The Last Night of the Proms is probably the most famous musical event in the world, watched and listened to by an audience of many millions around the globe. While it lives up to its reputation of a fun "Last Night party" celebrating British tradition, it equally encapsulates the spirit of the Proms, featuring leading international artists and a truly "musically all-embracing" programme, introducing new works alongside much-loved classics.

Tradition dictates the last four works of the Last Night. Prommers lead the audience in singing along to Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March no.1 ("Land of Hope and Glory"), "Rule, Britannia!" and "Jerusalem", and add their own special touches to the BBC Symphony Orchestra's virtuosic performance of Sir Henry Wood's Fantasia on British Sea-Songs. Alongside these traditional elements of the programme, it has also been the custom of recent years to emphasise this concert as the finale of a great festival, bringing together the different themes of the season.

But above all, the Last Night of the Proms is a lively celebration of the world's greatest classical music festival and the wide range of great music it presents.
This Node will have a lot of stuff in it. I've divided it into sections

The Last Night of the Proms

The Last Night is a celebration concert marking the end of the annual proms season. Its tickets are very highly sought after, and in fact you need to have ticket stubs from 6 other proms concerts to even apply for a last night ticket- even then, obtaining a ticket is by no means certain.

Luckily the BBC broadcast the concert on BBC2 and its conclusion on BBC1.

Queueing Up

So, you've got your tickets. The cheapest tickets are for the Arena and the Gallery, both at £4. The Arena is the whole floor of the Royal Albert Hall, and Gallery is the ring of standing space that surrounds the hall up in the rafters. These places are unreserved standing. Now you must face competition for a position. The promming diehards (hereafter "prommers" or "daleks") will start to queue up the night before in order to be certain of the best seats. However, queueing up for about 20 hours is tough, so the concert organisers have instituted a system of checking-in times, at 8am, 10am, 3pm and 5pm. (The concert begins at 7.30pm) You can join the queue whenever you like and at one of these times you will be given a raffle ticket. The number on this ticket is your position in the queue. Your name is taken by an official. Now you can do what you like until the next check-in time. Picnic in the nearby Hyde Park, drink in the nearby student union bar, whatever.

At the next check-in time, if you are not in the queue, and in the correct position, your name is stuck from the list and you have to go to the back.

Now it gets complicated.

The prommers have instituted a separate system for reserving spaces in the first four rows of the arena. This year, myself and friends (including noder hugo rune) got into the queue in time for the 10am check-in. This brought us to the attention of the prommer running this aspect of the queueing. He presented us with a plan of the front of the hall, and invited us to choose the spaces that we wanted. He gave us a second raffle ticket with a different number, and hung around after each official check in to make sure we were still around. When we eventually went in, our spaces were reserved.

So, we spent quite a bit of the day hanging about in various queues. This made us the pime target of leafleting about local eateries and such, but also on political issues (one offered alternative lyics to Jerusalem protesting about the Foot and Mouth Disease crisis), and from the usual crazies like Henry Percy.

The Prommers

These are the group of high-minded regulars, who, over the years have come to see themselves as a bit of a breed apart. They are weirdoes. Bino Man is a notable example, but there are about 20 or 30 others. They are organised, running the first 4 rows of the arena with an iron rod, running a prommers orchestra picked from the audience who perform outside the hall for the queue, and taking a collection for musical charities. (This year they raised in excess of £10,000). They can make things very unpleasant for the neophyte, tutting and shaking their heads at coughers and premature applauders. They also issue occasional diktats to the audience and concert organisers in a flat unison monotone. A typical interjection may consist of them shouting, "ARENA TO AUDIENCE: WE ARE NOW COLLECTING FOR MUSICAL CHARITIES. THANK YOU". This is delivered in perfect sync. They sound not unlike daleks in their clipped insistence- and are sometimes referred to as just that.

A Rebuttal To Fondue

Now look here! Sometimes I see something on e2 I disagree strongly with, but decide to let it go. Heck, if it's well written, I'll even vote it up. But the WU above cannot go uncontested. I've been to dozens of Proms, and three Last Nights. Lets have a look at what actually happens. I'll take the concert of 9th September 2000 as an example.

I've *never* seen a Daily Mail being read at any of them. Not once. The Guardian seems to feature more often. As for the flag waving, the union jack was again in the minority this year, squeezed out as it was by the Welsh Dragon, the Soltaire, the Irish, German and French Tricolours. And countless others. If the event was really about national identity, these others would not come so far to attend. I'm not English, and I enjoy the whole event. I could even see a Rainbow Flag. You know, the gay pride one.

As presented by BBC1 it may "smack of jingoism", because they only broadcast the famous last half hour, from which your startling misconceptions seem to stem. Of the 2000 Last Night programme, 24 minutes were taken up by the patriotic or nationalist songs, and 89 minutes were from Bach, Mozart, Strauss, Shostakovitch (a world première), Percy Grainger, and Delius. During this part of the concert, the flags remain furled, and the audience pay rapt attention to the beautiful music. And lets examine the "singing about great England is". Jerusalem is actually about how awful England is, and exhorts the listener to put it right. It has always been a firm favourite of the social reformer, having for example been adopted by the Women's Suffrage movement.

But these songs are not taken seriously:- one can hardly imagine the Irish tricolour being waved enthusiastically about if that were the case.

Some of the regular attendees (such as Bino Man) are a bit odd. But being different isn't a crime, right?

Basically, the proms are about music. Good music, expertly performed is not an anachronism. Not small minded nationalism, not anything else. It is impossible to get tickets to the Last Night without attending six other prom concerts. This ensures that the event keeps the jingoist at home. In my view, anyone who feels it possible to ascribe all kinds of attributes such as social class, newspaper choice, political affiliation, club membership, hoity-toityness and gimpyness to people he doesn't know on the basis of the music they enjoy is a bigot and a snob. Oh, and Simon Rattle (the one with the crazy perm) doesn't conduct the Last Night, but Andrew Davis (the one with the beard) has.

If you're in London next year, lets go. You might be surprised.

I can't argue with your points about Wimbledon's Henman/Rusedski fans, tho. Although the rest of the tournament seems quite fair-minded. I've only been once, tho, so I won't comment further.

The 2001 Last Night

This concert came on the weekend following the appalling destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York. It came at the end of the first proms season presided over by an American conductor. It was never going to be the usual party.

Gritchka's writeup below gives the new programme. A BBC spokesman appeared before the show began, explained that there would be some programme changes, and invited us to participate in the spirit of the broadcast. He added that the show would be carried on 300 public radio stations in the USA. We were being warned to be on our best behaviour.

This was not really needed.

There was next-to-no flag-waving, but there were many US and UK flags being held aloft. One colonial American flag was to been seen draped over a banister- a flag that combines the US stripes and the UK crosses. I've never been at a more sombre proms. I actually wept silently during the Finzi piece, thinking not of falling leaves, but of falling bodies.

The traditional second half silliness has been going on for donkey's years. They always play those four rousing British classics, and always have for as long as anyone can remember.

One change was made several years ago. It was two weeks after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and only a week after the death of Sir Georg Solti, one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century. Andrew Davis, the conductor of the Last Night, gave the traditional speech just before launching into the four classics, but without the usual joviality. And at the end, for that year only, they played God Save the Queen.

Tonight the Last Night is being conducted by an American, Leonard Slatkin, new chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. This time the whole programme is changed. Gone are the three upbeat mockingly patriotic songs (which he had been so looking forward to having fun with). I'm listening to it on the radio. His voice is drawn, he has difficulty getting the words out.

First half

Second half

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.