BBC Proms are disgraced by Tom Jones

BBC Proms are disgraced by Tom Jones


norman lebrecht

July 03, 2017

The BBC announced proudly today that the Welsh crooner Sir Tom Jones will make his Proms debut on September 1 in a concert marking the 50th anniversary of Stax Records’ 1967 tour. Stax is an American pop label, based in Memphis.


This commercial pop celebration is as low as the BBC has gone in dumbing down the Proms.

The Proms were supposed to be the BBC’s bastion of serious music. The BBC has dozens of pop events and channels but only one classical redoubt – the summer Proms.

Previous controllers have defended the Proms vigorously from populist incursions. But the present BBC Proms director David Pickard and his Radio 3 boss Alan Davey are weaklings who bend the knee to BBC superiors demanding ‘inclusivity’ and ‘relevance’. This last concession amounts to total capitulation.

This year’s Proms have gone all Sir Tom. Knickers will fly in the Royal Albert Hall and the last reason to defend the license fee for the purpose of public elevation will go down the Kensington drain.

It’s a day of shame.

UPDATE: David Pickard has just tweeted:


  • Nick says:

    Shame indeed! It would be nice if heads might roll, but that’s not likely.

    • Sue says:

      The only head likely to roll is that of Sir Henry Wood in the form of the bust in Albert Hall. I would have thought Tom Jones had long exceeded his sell-by date. I’ve always found him oleaginous and greasy!!

      Last night I watched on pay TV the 2012 ‘Last Night of the Proms’and it was very moving for me because the late Jiří Bělohlávek was on the podium. I felt sad, and he was obviously a well loved conductor with that orchestra and, I’m sure, others in his native Czech Republic.

    • Soulmate says:

      Why Tom Jones?? it would’ve been better to have had Paul Rodgers, he brought out a superb soul CD called The Royal Sessions, his voice is more attuned to STAX music that the Welsh shouter, Jools Holland you have a lot to answer for.

  • Jane Susanna Ennis says:

    We could always just boycott it.

    • Magnus Pike says:

      Madam instead of boycotting it, why not complain. I have been complaining to the BBC for years about the lack of opera and classical music on TV. Instead of using the BBC complaints form which is tedious, just email Charlotte Moore and Tony Hall direct if enough people complain about it maybe they will wake up. Here are the two contacts to send in your complaint. and

      • Jane Susanna Ennis says:

        No, really, I don’t think it’s worth complaining…….just ignore it. It is only one performance on one evening. Tom Jones and similar performers represent a genre in which I am not particularly interested, but I don’t think giving him the stage for one evening ruins the entire ethos of the Proms.

      • A Tom Jones Fan says:

        Ummm … how’s all that complaining over so many years working? Apparently not.

    • Van Clomp says:

      Why not send a round robin complaint en masse to, and

  • Maria says:

    It might, just might, have been justifiable if there were some higher purpose – like demonstrating a link between classical and some other genre.

    I don’t see what “marking the 50th anniversary of Stax Records’ 1967 tour” has to do with the Proms, or anything much.

    Can’t help feeling that there’s a long term objective of ditching classical entirely.

  • Will Duffay says:

    “…the last reason to defend the license fee for the purpose of public elevation has gone down the Kensington drain”

    Steady on, now – that’s a bit extreme. Yes, Tom Jones at the Proms is pretty unfortunate, but it’s no reason stop defending the licence fee. Don’t come over too Telegraph/Spectator Norman. Without the licence fee and a public service broadcaster there would be no serious, affordable music at the Proms, no Radio 3, no BBCSO and BBC Phil.

    • Michael R Partridge says:

      The BBC licence fee should be ‘defended to the hilt’ It is ‘best value for money’ Of course it’s output does “please all people all of the time’ but I think it pleases all people over time. For all other networks we pay for through the products we buy, interrupting programmes we’re watching’ Even ‘pay to view’ channels have adverts.

  • North Londonshire says:

    How about a bit of context here?

    The concert marking the tour 1967 tour had already been announced and already had a number of pop and soul singers involved.

    It was already sold out before Tom Jones’ involvement was announced.

    Tom Jones is one soloist one one late night concert

    This is hardly the BBC going “all Tom Jones”

  • Adrienne says:

    I checked to see whether this Prom will be televised – of course it will.

    Arguably another encroachment on TV time that could be devoted to classical programming. Not surprisingly, it seems that the non-classical stuff is overrepresented on TV.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Oh for goodness sake Norman get over yourself. It’s music, maybe not to your taste but it’s people like you who put Joe Public off classical music with your small minded snobbish attitude to popular music.
    He’s a great entertainer with the ability to hold an audience in the palm of his hand. I can only think of Adele, Shirley Bassey and Dollly Parton with the same ability and charisma. There’s nothing wrong with the Proms introducing his kind of music. As long as they don’t give Russell Watson and Alfie Boe Proms I’m happy.

