Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Tax Return

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Tax Return

Article excerpt

Make no mistake: the Proms, whose 2015 season was launched last night, would not, could not, exist without the BBC, or the licence fee. Just under half the cost of putting on such an ambitious nightly series of concerts throughout the summer, drawing on orchestras from across the globe, commissioning new work, pulling together programmes that mix popular and safe with little-known and challenging, comes from the sale of tickets, the rest is subsidised by taxpayers. To social-justice campaigners this might seem like an outrage. Why should such an 'elitist' series of classical-music concerts, 92 this year, attended by some 300,000 members of the public (a considerable proportion of whom will be tourists), be paid for (in considerable part) out of money (£5 million approximately) raised from those taxpayers who will never enjoy (or want to enjoy) the experience themselves?

It's the kind of question you can imagine being discussed by the panel of experts --from commercial television and radio, digital technologies and the civil service -- that has just been announced to advise the government on the renewal of the BBC charter next year. After all, you could argue that the Proms is maximum expenditure on minority entertainment, ending with the flag-waving jingoism of the Last Night. What it's so easy to miss is the value of the Proms as an international asset, giving character to British culture beyond football, fish and chips and the royal baby.

The summer season may be a product of what we now disown as Victorian pomp and patronage, Robert Newman and Henry Wood determining in 1895 that they wanted to take classical music to the people by putting on concerts as cheaply as possible. Those first Promming tickets sold at one shilling each. There was a lot of music in each concert, often as many as 12 pieces, with programmes specially designed by Wood to 'improve' his audience but also including lots of 'new' music: Debussy, Rachmaninov, Sibelius. Now it costs just £5 to stand and listen in the arena or up in the gallery. But those cheap tickets, important as they are as a principle, are as nothing compared with the importance of bringing to London each summer so many international musicians, and of then broadcasting all the concerts live on Radio 3 to audiences that now reach across the world. (This year six of the Proms will also be aired on the World Service.)

Desperate attempts have been made in recent years to fend off the accusations of elitism by inviting performances from Goldie, the Pet Shop Boys, CBeebies. Much more profound is the BBC's Ten Pieces campaign, which is taking music into primary schools (and now also secondary schools) in a drive to replace what the government has abandoned -- its commitment to music education and giving every child the opportunity to learn a musical instrument. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.