At the BBC Proms, the woke agenda still rules the waves

At the BBC Proms, the woke agenda still rules the waves


norman lebrecht

September 03, 2020

From my commentary today in the Telegraph:

Under what is internally rumoured to be an edict from the incoming director-general Tim Davie – untraceable and deniable, needless to say – the Proms chiefs spun on their heels and agreed to let the noxious words of our second and third national anthems to be sung, loud and clear, albeit not by the designated soloist but by salaried members of the BBC Singers, who shall remain anonymous. ‘As we have always made clear,’ declares the BBC, ‘audiences will be free to sing along at home’. Free, presumably, in the sense that Britons never-never-never shall be the word they tried to silence….

Having first taken the fashionable knee to woke causes, the BBC has now united the nation in hilarity at its bumbling incompetence at putting a previously tame rabbit back in the Last Night hutch….

Read on here.



  • Baffled says:

    It’s interesting that people such as yourself, Norman, use ‘woke’ like it’s a bad word. You do know what it means, right? For some people, it’s cool to be insensitive or deny the plight of the persecuted, I suppose. Still, it is strange, coming from a purported intellectual and a Jew. Are you sure you’d rather stay asleep than see the realities of the world? Maybe people make mistakes along the way. But that doesn’t mean everybody should just dig in their heels and say, ‘no changes to the status quo, EVER!’ Lots of traditions are truly terrible and are designed to keep the oppressed right where they are. Can we discuss these things without immediately tossing them out with the dreaded ‘woke’ moniker?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      People such as myself? Name one.

      • alan says:

        “people such as yourself” – such a meaningless phrase. There is only one Norman Lebrecht (obviously), and for that we value your numerous contributions in the cultural sphere all the more, occasional errors and all. Comments like that come from those that will most likely never have your profile.

        • Baffled says:

          I’m sorry my careless use of a colloquialism got in the way of the point of my post. I realise Norman is a unique person and it was not my intention to stereotype him or lump him in with other intelligent, progressive thinkers. You’re right, alan, I don’t have his profile, because I’m just a lowly orchestral musician, not the writer of a popular blog.

          I don’t have the time or energy to argue with all of the reactionary commenters, especially because I know they have absolutely no interest in anything that doesn’t confirm what they already believe. For those who are curious about the meaning of ‘woke,’ there is this, from The Guardian:

          Like “politically correct” before it, the word “woke” has come to connote the opposite of what it means. Technically, going by the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition, woke means “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”, but today we are more likely to see it being used as a stick with which to beat people who aspire to such values, often wielded by those who don’t recognise how un-woke they are, or are proud of the fact.

          The origins of woke, in this context – as forged by African American communities – dates back at least to the 60s, but its mainstream ubiquity is a recent development. Fuelled by black musicians, social media and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the term entered the Oxford English Dictionary only in 2017, by which time it had become as much a fashionable buzzword as a set of values. Some of those who didn’t keep up with the trend felt left behind: if you didn’t know the meaning of woke, you weren’t.

          Rather than rejecting the concept of wokeness outright, today’s detractors often claim they are rejecting the word as a signifier of pretentiousness and “cultural elitism”. However, as Fox and others have shown, it is as much to do with the issues of racial and social justice. Criticising “woke culture” has become a way of claiming victim status for yourself rather than acknowledging that more deserving others hold that status. It has gone from a virtue signal to a dog whistle. The language has been successfully co-opted – but as long as the underlying injustices remain, new words will emerge to describe them.

    • James Weiss says:

      “Woke” is a bad word. Mostly it’s a ridiculous word. A four letter word. It’s virtue-signaling. It’s a word that signifies an inability to think for oneself. It’s a word of derision. People who are truly enlightened – a much better word – don’t need silly words like “woke.”

    • James Weiss says:

      Name a single “tradition” that is “designed” to keep “oppressed” people in their place. Just one. I’ll wait.