    • Adrienne says:

      “As long as they don’t give Russell Watson and Alfie Boe Proms I’m happy.”

      Seems some types of snobbery are more acceptable than others.

      “He’s a great entertainer”

      So is Ken Dodd, but I think you’re missing the point.

      • Max Grimm says:

        I guess I’m missing the point as well, as I fail to see exactly how the “Proms are disgraced by Tom Jones”.
        If Norman considers Tom Jones to be a disgrace to the Proms, it’s just as well that he seems to have missed the Doctor Who, Radio 1 Ibiza, Quincy Jones, Hooray for Hollywood and Sinatra Proms, to name but a few…

        • Adrienne says:

          “Proms are disgraced by Tom Jones”.

          That’s just NL. I think it’s safe to assume that he’s referring to the decision, not Tom Jones himself.

          Just scanned through the lineup for the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival. Don’t see the BBC SO anywhere. Why does musical diversity seem to be such a one way street?

          • Max Grimm says:

            “Why does musical diversity seem to be such a one way street?”

            I’m sure that we both know the unfortunate answer to that question.

    • Rod Dunk says:

      Elizabeth Owen, you are absolutely spot on. Well said!

    • Stephen says:

      “Joe Public”, as you condescendigly call them, are not “put off” classical music by anyone’s attitude providing they are given the opportunity to listen. It is the media which far too often deny “Joe Public” this opportunity. Look at the “quality” newspapers and how they relegate reviews of concerts to a small space in the back pages; look at how good music concerts and operas are relegated on TV to hours when most people are asleep; look at how the production of books on music has fallen and look at the all-prevailing relativism which considers Bob Dylan as great, if not greater, than Beethoven.

      • Charles Hanson says:

        Why is it called Classical Music? Is it not because it is the music of the past? How many in that business can stand on their feet without charity? I believe Classical Music needs the protection it get by the donations of people who enjoy all oher forms of music today. Tom Jones and Stax kind of music have never gone cap in hand. So maybe it’s a wise decision to ignore your snobs and do what it takes to keep Classical Music on drips.

        • Stephen says:

          Who is talking about snobs? A dangerous word to use as it can work both ways. Beethoven for one may have had aristocratic patrons but he composed for all and everyone should have the opportunity to hear music that will enrich their lives not just act in the short term like a drug. People have the right to chose: their enemies are those who talk of elitism and snobbery.

    • Melvyn says:

      I agree Elizabeth, Sir Tom is a great performer.

  • Robert says:

    Are you afraid that some old granny will throw her knickers onto the stage? Is that what this is all about?

  • Robin Bloxsidge says:

    Totally absurd! If they wanted to celebrate this anniversary, which is no doubt of great interest to many people, it should have been done as a separate event. Whether or not the Stax label is significant and Tom Jones is a great entertainer arew entirely irrelevant to the inclusion of this concert in what is supposed to be the world’s greatest classical music festival. Even Pickard and DDavey wouldn’t broadcast this concert on Radio 3.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    Jones is a fine singer. His program of Schubert Leider will be historic.

    • 18mebrumaire says:

      Yes, indeed, inspired suggestion. He could perhaps share the program with Sting leading Dowland out of the shadows into the full-on glare of the TV cameras. Getting all poetical here with the prospect!

    • Robin Bloxsidge` says:

      Can’t wait for that!

    • Paul Davis says:

      “Leider” Schubert is unlikly to be crooned by Jom Tones, even if he’s a Lieder in his field.

    • Sue says:

      Well, historiONIC at least.

    • John humphreys says:

      I don”t have any feelings about Tom Jones one way or another – never heard of him but if he brings in the punters, fine. As to what is on offer at the Proms, examine what is available now compared with say 60 years ago. The richness and variety of musical experience today is beyond praise.

      • Jane Ennis says:

        Come on, I think everyone has HEARD of him, and has heard his songs on the radio…’s just that he represents a genre in which I am not particularly interested. No-one is forced to go to hear him if they don’t want to.

    • AndrewB says:

      Is there any truth in the rumour that Dame Shirley will premiere a recently rediscovered cantata ‘ In praise of Tom & Shirley – a blest pair of sirens’ by Hubert Parry ? It would be great if dear Lulu could offer Britten’s Charm of Lullabies to end the first half too.
      That’s enough – I’m feeling thoroughly crossed over!

