There has been much stuff and nonsense written about the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ and the BBC’s decision to offer only orchestrated versions of ‘Rule, Britannia!’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ this year, but nothing, absolutely nothing beats the contribution from Catriona Lewis, Executive Producer of ‘Songs of Praise’, who thinks that singing ‘Rule, Britannia!’ is akin to Nazis celebrating the Holocaust. Her meaning is rather confused and confusing: “I believe slavery was Britain’s Holocaust’, she wrote, and so singing ‘Britons never will be slaves’ is like neo-Nazis shouting “We will never be forced into a gas chamber”.
As if that weren’t sufficiently crass, offensive, insensitive and historically illiterate, she proceeds to lecture Proms producers:
Just imagine Cat Lewis’s preferred alternative lyrics, celebrating ever-further diversity and perpetual equality of gender, race and sexuality. What exactly would her preferred words be? Doesn’t it occur to her that, far from unifying the country, her competition would alienate millions more and stoke a divisive culture war? Can’t she see that the enduring refrains of ‘Rule, Britannia!’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ are profoundly unifying experiences, whether you agree with the words or not? Rather like the annual singing of Christmas carols, people find refuge and meaning in the tradition, and joy in the fellowship of community. Along with ‘Jerusalem’ (in England) and ‘God Save the Queen’, they are the rousing anthems of enthusiastic patriotism.
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that the Executive Producer of the BBC’s ‘Songs of Praise’ might reflect on the woeful state of her own house before preaching to producers of the Proms. In 1988, the Sunday evening programme had a regular audience of 7.8million viewers – about a quarter of the country – but now, banished to a lunchtime slot in an era of increasing secularity (not her fault) and stripped of all theological depth and soteriological richness (very much her fault), its warm and fluffy spiritual therapy barely reaches into the nation’s care homes.
Whatever you may think of the decision to cut the lyrics of ‘Rule, Britannia!’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ (while, curiously, retaining a choral rendition of Parry’s and Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’), the belief that ‘Rule, Britannia!’ is a celebration of Britain’s role in the slave trade is a proposition of such manifest ignorance that it is incredible (literally) that Cat Lewis is a producer of anything, let alone of the world’s longest-running religious programme. Perhaps she might meditate upon the comma after ‘Rule’, and the exclamation mark after ‘Britannia’: the anthem is an imperative to spread the cause of freedom; an exhortation to global liberty, not a gloating about conquest and oppression. Without the Royal Navy ruling the waves and intercepting ships laden human cargo, slavery would never have been abolished:
Perhaps instead of stoking division and misrepresenting our national history, Cat Lewis might reflect on the sacrifice of these brave men who died to help rid the world of a manifest evil, and consider producing an episode of ‘Songs of Praise’ which focuses on all that was good about the British Empire, as well as reflecting on the evil: why would the “God who made thee mighty” want to “make thee mightier yet”? What might His purposes be? She might also consider occasionally producing an episode which contained some red theological meat: too much milk makes one quite nauseous.