Last Night of the Proms TV audience down after Rule, Britannia! row

Average 2.1m viewers watched weekend’s show compared with 3.5m over recent years

Viewers stayed away from the Last Night of the Proms after the row over whether the lyrics to Rule, Britannia! would be sung on air, with Saturday’s broadcast attracting its lowest audience for many years.

An average of 2.1 million viewers watched the weekend’s performance from the Royal Albert Hall, which went ahead without an audience at the venue due to coronavirus restrictions. This is well down on the average of 3.5 million viewers who watched the show in recent years.

The broadcast followed a fortnight of national press coverage, an intervention from the prime minister, and multiple BBC U-turns over whether or not two traditional patriotic songs would be performed as instrumentals.

The issue turned into another front in the ongoing culture war, with the Finnish guest conductor Dalia Stasevska receiving death threats over claims that she wanted to drop the lyrics to Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory due to their imperialist associations in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Although the BBC originally said it had taken the opportunity to drop the lyrics because it would not be possible to perform them in a socially distanced space, one of the first acts of the new director general, Tim Davie, was to overrule the decision and require the songs to be sung.

In the end, 18 members of the BBC Singers performed the two songs, which were just a small part of the overall proceedings. According to official Barb figures provided by, the programme attracted 12% of the Saturday night television audience.

The performance itself drew mixed responses from critics, with the Guardian’s review saying that the evening “felt like a party to which no one had turned up” due to the lack of a boisterous audience.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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