Who organised EU flags at the BBC Proms?

Who organised EU flags at the BBC Proms?


norman lebrecht

July 31, 2017

One of the performers in last night’s Beethoven Ninth at the BBC Proms has sent the following to Slipped Disc:

As the (role withheld) in the Beethoven Ninth last evening, I hope I can offer you my thoughts on the EU flag disruption. As I entered the stage door there was a group of people giving out free EU flags to take inside……no problem with this.

As I entered the Albert hall Stage, just prior to the 3rd movement there was no site of overly ‘dramatic’ EU flags. Once the 4th movement commenced there was some rustling along the very front row of the prommers.

My comment is: from what it looked like to me, the EU flag folks (5-6 people at most) were more concerned at launching their political protest than in listening to the glorious symphony of Beethoven – the orchestra, the choirs, soloists were not phased by their flag games. Ludwig van Beethoven is enough for any thoughts on the EU. 

Is there a sinister pro-Brussels mafia at work, as there was last year?


Even if there is, the BBC attempt to suppress it was both inept and disruptive.





  • Halldor says:

    We always knew that some Eurosceptics were cranks. Now we know that some Europhiles are too.

  • Hugh Jorgan says:

    Evidently minions of the Brussels Politbureau and that drunkard professional liar Juncker.

  • Derek says:

    Using our concerts to make political statements is a mistake.It is the wrong time and place. It is disrespectful to the music, the performers and the audience.

    The zealots on both sides of this particular issue seem to want to impose their views on others.

    • Ellingtonia says:

      No, you are wrong, it is NOT zealots on both sides, but the tantrums and screams of the remainers that is causing such disruptions. Usually resident on the South east of England and unable to reconcile the fact that of those who voted the MAJORITY voted out. So which part of the word democracy don’t they understand?

      • Democracy wasn’t frozen for all eternity on the 23rd of June, 2016. An essential part of democracy is the right to oppose and to review choices made. The referendum itself was wrong on so many levels. It was more about Tory party unity than what is good for Britain. There was never any proper discussion in parliament prior to the referendum. It was an advisory referendum that has been taken as a mandate to ram through whatever disastrous Brexit the government and their supporters desire. Many people didn’t have a vote. The Leave campaign in particular was based on the most appalling lies and promises that could not be fulfilled. People were sold a fantasy that can’t be delivered.

        Perhaps most significantly Brexit is becoming a catastrophe for the UK, economically, socially and politically.

        The people who made this stand are to be applauded, not condemned.

        • Ellingtonia says:

          The vote was not “advisory” as you put it, the British people were asked a simple question and they responded by saying withdraw, no ifs or buts. All those that were eligible to vote had a vote. The remainers sold a fantasy and outright lies that there would be chaos in the UK if the vote was no………….well, no chaos as far as I can see. You just can’t get it through your thick skull that the vote went against you and now you want to stamp your feet and shout “it was all unfair.” FFS grow up and realise what democracy means, alternatively ship out to one of the many states in the EU which you seem to so admire.

          • Any particular reason that Leave voters can only respond by being abusive?

          • Bruce Tanner says:

            The House of Commons briefing paper for MPs explicitly states that the referendum was advisory. That document (available on line from the Government) has never been withdrawn or changed. I think you have your facts wrong.

          • North Wales Yorkie says:

            It was advisory. Fact.

          • Bruce Tanner says:

            I did reply earlier on this, but it hasn’t appeared yet. I am afraid you are not correct on the status of the referendum. It was, indeed, advisory, the reference is here ( see section 5). http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-7212/CBP-7212.pdf Maybe a quick apology for your error wouldn’t go amiss here.

          • Katharine Hobbs says:

            Your response is untrue.
            The referendum was indeed advisory, in contrast to the Scottish Independence referendum.
            Thas why there was, for instance, no minimum threshold of votes for implemeentation – because there was no obligation to implement the result anyway.

