The Emperor's New Clothes (09/09/12)

The Last Night of the Proms is a fine celebration of the best of British, they say. Rubbish, argues Matthew Bell

Well, thank goodness that's over. No, not the Paralympics (what kind of monster would say that?), but the Last Night of the Proms. The annual orgy of flag-waving and breast-swelling took place last night at the Royal Albert Hall, and, as usual, sold out weeks ahead. As did the televised spillover in Hyde Park, featuring Kylie, at £35 a pop. Why?

It's not the patriotism that's the problem. I'm the first person to well up at the opening bars of "Jerusalem", and get all quivery-lipped about those blue remembered hills whenever Elgar comes on. But the point about being British, and feeling pride in your country, is that you pretend not to be. We know we're great; it's impolite to go on about it. The idea of pre-booking a seat to wallow in a night of flagpole masturbation goes against the very bulldog spirit it seems to be celebrating.

Second, the music. I'm a big fan of English composers (Scottish and Welsh too, but they don't get much of a look in). Delius, Parry, Henry Wood – masters all. But this isn't Top of the Pops. We are not teenagers. We are able to listen to whole symphonies without getting bored. The average length of the 18 bits of music last night was seven minutes. Some were just three minutes long, which is shorter than Whigfield's recording of "Saturday Night".

And this is the real problem: the Last Night strikes a bum note after the actual Proms. We have been treated to 150 hours of powerful, complex, interesting and subtle music, played by the best musicians alive. And how do we end it? With a pub singalong. It's like working your way through the Grand Cru Classés, and rounding it off with a Jägerbomb.

Some will say I'm a snob. Maybe. But it's now 20 years since Classic FM was launched. Surely, we've learnt that there's room for everyone. Those who want The Four Seasons on a loop have their station. Those who want more than just to be soothed while doing the washing-up should be offered something more. The BBC Proms is a wonderful and sacred institution. Please can it just end a day early?

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