      • Rogerio says:

        Just for the sake of dialogue (hope you don’t mind);
        How about the American “tradition” of having young children start the day in school by facing a flag an pledging allegiance to it?
        Try and convince the French to do the same and see what answer they would give you.

        • James Weiss says:

          Sure it’s a tradition but it’s not “designed” to “oppress” people.

          • Rogerio says:

            That depends on your point of view.
            Consider the Native American Red-Neck people. Having them pledge allegiance and sing the national anthem every-single-day of their childhood comes in very handy if your objective is to convince them that as long as they can own an assault rifle and be “free”, then they have no need for government guaranteed health care. With the money saved, you can buy more aircraft carriers. And the patriotic Red-Neck will believe that it’s to protect them from the North Koreans.
            Some would call that “Systemic Oppression”.
            The worst oppression is the one you overlook because it seems “totally normal”.

          • Rogerio says:

            And this also may come as a surprise to you Weiss;
            Cultivating this system of oppression of the Red-Neck People is very useful for maintaining your Systemic Racism System focused on the Of-Color People. In the end, it’s all one System. That Americans can’t seem to see.

    • Marfisa says:

      ‘Woke’ – replacing the outmoded ‘politically correct’. Can I in turn protest against condescending sentences starting with “You do know” and ending with “, right?”

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        And their accompanying exhortations, “shame on you” and “you should be ashamed of yourself”. When that doesn’t work it’s “you’re off your meds today”. Gosh, it’s really intelligent and hard to argue against!!!

        Note the old time religious tropes embedded in all this finger-wagging, censoring, censuring and sin-binning. A few businesses or organizations are lost; so what? That’s just collateral damage for a much higher cause.

    • Le Křenek du jour says:

      Just one of the many examples of wokeness accumulating every day:
      A law professor and students at Northwestern University ritually denouncing themselves, exactly like they were forced to do in the darkest periods of Stalinism and Maoism.
      Parroting the “criticism and self-criticism”sessions that originated in the Bolshevik party even before the first Stalinist purges in the Soviet Union and remained a feature of Communist life.
      With the notable exception that wokeness can just about manage to disrupt careers and wreck public reputations. Yet.
      It does not have the power to kill. Yet.
      Probably because of its sheer infantile silliness. Yet.

    • SVM says:

      When you consider the actions of the so-called ‘woke’ people, they represent a troubling parallel to the first steps of totalitarianism. Two examples:

      *the neo-McCarthyist sanctimony directed at any commentary (no matter how historic, no matter how measured and reasonable) that questions a so-called ‘woke’ belief, which is then treated as licence to sack people from their jobs, direct threats and abuse at them, and claim they “deserve” any misfortune they encounter (just look at the toxic discourse celebrating the recent shooting of a Trump supporter); and

      *people being admonished to practise positive discrimination and even boycotts solely on the basis of ethnicity (people have been encouraged to boycott ‘white’ businesses and make a point of shopping at ‘black’ businesses — the parallels to the Nazi “kauft nicht bei Juden” slogan are extremely troubling).

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        And most people with an IQ above room temperature are onto this and have been for some time.

        Again, Trump is the only sledgehammer with the chops to deal with it. The ‘chemo’ for the cancerous swamp. The whole USA dictated to by coastal cities with large populations, as though the rest of the country, spread throughout, doesn’t exist.

        Oh, I feel a change comin’ on!!!

    • Christopher Culver says:

      Baffled, I’m not sure you understand what kind of website Slipped Disc is. This is not a neutral news-reporting site, nor is it an idealistic platform that seeks justice. Rather, Slipped Disc is a tabloid. Its proprietor’s particular niche for decades now has been to apply sensationalism, gossip and polemic to the reporting of classical music news. Therefore, using terms like “woke” pejoratively is exactly in keeping with that mission, because anything that sparks argument and outrage is good for boosting website visits and ad impressions.

