'Dirge-like' anthem hitting the wrong note

Clare Garner
Monday 12 August 1996 23:02

If the Fabian Society has its way, Britain will kiss goodbye to the "dirge-like tune" that is its national anthem and march into the next century singing a stirring song by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Paul Richards, author of the left-wing think-tank's controversial document Long to Reign Over Us?, has called for a Eurovision Song Contest-style event to pick alternatives. "God Save the Queen", which "doesn't mention Britain, or even England once", is "more about bashing the Scots than anything else," he said.

The prospective Labour candidate for Billericay and member of the Fabian Society Executive Committee wants a new "exultation of nationhood" with words by the Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, and music by Lloyd Webber, to be commissioned to mark the millennium. He also suggests the English should have a separate anthem - "Patriotic hymns such as 'I vow to thee my country' or 'Jerusalem' would fit the bill admirably," he said.

"Britain's national anthem is something of an embarrassment in a modern age, not least because of the dirge-like tune," he said. "For a start it is an English song, not Welsh or Scottish or Northern Irish. Scotland and Wales have their own anthems 'Flower of Scotland' and 'Men of Harlech', both robust celebrations of slaughtering the English."

The situation really hit home during Euro 96 when "a lot of people" were embarrassed "that we didn't have a good, strong song with which to support our side other than 'Football's Coming Home'", he said.

Lloyd Webber was not inclined to tinker with the national tune. His spokesman, Shimon Cohen, said he had "no interest whatsoever" in the "very silly idea". "He's a monarchist, he's very loyal to the Queen and has no complaint whatsoever with 'God Save The Queen'." A senior Labour Party spokesman called the suggestion that the national anthem may change "sheer fantasy". And Ted Hughes declined to comment at all.

The constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor felt that a little fine-tuning was all that was needed. "The one I like best is the Benjamin Britten orchestration," he said. The Tory peer and novelist Jeffrey Archer said he would be loath to change the present anthem. Having heard the recent Russian and Australian efforts at revision, he said he would prefer to "stay still".

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