          • Diane says:

            It WAS advisory
            No thick skulls
            Banks are leaving the country
            We have already been propped up by bank if england and we haven’t even left yet
            Our growth is slowest in the EU in the wake of Brexit
            There was no mandate and do you really think 52% is a super majority?? Had it been binding a much larger majority would have been called for
            We won’t leave anyway and we are just being vocal so that when the tide turns there is a campaign to come home to
            We won’t stop until Brexit is an ugly blip/ turd on the landscape of Britain’s history
            You red to read a bit more – you don’t sound very well informed

          • Steve says:

            I didn’t see withdraw or not no ifs and buts on my paper – It was advisory – Based on lies – very democratic ha ha . Now people know they were lies , and more & more understand the consequences, years of uncertainty and damage that will be done – Don’t people deserve the right to democratically vote again – If it’s such a sure thing we all want to leave – What is the problem with that , it’ll just be a leave vote again – You already know the answer to that though.

        • Ellingtonia says:

          Any reason that “remainers” can only respond by being sanctimonious, patronising and adopting the “listen to your betters” approach?

          • Who here has claimed to be your ‘better’?

            Simple thing is that people have a perfect right to oppose. That is an important part of democracy. What is worrying is people who want to shut down discussion under the disingeneous pretext that 17 million people voting one way is the ‘will of the British people’ and that questioning them or the catastrophe unfolding before us is not permitted. .

        • Anon says:

          Problem with that statement, William, is that the opposite is true, economically.
          Having been assured of immediate disaster, emergency budget, and so on, none of that has come to pass. No collapse. Indeed, inward investment is up and up, more and more big companies showing their belief in a successful post-Brexit UK by investing in new plant and machinery. The economy is doing far better than predicted, and unemployment is at its lowest since the mid’70’s. It isn’t much of a picture of disaster as yet.

          • Katharine Hobbs says:

            Britain’s vote to leave the EU has squeezed living standards, hit consumer spending and dampened the country’s growth prospects. There was no emergency budget, because the conservative party was in too much turmoil to enforce one. Their attempts to recoup government income in their manifest lost them their majority in the election.

            Meantime however, the economy slowed markedly and the UK slipped to the bottom of the European growth league. The pound’s sharp drop since the referendum is working its way through the economy into higher prices in the shops, pressurising consumer spending and threatening growth. By June retail sales had dropped, inflation was at a four-year high, wage growth had slowed and the housing market was losing momentum. After the election, the pound weakened again.

            Wages are now falling in real terms – adjusting for inflation – and the squeeze on household budgets has hurt consumer-facing businesses. Firms say they have been hit by the loss of key workers, as staff from other parts of the EU return home ahead of a potential clampdown on immigration. There has been a 96% drop in the number of nurses from the EU registering to work in the UK since the referendum.

            And we haven;t even left the EU yet.

          • Steve says:

            We were the worst performing economy in Europe last year pro rata per head of population. Things are going really well. There was no collapse because it’s a drip drip drain – We are a financial services sector – many are taking their employees to Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris – Many of these are high income 50% taxpayers. The automotive industry is going really well too ha ha – Fords laying off half the Workforce – Bridgend , oooh Mini invest £10 million in Cowley – but at the same time they invested £350million in Spanish plant and £500 million in German Plants.
            Wake up smell the coffee and start being more honest with yourself.

        • Islander says:


        • TJ says:

          I was disappointed that these flags were distributed for political purposes. It is childish and against the principles of the proms. No problem with the Ode to joy. This has become a part of proms tradition.

      • Diane says:

        It is YOU who doesn’t understand democracy
        Do you know we live in a representative democracy ? Not a mobocracy ?
        Do you feel “balanced” about this ? Perhaps you voted remain but believe that it’s ok to leave as they “won”
        Referendum was deeply flawed , it was advisory and only thrust upon us in a bid to save a huge split in the Tory party –
        The reaction of our government to the result of the discredited referendum is criminal they know there’s no mandate they know that to leave serves no purpose apart from to pacify the few in the coservative party they know it will put our country into sharp decline
        They are traitors
        If you want to keep wuitetvabout this and roll over do so but please dont criticise us for standing up
        To them and shouting out about the crime against OUR country
        Oh and read a bit more about democracy

  • DESR says:

    Dear oh dear… What a shame that Beethoven is being appropriated in this way. Last time I looked (and listened) he was for freedom and against tyranny, eg Napoleon his disillusion with Napoleon as he wrote the Eroica.

    Fidelio, anyone?