      It is a mistake to take anything you read here seriously. If only people understood what kind of site SD is, we’d see less outraged reactions in the comments, and more remarks along the lines of “Oh, I see what you’re trying to do there.”

      • James Weiss says:

        Ad hominems are the weapons of a bore. Try again.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        This is another hilarious trick of the Woke Left. We all get to express our woke totalitarianism and when there’s an alternate opinion (shock, horror) we ‘cancel’ the organization and its legitimacy. Thuggery.

        Perfectly right at home with the Stasi and Politburo.

  • Harry Collier says:

    Can someone please tell me what “woke” means? It appears to be a new Daily Telegraph word that appears in no dictionary I can access. Awakened? Woken up? People who cook with a wok?

    • Karl says:

      The word was added to Merriam Webster in 2017.

      Woke’s transformation into a byword of social awareness likely started in 2008, with the release of Erykah Badu’s song “Master Teacher”

      • Urban Dictionary is ye friend says:

        You need to consult the Urban Dictionary on that word. Good explanation:

        “The act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue”

        “Deluded or fake awareness.”

        “When a successful enterprise is deliberately run into the ground for the sake of liberal ideals.”

        ‘”Wokeness” occurs when a white, upper-class person pretends to hold opinions they imagine a black lower-class person might hold. The word itself is an incorrect tense of “awake” – referring to the perception that the black working class have a poor grasp of grammar. ‘

        “[…] having just discovered some politically Progressive ‘truth’ about society or the oppression and class status of marginalized people, and the obligation to treat them as extra-special/revered in society.”

        “[…] In short people who are ‘woke’ are fake amateurs who aren’t at the slightest into politics and are most likely victims of indoctrination from biased and lying media”

        “Being completely deranged, hysterical and seeing racism/oppression in virtually everything.”

        “To be asleep and uncritically accept whatever nonsense social science professors dream up to advance Marxist goals. As with most liberal speak the meaning of the word is the opposite of the word’s standard meaning.”


    • Anon says:

      It’s precisely that. It’s a word used by people who are embarrassed that others think hard about issues of discrimination and fairness, and do something about it.

      • Marfisa says:

        Precisely which of the three possibilities? Who is it that does something: people who are embarrassed or people who think hard? And about what: the word, discrimination, or fairness (not issues, which is plural)? Or is ”do something about it’ a command? Your meaning is really not clear.

    • Bruce says:

      The idea is something like “newly awakened to the injustices that pervade everyday life.”


    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Try not to be so obtuse and disingenous. Woke but not awake – I prefer to say. There’s always Google when you’re unsure. It has nothing whatever to do with the Daily Telegraph, but thousands of media outlets who’ve had it up to here.

  • Phillip Ayling says:

    ‘As we have always made clear,’ declares the BBC, ‘audiences will be free to sing along at home’.
    Is the BBC actually implying that they could demand that people not sing along at home…but in their exaltedness… they are continuing to allow people to sing along for the time being?

  • BetsyBride says:


    It means to fondle and caress … degenerate leftist ideals, such as self-replacement, loss-of-identity and other such things

    • Hell oooo says:


      they care sooo much about diversity and inclusion, filling their dull lives with fake apologist, condescending and patronising ways, while the own british kids get groomed.

    • redlight tartillions says:

      yeah. they like deepthroating leftist hypermoral viewpoints. kindof fills ’em with purpose.

  • Jonathan says:

    I am another who struggles with the word “woke”. Trying to work out from the context: the term only ever seems to be used as an insult by sensationalist right-wing commentators. What they seem to be trying to ridicule is individuals displaying civilised behaviour by avoiding language that denigrates others on the basis of their ethnicity/religion/sexual orientation/disability or other characteristic.

    Are the commentators who castigate the BBC for being “woke”, including NL here, saying that it should not have standards of respectful civilised behaviour? Particularly NL who himself has an honourable record of calling out people who use language denigrating individuals of one particular minority religion, and has generally been fair-minded about other groups subject to prejudice.