  • Martin says:

    How low can the BBC sink? I’ve nothing against Sir Tom (I was actually born in the same valley) and one has to admire his artistry and his long career. I’ve nothing against Stax records either, as a former record industry chap myself. It’s all a matter of personal preferences. But this should be a seperate and unrelated event altogether surely. This is the Proms, the greatest celebration of ‘classical’ music in the world – or it once was. Once more it’s a case of the BBC dumbing down, down, down. So much of the BBC arts output is heading the same way – even the world famous Singing Competetion that took place in my home city (Cardiff) just last month has in recent years adopted the ‘X Factor’ and ‘Britain’s got talent’ approach to its presentation, complete with slow-mo shots of the artists (as with sporting events), inane back stage interviews (“tell me, how did it feel?”) and that oh-so-predictable pregnant pause before the winner is announced. Yes, the BBC should embrace all art forms, but not in the same pot please. Oh dear, perhaps I’m just getting old!

  • Bill Worley says:

    O for goodness sake, this sounds like banter you would hear in the School Playground. If David Pickard wants to include a “Pop prom” let him get on with it. I saw it in the Programme and decided not to book for it. I hope those who did book for it have a good time. If it is their first visit to the Proms then they may come back for more and perhaps go to a Prom that includes a Mozart Symphony or a Beethoven Piano Concerto.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      Naive. Not a hope in hell of that happening. Trying putting Jonas Kaufman on stage as the warm-up act for Rihanna or whoever and see what happens. Be warned — it will not be pretty.

  • NYMike says:

    As concertmaster for the ’67 tour, I had to dodge knickers (panties) weighted down with hotel room keys thrown up onto the stage. Finally succumbing, I came home with a pair around my neck as a kerchief.

  • Gary Carpenter says:

    Whatever next? Die Walküre at Glastonbury? 🙂

    • Allen says:

      That was 2004 so, unlike the Proms, no evidence of a growing trend.

      This year they had Hacienda Classical with Manchester Camerata who, apparently, performed “orchestral reworkings of tracks such as You Got the Love and Blue Monday”.

      Not that much diversity imposed on the rockers then.

      • Gary Carpenter says:

        National Youth Orchestra in the past and Black Dyke this year. Doesn’t seem to set off the same alarm bells with the Glastonbury fans as skiffle at the Proms seems to do.

      • Katharine Hobbs says:

        Philip Glass’s Heroes Symphony was performed at Glastonbury last year.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    I mentioned Boe and Watson not because I’m a snob but because they are hardly on a par with Tom Jones. He acknowledges that he is elderly now and no one throws panties at him.
    Where does it say that the BBC should only stage classical music proms.? “A last bastion of serious music?”

  • David Nice says:

    Get over yourselves, objecters. Tom Jones is a great singer – doesn’t matter what the genre is, the best remains the best. And what is it depriving anyone of, please?

    • Adrienne says:

      “Tom Jones is a great singer – doesn’t matter what the genre is, the best remains the best.”

      His greatness is not the issue. The Proms is primarily a classical music festival, it’s absurd to suggest otherwise, but the BBC seems determined to whittle it away year after year. That is why “objectors” don’t feel that they have anything to “get over”.

      And as I said above, it seems to be a one-way street.

      • David Nice says:

        Nothing gets whittled. There’s more than ever. And what were ‘classical pops’ in Henry Wood’s time can surely be the great standards now. Stop moaning and enjoy the diversity – you’re not missing out on anything. And I speak not as a BBC mouthpiece when I say that this season looks terrific to me (last year not so good on paper).

        • Adrienne says:

          “you’re not missing out on anything”

          A matter of opinion. It’s all here for comparison, year by year:

          • Sue says:

            Some people are so hooked on diversity they’ll go for anything and everything. Discerning individuals need not apply.

          • Roger says:

            Thank you, Adrienne. Very instructive.
            Compare, for example, the total number of Proms in 1977 (55) with the total number in 2017 (75). Even deducting the non-”mainstream classical” (whatever that may mean) from the 2017, we’re still ahead of the game. And that’s without taking into account the lunchtime concerts and the concerts at other venues, not included in the 75.
            So: why do you gripe?

          • David Nice says:

            It must be so lovely to be in the Discerning Club and scoff at diversity. Really, some folk on here are as silly as the host himself.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Tom Jones is so old he’s practically classical anyway.

    • David Nice says:

      He’s a classic. And he can still sing. So what’s the problem?

    • Mario Denis says:

      I hope he sings ”Delilah”….that’s a classic, is it not????

      • Sue says:

        Oh, Saint-Saens is on the program!! Get me a seat.

