voted for Brexit – have become aerated about the whole issue.

I have quite strong feelings about freedom of speech, the speed with which we find we “can’t say that any more” and the danger that becoming over-exercised by semantics, can seriously detract from proper action on and understanding of, wider issues. I tend to take the author Lionel Shriver’s view that “people who speak hatefully hang themselves” and that we should let them do just that, unless those people are inciting violence or indulging in serious personal abuse.

But still, I was somewhat startled to hear Norman Lebrecht, commentator on classical music, tell Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, that the word ‘slaves’ was “innocuous” and only there because it rhymed with ‘waves’. “Find a better word to rhyme and we can put it in,” he declared cheerily. If this is so, let us immediately and forthwith replace the offending line with something more up-to-date. Britain never, never, never shall go round Dave’s?  Put on raves? Forget she shaves?

In this instance, we really do not need to perform a rousing chorus of that particular song. Because being a part of the slave trade IS cringeworthy. And those words were written nearly three hundred years ago and – thank God – we know better now.

Kani Wasfi, the founder and CEO of both Pimlico and Grange Park opera, was interviewed with Mr Lebrecht. She suggested ‘Rule, Britannia!’ should be replaced altogether at the proms by either ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’ – which is rather lovely – or The Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’ which would tick the sing-along box.

But I feel there is some middle ground we could tread here. For those whose idea of a great night out is a chance to wear their Union Jack boxers and flaunt emblems of jingoism, the answer is obvious for every year from now on. Wave your flags if you want to, and then hum the tune instead.

AFTER MONTHS of Stay at Home, Stay Safe, Stay Alert… the Government is now urging us to go back to work. “There is a limit, just in human terms” to working remotely, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has declared, speaking to the BBC from his own home in Hertfordshire.

I had already re-acquainted myself with my workplace – up the stairs, first door on the right – after 18 weeks of channelling my inner Alan Titchmarsh and baking Nigella’s carrot cake left me with just over a month in which to write half a novel. But my son has continued to operate chez-nous.

“If you think about somebody who’s maybe at the younger end of the workforce …. literally spending their days on Zoom from a corner of their bedroom, you can see why for a lot of people’s mental health it is important to be able to return to a safe workplace,” Mr Shapps continues.

And in some cases, the mental health of their mothers too!

If the Zooms were indeed taking place in the corner of a bedroom that would be one thing. But when they spread over an entire dining room in a mass of computer cables, folders, keyboards, paperwork and empty beer cans (“well, it is Friday”) so you can’t enter without tripping over an extension lead across a floor that hasn’t seen the light of day (or the hoover) since mid-March, one’s equilibrium could also benefit from a safe space.

From Monday, I am pleased to announce, this will all change. The office paraphernalia has been dismantled and coffee cups marshalled, while chairs and floorboards have re-emerged.

Rishi Sunak has appealed for workers to return, to help revive the economy.

I’m just glad to have my table back.



  1. The reference to “slaves” was an aspiration that Britain would never fall victim to any of the tyrannies roaming the world.

  2. The BBC has been taken over by fanatics and snowflakes paid for by the taxpayers who think they ( BBC) can dictate to the majority what we can and cannot do or sing then they will make more and more demands and it will become the case of the tail wagging the dog. The BBC and media in general like to stir up hate and unrest because uproar and unrest make news peace and harmony don’t.

  3. You are another woke moron . A song saying we will NEVER be slaves is not a bad thing. Keep you politically correct idiocy where the sun doesn’t shine.

  4. I’ve just realised that this is all a manufactured controversy. Designed to make the BBC look bad .Part of the very long-term plan to privatise it.

    After all, the real reason there won’t be a loud chorus of “Land of dopes and Tories” will be that there will be NOBODY there! That is why there will be no words sung, but WILL be next year when there is an actual audience.

    The BBC didn’t BAN the words or anything like it ,as their decision to resume next year indicates.
    But the government knows that the economic future is bleak, what with Covid19 and Brexit. So how on earth can they hope to retain any popularity?