    Meanwhile, the Ninth is now a representation of the European Union? Pass the sick bucket, Alice.

    No wonder the BBC has no idea what to do about these oddballs.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    So nothing was actually”torn” down

    • d says:

      People unfurled EU flags over the rail at the front at the finale. The RAH staff kept on coming in front of the stage to try and take them down. They were unfurled again though and the staff kept on continually coming on during the movement and applause. Whether the flags being draped is acceptable or not, the disruption caused by the hall staff was a bigger shock.

  • JB says:

    I was standing in the arena about 6 rows back from the people mentioned by the soloist. Throughout the last movement of the Beethoven one man in particular was waving his arms about trying to rearrange his EU flag, presumably in the hope that it would better be seen by the live TV cameras. It was undoubtedly a distraction (it distracted me, and appeared to distract others who were closer to him than me). It appeared to me the intervention by the steward was to put a stop to the distraction, but regrettably the individual concerned was determined to continue his demonstration. I did my best to ignore it, and generally suceeded.

    Many other audience members (both in seats and in the arena) quietly displayed their own feelings about the EU by wearing tee-shirts, badges, etc., and waved EU flags (many of which had been given out free before the concert) during the applause at the end; they were not molested by stewards.

    Of course the music (along with many other pieces being played this season) has politial connotations and associations, both from Beethoven’s (and Macmillan’s) own time, and which have subsequently become attached to it. The music can safely be left to speak for them – that was the composer’s purpose, and politically-motivated demonstrations during the performance itself only distract from the music’s message.

  • Music Lover says:

    The photo you have attached here was actually taken before the last night of the proms in 2016. It was featured in a couple of publications but had nothing to do with last night.

    • Fidelio says:

      I took the photograph, and I was also at last night’s prom, We are music lovers, and as well as attending with our flags, we also took part in the morning workshop, singing Ode to Joy with Xian Zhang and the orchestra. After the performance, we were thanked for our action by many of the prommers.

      • pooroperaman says:

        You were not thanked for your constant talking through the rest of the symphony, because you were all too ignorant to realise that the famous bit comes nearly an hour into the symphony, too tone deaf to be interested in listening to the rest of it and too inconsiderate of the genuine concert-goers around to you to let them listen to it.

        Erin Wall is the heroine of the hour, for telling you from the stage to shut the f^^^ up.

        • Fidelio says:

          I was unaware of anyone talking, and I can find no evidence of such a response on the recording of the broadcast. I suspect you have a vivid imagination.

          Your attempt to denigrate with accusations of us being ignorant non-musicians is both petty and ineffective, as I am actually a longstanding passholder.

          It is possible to be both a music lover and politically active, and we were acting in the same spirit as Igor Levit and following the call to action by Barenboim.

    • Michael Smith says:

      That’s why Norman said that the photo came from last year.

  • Gerry says:

    Watch the footage for yourselves and see the camera pan to a choir with no moving mouths on ‘deine Zauber, deine Zauber binden wieder, binden wieder…’ Those on stage, myself and colleagues I’ve spoken to included, most certainly WERE rattled. Anyone who knows the piece well enough to have been on stage that night will have known and noticed the moment the chorus cue fell apart, and Xian’s pained anxiety bringing it back together. She did.

    Once we had seen the flags, they had been seen. What was FAR more distracting was the shenanigans going on in front of them. This was handled just terribly by staff.

    This was an experienced conductor and group of singers. This choral miscue coinciding with the dreadful distraction of staff running around in front of the stage continuing to confront people was not merely chance.

    In contrast to one account given to Norman by a ‘performer’, from my very clear view, those with flags were not at all rowdy, noisy or anything else, and seemed to be listening to the Beethoven as intensely as anyone there. Actually they were sheepish and discreet; understandably so.

    I am not at all in favour of this platform becoming political, but this was not UKIP, Labour, Tory or ISIS flag. And for the record, I don’t necessarily approve of the EU, but It seems, in an oddly Orwellian way, that we are supposed to accept no longer being allowed to express any form of positivity towards something the Party officially disproves of. This means the BBC can’t either, I suppose.

    • Anon says:

      I absolutely second this.

