Sunday, January 16, 2022


On Friday 7th January, Britain’s Culture Minister, Chris Philp, said that the BBC should be played more frequently by the BBC, and by other public service broadcasters: “[the] more we hear the national anthem sung, frankly, the better.” This followed a comment the day before in the House of Commons by Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell that, with 2022 being the year of the Queen’s platinum jubilee, “will the minister take steps to encourage public broadcasters to play the national anthem and ensure the BBC restores it at the end of the day’s programming before it switches to News 24?” The minister in the Commons, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, could be heard saying “fantastic” in response.

Far from just being ridiculed in comments online, this reactionary step, in the literal sense that it is trying to return to something people used to do, is completely unenforceable: “God Save the Queen” has only been the official national anthem of the United Kingdom through tradition and use, with no law ever having been put into place, and any attempt to make it law now will, no doubt, inspire similar derision. In terms of TV channels, only BBC One and ITV – except for Thames, Granada, Central, Yorkshire and Border - have ever played the national anthem when they closed down for the night, and stopped doing so when they stopped closing down. BBC Two and Channel 4 have never played it, and Channel 5 launched with a 24-hour schedule from the start. Furthermore, BBC News 24 has been called the BBC News Channel since 2009.

My initial reaction to this non-starter was to think of “An Audience with Billy Connolly”, the 1985 stand-up special that ended by arguing that the parlous state of the country was due to the national anthem being boring, which I agree, and that it should be replaced by the theme from BBC Radio 4’s “The Archers”, with everyone singing “dum-de-da-de-dum-de-dah” instead of writing lyrics for it. The option of Simon May’s “EastEnders” theme since arisen, but far better the maypole dance of Arthur Wood’s “Barwick Green” than Eric Spear’s plodding “Coronation Street” theme. BBC Radio 4 is the one station that still closes the day by playing the national anthem, just before 1.00am each night.

Meanwhile, rearrangements of “God Save the Queen”, like Benjamin Britten’s blockbuster production, and Philip Sheppard’s arrangement for the 2012 Summer Olympics held in London, make me feel there is not much more that can be done with such a simple tune – Sheppard explained that his arrangement was designed to add tension, including an E minor chord that gave the impression the entire piece was in a minor key.

Having no official anthem means we have always had a choice. “Land of Hope and Glory”, “Jerusalem”, “Flower of Scotland”, “Scotland the Brave”, “Land of My Fathers” and “Londonderry Air” have all been used by the nations of the UK in different capacities, and despite the creation of national parliaments outside of England, none of these have become official. Another option could have been “Zadok the Priest”, written by Georg Frideric Handel for the coronation of King George II, and possibly the first national anthem, but its having been used by the UEFA Champions League since 1992 has probably ended any chances of that. The use of “Jerusalem” for England at the Commonwealth Games, however, came from a public vote held by the Commonwealth Games Council for England in 2010, polling just over half of the votes – “God Save the Queen” came third.

Personally, I would choose the second-placed song in the poll, Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, “Land of Hope and Glory”, with lyrics by Arthur C Benson. The lyrics referencing God mean about as much to me as singing about God saving the Queen, but it doesn’t matter in a song that, even more than “Rule Britannia”, must be played and sung as loud as possible. In an era where the “drop” is as important in pop music as the chorus, the approach and “drop” before the second chorus of “Land of Hope and Glory” makes me feel more patriotic for my country than anything, or anyone, can possibly do. The use of the word “hope” is also good. 

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