    By having a “culture war”, getting voters to support their narrow definition of “patriotism”. Stamp on anybody who questions the country’s dodgy past of slavery and exploitation. If someone points out that occupying other people’s countries and forcing them to buy only British manufactured goods is ,well, not very moral, they must be denounced as “unpatriotic”, and exposed as “an enemy of the people”. That way the Tories can weather any disastrous storm of economic incompetence, ignore enquiries into which companies that donate to their Party got contracts to provide pandemic goods and services, and brush aside Brexit-induced trade hiccups by wrapping themselves in the Union Jack and calling for noble “Dunkirk-style” sacrifice.
    In terms of voting patterns, this guff works with the generation born just after the War as they got filled with the glories of the British Empire just as the Empire was being wound down. It was a curious period when sensible British politicians and Civil Servants were organising as swift a withdrawal as possible, but the same politicians and the newspapers were still banging on about how wonderful the imperial project had been.
    So nobody was really allowed to make a sober assessment of the impact of Empire. It was being dismantled while we were being reassured how marvellous it was.

    It looks like the later generations were not as vulnerable to this propaganda so may wonder what all the fuss is about. Not being so attached to the idea of going to war against other people just to rule other countries, they may well let the “Britannia rules the waves” idea die a natural death.

  5. “People who speak hatefully hang themselves”

    JWJ, not for the first time, misses the irony. She proceeds to her next name drop, Pimlico Opera, leaving us to infer therein lies the worthy opinion.

    Britannia word originates in pre christian times. Druids, coracles (What sort of Navy was that!) and so forth.

    Then the popes ran the gig for way too long. Till King Taff 8th (Ruling from England) threw off the catholic tyranny. Then we got King Jocks ruling from England. We were much quicker this time to throw off tyranny of divine right assumed by monarchs.

    We are being slow in sussing that the postwar multicultural experiment has no foundation in law, not least because it is tyrannical and undermines Crown Authority and creates inequality under the law.

    But we are throwing off the tyranny personifying as BLM. We are throwing off the tyranny of the Snowflake, the libtard, the thought police.

    • What on earth is a libtard? Sounds like a sort of animal. And what is 22the postwar multicultural experiment”? That sounds like something from Private Eye.

    • What on earth is a libtard? Sounds like a sort of animal. And what is “the postwar multicultural experiment”? That sounds like something from Private Eye.

  6. Regardless of what tsar Boris of Brexit Johnson wants, I like thousands of others who watch the proms on auntie Beeb BBC, every year, and on the last night sing in our living rooms or at proms parties, we know what the words no song sheets needed, Britons never shall be slaved is a meaning back to the days of the armada’s and our boats and sailors ruling the seas and our brave stout hearted men never being slaved, Rule Britannia and of course land of hope and glory and all the sea shanties shall be sung as loud as possible even if my singing is not in key, and then the final 3 Jerusalem, God save the Queen and old lang syne, just because there will be no audience there why not the BBC chorus and the BBC singers there was singing last night well spread out it can still be done with more singers same distancing the amount of singers can be tripped or possibly more it is possible to organise by then. What would have Sir Henry have said if you can get more in safely then do it. Roll on Simon Rattle’s concert this week

  7. This Rule Brittania nonsense all started in the Sunday Times and times newspapers. It was all a lie. The BBC have never thought of not using this song next year. One thing is true. We are slaves to bad leadership and fake news in this country. Not as bad as the USA yet but getting there. Fear is always coming out of right wing advisors mouths. You only need to look at the fake invasion by migrants. My goodness we are so daft to believe the rubbish printed by right wing papers and the mouths of our leaders who are dividing this country with hate and fear. Boris is a lier when he says he wants to unite this country. Conservatives never want that and never will. Covid has done a better job at uniting this country so far than he has. Even that is falling apart now with so many mixed messages coming from our useless leaders. Never mind back to Brexit in the news very soon.

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