      The le thing was handled atrociously by the staff were highly distracting both to performers and audience many of whom I spoke with. The staff were appalling and should know better how not to be so horribly disruptive, it was disrespectful both to audience and performers.

    • Ann says:


      With the benefit of youtube-assisted hindsight, I take some comfort from knowing that my initial impression of our glitch in the B9 wasn’t too far out.

      Xian seemed to give a big lead to the choir – 2 bars too early. Then she seemed to try to bring us in again, 1 bar too early. But then she didn’t seem to give us a lead on the actual bar when we were supposed to sing, with the result that the majority of the choir sang late.

      However I think this is pretty forgivable when we were singing from memory.

      In her defence, this was just after the distraction of the BBC staff scurrying round trying to hide EU flags, which I’m sure was a factor.

    • TJ says:

      Surely you have to accept this is a music festival and not a flag waving competition. There was a pro run demo in London today. That is the place for political protest. Nothing wrong with the normal waving of EU flags of course though I personally see this flag as foreign to us. If there was a flag that represented the whole of Europe I would embrace that.

  • Jenny says:

    I was there too in the gallery, so not close to the people with the big flags in the arena. I did not see them being displayed but was very distracted by groups of stewards rushing in front of the stage.

    Up stairs there were smaller flags being displayed with glee and I myself had a flag. A few people were obviously unhappy with this but as far as I am aware there is a tradition of flags being displayed at concerts with a special focus, not just the last night.

    The people giving out the flags were being greeted with enthusiasm by many of the performers and audience.

    Most people who appreciate music realise how important easy international co-operation is, how much easier it is when travelling abroad to transport equipment without carnets and customs clearance at every border. We value the contribution that music students and teachers from the EU and further away bring to our musical life, and value being able to study in conservatoires all over the EU with ease.

    Surely the BBC were acknowledging this with their choice of music for the evening.

    • pooroperaman says:

      ‘Surely the BBC were acknowledging this with their choice of music for the evening.’

      Hardly. If you knew anything about the Proms, you would know that Beethoven 9 is the one major work that’s performed every year – a tradition that goes back to well before the vote to join the Common Market. It has nothing to do with politics and never will have – except in the tiny minds of those non-musicians who wish to hijack it.

      • Fidelio says:

        The fact that B9 is performed every year is irrelevant. What matters is that this particular year it formed part of a Europe themed evening, along with the Requiem for Europe and the Proms Extra lecture. And the way that B9 fitted into the Europe theme is of course that Ode to Joy forms the European anthem. As Jenny suggests, the political context was unmistakeable.

    • TJ says:

      I think if the EU just concerned itself with international cooperation and making it easier for people to live and work in other countries then we’d all be happy. However, I, and plenty like me, would rather die than let this country be conned into rejoining this undemocratic, corrupt organisation. It’s funny how they threaten us with all sorts of sanctions, both economic and political tells you all you need to know about this vile organisation.

  • JB says:

    A statement on the Albert Hall website (https://www.royalalberthall.com/about-the-hall/news/2017/august/no-the-royal-albert-hall-have-not-banned-the-eu-flag-bbc-proms) has made it clear that any action by the stewards was to deal with the disruption caused during the performance by a small number of over-enthusiastic EU flag-wavers, and not because of any “ban” on EU flags.

    It is always a dilemma for stewards in this type of situation as to whether to ignore the disruption, or to intervene with the risk of making the situation worse. In this case the disruptors failed to take the hint, and continued to insist on their “right” to faff around with their flags in the middle of the performance. They seemed to have had limited understanding of the etiquette involved in promming in the Arena, which may not have been helped by an unnecessarily aggressive attitude from one or two “regular” Prommers.

    The consequence has been that the disruptors have antagonised many people who support the anti-Brexit cause, and who may well have waved EU flags during the applause at the end of the concert, but who were there primarily to listen to the music. The disruptors (and their pro-Brexit equivalents) would be well-advised not to try to politicise the Last Night, which may be a party, but it is a musical party, not a political one.

    • JGH says:

      That may be the case, but this account certainly isn’t what was witnessed by anyone who was actually there that night.

  • Brian bright says:

    All this discussion about money!!

    We are leaving because of democracy.

    The Eu is a dictatorship.