        • David Nice says:

          ‘Delilah’ is a lot more entertaining than Saint-Saens’ opera. ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre’, ‘Printemps qui commence’ and the hyper-kitsch and exciting Bacchanal excepted.

          • Sue says:

            With such profoundly sophisticated lyrics such as , “My, my, my Delilah; why, why, why Delilah?” I can see your point.

          • David Nice says:

            Do you think ‘My heart opens to your voice’ or ‘Woman is fickle’ are profoundly sophisticated lyrics, Ms See Below?

          • Jane Ennis says:

            As far as ‘La donna e mobile’ is concerned……actually I think Verdi knew what he was doing in writing this silly tune to silly words……it is to highlight the fact that the Duke of Mantua is a silly, trivial character…….In ‘questa o quella’ he’s been going on about how fickle and changeable HE is……but that’s OK, of course, because he’s a MAN.

  • Rog says:

    It seems to me that Norman and a number of commenters here need to get some perspective.
    The total number of concerts at the Proms has increased considerably over the years. In particular there are more late night concerts. And, if I remember rightly, when I started listening to the Proms in the 1970s, the RAH was dark on a Sunday more often then not.
    So the relatively recent introduction of diverse forms of music into the season cannot be said to have resulted automatically in a reduction in the ‘classical’ (whatever that may mean) content. It may be that there are now more concerts that you wouldn’t touch, but has the number of concerts you would go to reduced?
    If not, what’s the problem.

  • Ninian Fergus says:

    Who is the current music director of the Proms? Simon Cowell?

  • Ben says:

    Which is lower, TJ, or the Brits who gonna pay premium to show up for his performance?

    The Proms would not make that move without feeling confident about numerous Brits lining up to get into his show, right?


    Or…. How “low” BBC Proms sinks is largely dependent on the music taste of mass public in England.

    (hey don’t get me wrong, the “popular” series at Tanglewood truly isn’t my cup of tea, but I don’t go out of my way to offend the public who attend them)

  • Nick says:

    Tom Jones is a fine singer? Was, perhaps. I have seen him twice in the last 20 years. On the first occasion the voice gave out after 15 minutes and he quite literally croaked through the remaining 45. How that affected his vocal chords I can only imagine. The second occasion was as bad as the first. Belting out songs in the early part of his career seems to have destroyed much of his vocal talent. My guess is he won’t dare sing more than 15 minutes at the Prom.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    It is painfully evident that very few on here have any understanding of the “Stax” legacy on music. But having attended one of the Stax soul tour concerts in Manchester in the mid 1960s I can assure you that it had as much impact on me as hearing Mahler 2 for the first time. This was music of passion and intensity performed by black musicians who were often ignored in America but welcomed with open arms here in the UK. The performances of such artists as Sam & Dave, Arthur Conley and Irma Thomas still bring a smile to my face today (even as I approach my 70s) and the influence these soul singers had on many subsequent artists is significant. So, anything that celebrates music of such importance is to be welcomed, and forgive me, but don’t the Proms last the best part of eight weeks and this is just a one night celebration of a different kind (but equally important) of music.

    • Charles Hanson says:

      The snobs here think classical music is the cult of the privileged few, and they call it serious music, I don’t think they even know Mozart.

      • Jane Ennis says:

        Are we going to have the ‘serious music’ argument again? OK, I’m up for it. Comic Opera isn’t ‘serious music’, is it? That’s why it’;s called Comic Opera. (Opera Buffa as opposed to Opera Seria).

        And what about ‘Light Music’? Who decides what is Light Music, and by what criteria?
        I don’t precisely think that ‘all music is serious’, but I would be very hesitant to say that something isn’t ‘serious’ because I don’t like it!! I mean, I’m not interested in Tom Jones and I’ve never heard of STAX records, so I’m not qualified to comment on whether his music is ‘serious’ or not.

    • Charles Hanson says:

      Thanks you very much for restoring sanity to this chat, may you live long in your musical enjoyment.

  • Music Lover says:

    ‘The Proms were supposed to be the BBC’s bastion of serious music. The BBC has dozens of pop events and channels but only one classical redoubt – the summer Proms.’

    BBC Radio 3
    BBC Symphony Orchestra
    BBC Concert Orchestra
    BBC National Orchestra of Wales
    BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
    BBC Singers
    BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

    I don’t think the BBC needs to defend itself when it comes to classical music. Its a late night concert, and I am sure it will have a better standard of performance than some of those dusty 7.30pm orchestral concerts.

