Covid-19 was a chance for the BBC to strip Proms 2020 of its infantile jingoism

The government’s bailout will have a palliative effect, writes Michael Church – but instead of promoting a society whose multi-ethnic make-up has never been properly acknowledged, the broadcaster is still encouraging flag waving

Any extreme displays of patriotism will have to be made in living rooms this year
Any extreme displays of patriotism will have to be made in living rooms this year

The government’s £1.57bn subvention to the culture industries can only be good news, and most of it will be in the form of grants, which is excellent. The way that culture secretary Oliver Dowden was speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme suggested that the main beneficiaries will be institutions rather than individuals, and that allowing audiences back into theatres and concert halls is still far away. But for the prime minister to announce that culture is the soul of the nation, and to back it up with substantial amounts of cash, will be music to the ears of curators, theatre bosses, and opera house directors.

And also to the Royal Albert Hall (RAH), which has recently been on course for bankruptcy: for that, the government’s subvention has come in the nick of time. And it was at the RAH last Friday that the BBC Proms announced their sadly truncated programme for this coming season.

The Proms are the world’s largest and most important annual classical music festival, and as its director David Pickard has pointed out, this will be a Proms season like no other. First and foremost, there will be no audience and the Proms without Prommers verge on the oxymoronic. Moreover, Pickard and his team have apparently tried out dozens of different orchestral seating plans, but none were capable of accommodating a Mahler-sized symphony orchestra while maintaining the requisite social distance. Pickard is now trying to keep a balance between ambition and realism in terms of what he will be able to offer.

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