Tuesday 4 September 2012

The Last And Other Nights

With Jeremy “Reach For The Sky” Hunt now gone from Culture in the Cabinet Reshambles he is replaced by Maria Miller from the valleys of Wales.  May we hope now for her Max Boyce (see Wikipedia) tribute act?  But Cameron may have missed a trick.  Once there was a large Welsh contingent in the Arena for the Proms, but they have long gone now.

Justine Greening was moved from Transport (no third runway) to the sump of International Development but with the Last Night of The Proms pending it is a pity she did not go to Culture.  After all, Sir Edward Elgar’s mum was Ann Greening and by all accounts a charming loving lady and the daughter of a farm worker.

Had Justine appeared at the Royal Albert Hall resplendent in full Britannia fig it would have been a testament to the Conservative wish to retain our ancient traditions, well some of them, perhaps actually not that many depending on who makes the best offer and what they can get away with.

The problem with the Last Night, a show that cheers some up but attracts a lot of criticism these days largely because it seems a last gasp of Empire, is that it is simply a one off, a single and distinct night in a long music festival.  The rest of the season’s programme is another matter entirely.

The result is that the BBC management are rather embarrassed by the second half and are stuck with it because since they began screening it many years ago it has become a fixture subject to minor variations.  In the recent past they have tried to counter this by at other Proms importing experts with other opinions.

But these have backfired spectacularly because with “experts” commenting on an ordinary concert but with the Last Night stereotypes in mind got it rather wrong.  One memorably described the Arena audience as “horribly white”.  That night, I was there, more than half of those in the Arena were foreign including a large number of Asians and the UK element had numbers from migrations a while back.

Norman Lebrecht, who wrote an article suggesting fascist tendencies in the audience was commenting at another ordinary concert on the day it appeared when the camera picked up some of the audience.  One it lit on, apparently an elderly Brit’ was in fact of Polish birth, of the Jewish faith and a survivor of Auschwitz.

She was far from being the only East European of that persuasion in the Arena.  There was another group then, quite a few, who referred to themselves as the “Pink Centre” in the middle of the Arena.  Some old Brit’s were war veterans.  Of the other Brit’s most were politically to the left.  A more unlikely bunch to be fascist you could hardly imagine.

Similarly the Last Night Arena audiences in the time we were going had a large proportion of foreigners from many places, in a couple of the years they were in a majority, I did the count.  Admittedly, there were few coloured and few Muslims but the BBC do not seem to know the reasons for that.

Moreover the Arena audience never has been a fixed long lasting group.  I reckoned on at least a 15% turnover from one year to the next and in the ten years we were there were three distinct changes in the overall makeup.  Seeing archive film from stages in the past confirms this had occurred before.  There are a small number of long term regulars but it is small and not typical in that audiences from night to night are not typical.

In any case a lot of regulars we knew skipped the Last Night, some had done it a couple of times and that was enough, others were not interested, others had musical tastes that did not fit the programme, others because it was just too long and quite a tiring palaver for entry on the Last Night.

Additionally, the idea that the regulars, notably the season ticket holders go almost every night is another fiction.  The number which manages to do this is very small indeed.  The reason why many buy season tickets is because their work, family or other commitments makes booking ahead a gamble so they always have a choice.

This year what it will be like is difficult to say.  We know the Arena audience has already changed since our time only three to four years ago because we bump into a few now and again in our travels.  In the 2005 picture above, we are easily picked out in the Arena and close to stage in an enlarged picture.

It was good while it lasted, but old bones, the costs involved and chiefly the changes to timings and railway timetables have meant it is more difficult now, especially the travel.  There will be a few there we shall recognise but many faces will be missing.  The Proms changes just as much as anything else.

And like many things it is not what others claim it to be.

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