Ben Lowry: Once again, BBC NI decides that Rule Britannia will not be played at Proms in the Park in Belfast

Jamie Barton, the bisexual American mezzo-soprano waves an LGBT rainbow flag during the annual rendition of Rule Britannia at Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Saturday September 14 2019. Some people like to lampoon the nationalist spirit of Last Night in various good humoured ways, but in Northern Ireland Proms In The Park audiences don't even get the chance, with much of the nationalist good fun edited out, in an event that has almost no relationship to Last Night. Screengrab from BBC One
Jamie Barton, the bisexual American mezzo-soprano waves an LGBT rainbow flag during the annual rendition of Rule Britannia at Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Saturday September 14 2019. Some people like to lampoon the nationalist spirit of Last Night in various good humoured ways, but in Northern Ireland Proms In The Park audiences don't even get the chance, with much of the nationalist good fun edited out, in an event that has almost no relationship to Last Night. Screengrab from BBC One
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What I would like to know is this.

Is there even a debate in the upper echelons of the BBC over what they have done to Proms in the Park?

The show is thought of as a regional version of Last Night of the Proms.

It isn’t.

As almost anyone who watches TV is aware, Last Night of the Proms is a light hearted climax to a two-month series of classical music concerts. It is an evening in which popular and often patriotic songs are performed at the Albert Hall.

Music connoisseurs follow the overall Proms. Last Night, on the other hand, is just fun — albeit performed by some of music’s big talents.

But the Northern Ireland and Scotland concerts now have barely any relationship to Last Night. For years one of the highlights is simply left off the Scot-NI list: Rule Britannia.

The sole traditional moment during the event on Saturday at Titanic Slipways was Land of Hope and Glory.

That is the only time when members of the NI Proms in the Park crowd who have brought Union flags connect with the spirit of Last Night.

There is no link-up to London for Jerusalem, hymns such as Thine Be The Glory, and certainly no national anthem (finely sung this year by an initially unaccompanied choir).

The Ulster audience is just given a tablespoon dose of Last Night, Land of Hope and Glory.

The idea of localising Last Night is an excellent one. This year the NI stage beamed Danny Boy into London and the rest of the UK, a Scottish choir contributed a Scottish song, and a Welsh chorus sang a Welsh one.

So why can’t we have classics beamed back?

Much of the local audience does not realise what has happened. Before last year’s Belfast concert, I asked several people in the crowd, including a BBC staffer, if I was right in my sense that Proms in the Park NI no longer plays Rule Britannia. Oh no, they said, it does.

But it hasn’t for years.

Note how the BBC, below, uses the polite failure of the audiences to complain as justification for their emasculation of the essence of the night.

This looks like social engineering by the state broadcaster, shutting out nationalistic moments except one.

When I wrote about this last year, I was mercilessly mocked by republicans on social media. So think about that: the BBC makes a major decision that Rule Britannia is not appropriate for NI or Scotland (iPlayer shows it was beamed into Hyde Park and Swansea) and I get abuse for challenging it.

On Last Night much of the audience lampoons nationalism, by waving EU or other flags.

The bisexual US mezzo soprano Jamie Barton this year waved an LGBT flag as she sang Rule Britannia. Last year the Canadian baritone Gerald Finley unveiled a Canadian flag.

Great! But why not give NI fans a chance to do the same, instead of censoring it?

I only wish Belfast City Hall still had a big screen, and a parallel event to Proms In Park could be held showing all of Last Night from Albert Hall.

It would be hugely popular.

• BBC statement on Proms in Park:

‘BBC Proms in the Park’ in the nations is aligned to ‘Last night of the Proms’ at the Royal Albert Hall; however it is not a musical relay and had always been designed to offer audiences attending the live event a different concert to that in the Royal Albert Hall. The BBC Proms in the Park concert in Northern Ireland has always offered our local audience a diverse mix of live performances from home grown and internationally renowned artists, as well as some televised Last Night of the Proms moments across the evening. People attending the concert here in Northern Ireland are largely aware of this and it has been this way since it began locally in 2002.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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