  • Alistair Hinton says:

    “Die Walküre at Glastonbury?”, posits Gary Carpenter, thereby illustrating the one-way traffic aspect of attitudes towards this kind of thing; never mind that – could anyone imagine the reactions were Glastonbury to offer an evening with the Arditti Quartet playing Ferneyhough and Carter? This isn’t about snobbery (or at least it doesn’t need to be); it’s about mounting performances in the most favourable environments for them, be they Stax or Bax, Tom Jones or Daniel Jones…

    • David Nice says:

      The Albert Hall and the Proms with its Arena option to dance are the PERFECT space for Tom Jones.

  • Jill Clark says:

    Sock it to them Sir Tom & give the snob’s of the prom’s something to get up & dance to & sing along with & seem to remember MY hero Mr MICHAEL BALL (OBE) star of stage, TV & radio was given similar snobbish remarks when it was announced that he was given his OWN PROM AT THE RAH some years ago!!!!!!!!! (HE & his adoring fans soon shut them up)

    • Alistair Hinton says:

      MIchael Ball? He’s a fine composer from Manchester whose orchestral work could well do with outings at the Proms. Didn’t know that he’d been “honoured” with an OBE, though…

      • David Nice says:

        I didn’t know Michael Ball the singer was any good until I saw him in the ENO Kismet – tosh, of course, but he and Sarah Tynan and even Alfie Boe – an inverted snob about opera, as it turns out, and wildly miscast in the Carousel which I wouldn’t have gone to see – did well. So no need to be lofty about him either. The best in each category, those who practise their art to the highest level, all deserve to be showcased.

      • Jill Clark says:

        Oh, YES Michael Ball at the top of his game & so much deserved his OBE a few years ago David Nice!!!! HE & Alfie Boe ( who at THAT same Prom at the RAH was a special guest at Michael’s request) AND BLEW THE ROOF OFF THE RAH too with that PROM (I was there & it was OUTSTANDING) time people accepted these different, stunning concerts ARE what puts bums on seats!!!!!

  • Thomas Tompkins says:

    There’s only two types of music. Good. Or bad. Doesn’t matter what genre.

    • Sue says:

      Correct. The only problem which arises is who decides which music is good and which bad? I’ve always said that I like all music “as long as it’s good”.

  • Ed Hogbin says:

    This Prom is not a Tom Jones concert but a celebration of Stax Records which were very poular amongst a generation now in their ’60s and ’70s. The actual artists appearing are Booker T Jones, Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, and Sam Moore, backed up by some UK musicians and guest singers. It js an absolute privilege to be able to see them perform together here for probably the last time. There is no need for anyone who desn’t like the music to attend as it is sold out, just as I wont be attending anything by Harrison Birtwistle.

  • David Makin says:

    My God ! Talk about upper-class twits of the year, who the hell are you people ? Tom Jones is known as “The Voice” for very good reason and if you deign to listen to his latest releases you’ll discover that he’s better than ever and very far from his “sell by date”.

  • Don Welch says:

    Never read so much snobbery, music is for everyone, just like Art and Comedy etc. It is in the eye of the beholder or the ear of the listener. So lets all accept others opinions and taste, and if you don’t like it switch it of or don’t turn up. The Choice as always should be yours.
    Well Done BBC

  • Brian Fitzgerald says:

    Thank you BBC. A great evening’s entertainment. Brought back memories of 1967 Stax Road show in Cardiff. A true classic.

  • Terry Johnson says:

    I went to the concert and enjoyed it.

    But let us consider another issue. The best selling ever solo piano album is Keith Jarret’s “Koln Concert”. Has this best selling piano piece ever been played in full on the BBC? Not as far as anyone is aware. Has Keith Jarret ever appeared on the Proms. Definitely not. How did the BBC celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first recorded Jazz performance earlier this year? They virtually ignored it. The bottom line is that from about 1924 much of the important serious new music has been in the Jazz genre rather than Classical. Go along to your local record store (if you can find one) compare the number of classical albums on sale to the number of Jazz albums. Now go to the Radio Times and compare the number of hours devoted to Jazz with the number devoted to Classical. Jazz is totally under represented, (and if it were properly represented the number of Jazz albums sold would no doubt significantly increase).

    The bottom line is that the BBC has a serious institutional bias in favour of Classical music and against Jazz. You have nothing to complain about!

    PS If you want a good laugh. Look here

    ” A Love Supreme 50 years on …Often cited as one of the greatest albums ever made, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme is revered not just by jazz aficionados but music fans the world over….” A 30 minute program on an album which is 32 minutes long!! Did they play the whole album around that time in a separate programme? No they did not. Have they ever broadcast in full “one of the greatest albums ever made”. Not as far as anyone is aware.