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Toby Banks

Don't mention the Proms

'Our patriotism is decent, kindly and civilised. It is never strident. We do not march about, hold processions or insult other nations....So why cannot we sing lustily to our hearts' content 'Land of Hope and Glory' at the last night of the Proms?' (Sir John Stokes MP, Guardian, 12 September 1992)

Why not indeed? Yet, as Sir John's rather defensive tone suggests, the last night of the Proms is regarded by its supporters as a guilty pleasure, to be enjoyed slightly furtively. It is assumed that the bellicose nationalism of songs like 'Rule Britannia' is an embarrassment in this day and age. Which is slightly odd, because, despite the above remarks to the contrary, Britain is profoundly nationalist and absolutely obsessed with military matters.

To understand the awkwardness surrounding the Proms you have to take into account British hypocrisy, which insists that everyone pretends there is a higher motive. So the armed forces become the 'services' - just another career, part of the national heritage - and it is considered quite healthy for people to take an 'interest' in them. A whole industry exists to feed the appetites of military buffs for uniforms, medals, figurines, books, magazines, and so on. The newspapers keep up a stream of stories about 'our boys'; two new prime- time series - Soldier, Soldier and Civvies - have started this autumn.

None of which should be confused with militarism or nationalism, those pernicious foreign diseases which, like Hitler, never invaded these shores. George Orwell drew a popular distinction between nationalism (uniforms, goose-stepping, fascism, brutality) and that feelgood British invention, patriotism (gentleness, tolerance, local pride, love of hedges and Bramley apples, etc).

This self-delusion quickly acquired the status of common sense, and unites all shades of opinion in true British fashion. It provides a framework within which virtually any disagreements can be safely contained. So the Proms argument is all about whether or not it is genuinely patriotic. Opponents say it is triumphalist, and therefore un-British; its supporters say it's just a bit of harmless fun, and therefore very British.

However, this should not blind us to the real reason why everyone is so self-conscious about the Proms. The point is, it's bloody awful. It should be triumphalist and aggressive, but it is a pathetic failure. You can sell tourists the Trooping of the Colour as an historical pageant. You can dress up the Royal Tournament as a kind of sporting contest for nutcases - 'our boys' are fit and athletic and can pass muster in regimental costume. But you can't carry off a celebration of world domination when you're a decrepit little island.

The sad truth is that the British bourgeoisie doesn't look too good in its dotage. When the Carlton Club was bombed the camera crews spoke to a few of the specimens who emerged, blinking in the light, and then decided not to repeat the footage: too many viewers were sympathising with the bombers. The last night of the Proms tends to have the same effect. What was once a bold celebration is now just an excuse for the most unattractive, anal-retentive young members of the middle class to 'let their hair down' and feebly ape the antics of their rugby-playing brothers. A sort of Annabel's for the socially inadequate.

If the Proms was a real display of national virility, the establishment would defend it proudly, not mumble apologetically about how it is 'harmless'. The problem it faces is that nobody in their right mind would consider the Proms anything but 'harmless'. It shows the ruling class up as arseholes. The 'Promenaders' are a laughing stock: a bunch of gawky herberts shouting puerile jokes and throwing their hats around.

So let's have no more liberal whingeing about stopping the Proms. In fact, let's have it on every channel simultaneously, not hidden away on BBC2. The more people see it, the better. Then perhaps the authorities won't find it so harmless after all.

Remember, you read it here first. Long before the 'underclass debate', we published an attack on Tony Parsons, the former punk journalist who had penned a piece called The Tattooed Jungle which trashed the working class and blamed them for spoiling socialism. This earned him warm applause from many self-styled 'socialists' and 'former members of the working class'.

Parsons' star continues to rise, and he has returned to his favourite theme with a double whammy aimed at his two natural constituencies: Channel 4 viewers get Tattooed Jungle: The Movie, while for Daily Mail readers there is the intemperately titled 'Why I hate the modern British working class', under the legend: 'Treat them like humans...they still behave like animals'. His by-line reads 'Eastender Tony Parsons', but surely he deserves better than this after years of speaking out fearlessly. I suggest Lord Gerry Fitt's old tag: 'the bravest man in Britain'. With a bit of luck, if enough of Tony's hated 'lumpens' work out how to switch to Channel 4, he may have to earn the title.

Sony isn't the only old punk to earn a crust from the tabloid press. Garry Bushell was once the champion of 'Oi!', a skinhead movement that filled a much-needed musical void and featured anti-authoritarian lyrics, such as the memorable 'All Coppers are Bastards'. Can this be the same Garry Bushell, Sun TV critic and one-man fan club for the Paras, the SAS, and indeed the 'Bastards' themselves? Well yes, it's him. Older and wiser. 'Here is a brave, underpaid body of men and women who risk their lives to keep this country civilised', writes Gal of the thin blue line; and he claims that he speaks for everyone except a few 'left-wing TV trendies'.

Garry prides himself on speaking for both the bloke in the boozer and the bobby on the beat - a difficult balancing act to perform, I admit. But you don't have to be a 'TV trendy' to see that his pendulum has swung a little too far Old Bill's way. I mean, underpaid?! Not even the Tory conference buys that one any more. And as for the ordinary reader....Sorry Gal, but you should step out of the old ivory tower now and then, and get your shell-like to the ground. As they say down the nick, you've been watching too much telly, son.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 49, November 1992

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