    • V. Lind says:

      The word grates because it is an illiterate use of it. The meaning grates because it is becoming a doctrine, criticism of which is costing people jobs, friends, the ability to be heard.

      • Herbie G says:

        First, let me apologise wholeheartedly for being persistently white and persistently British. I am also, sadly, a male British white person too. I do hope that no one will be too offended at that, and, if so, I do humbly apologise for that too. I’m also sorry to say that I love this country, warts and all, and there’s no other country in this world in which I’d prefer to live. Above all, I like the way in which we have been for centuries, until recently, a tapestry of different nationalities, religions, political beliefs, colours and cultures that have lived together mostly in harmony and free from persecution. In fact, just about everyone is in a minority of some kind, by virtue of all those attributes as well as in health, wealth, age band, physical ability, interests, vocation and education – as well as other categories.
        The state of relative harmony in this country is being shattered by single minorities using force, menace and violence to assert themselves over and above all the others. Just look at the Extinction Rebellion mobs today. These were not peaceful demonstrations – which would have been perfectly in order had they observed social distancing. Some hope of that. They were acts of hooliganism that tied down our police force, already repeatedly decimated by successive governments for the past two decades or so and with far more important things to do.
        Some go further. They invent faux ideologies, faux concepts and faux phrases and words. Ranting takes the place of rational debate. Remember when ‘politically correct’ was a term of derision of the Soviet Union’s dictatorship? They invent a sham status of vicarious victimhood that has not afflicted any of them or their ancestors for centuries; they use that as a pretext for making aggressive demands over the rest of us, The danger of that is that their terminology becomes part of our vocabulary and is then assumed to be worthy of legitimate debate. They redact our history and our vocabulary too. Worst of all, anyone who dares to take issue with anything they say is immediately smacked down with hostile allegations, leading supine employers to discipline or dismiss them.
        Common to all of these groups is a disregard of the law; the ends justify the means. If we continue down this path, our ideological differences will be settled by menacing street gangs rather than discussion and democratic process. That’s exactly how Hitler came to power.
        If anyone takes exception to this, than let’s further this debate with PRECISE dictionary definitions of:
        …and let’s have a list of the OFFICIAL aims and objectives of BLM (not just a personal view).

        • Bomberg says:

          “First, let me apologise wholeheartedly for being persistently white and persistently British. I am also, sadly, a male British white person too. I do hope that no one will be too offended at that, and, if so, I do humbly apologise for that too.”

          You forgot to mention “tedious bore”…

        • christopher storey says:

          Herbie G : I think Sue Sonata missed the irony in the opening part of your posting . Your explanation sums up absolutely everything about why the various protest movements are nothing but sheer humbug, and you are to be congratulated for having the courage to spell out these truths

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        What a massive projection that is!!! Only your ever-expanding doctrines matter; right?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      One can always resort to semantics in the absence of rebuttal or argument.

      Don’t ‘struggle’ any longer; allow people to express their freedom of speech and enjoy their entertainment – no matter how offensive you find it – and get on without diktat from the Left.

  • jack says:

    What the term “woke” implies is an alert, clear eyed understanding of the surrounding world and how it works. What it in fact means is that if you do not adhere to the particular perspective that its proponents proffer, you are ignorant and in need of enlightment. In reality it is nothing more than a substitute for “ideology.”

  • DeepSouthSenior says:

    As a white, senior, heterosexual male (married 52 years), conservative Christian (Calvinist) from Mississippi USA, much of the world looks upon me as near to the lowest form of life, slightly above single-cell but below fully sentient creatures. Yet my wife and I, and millions of others “such as ourselves,” continue to live our lives joyously, with hatred for no one, with charity toward all, and with an unshakable confidence in the principles we hold dear. I am distressed by the decay of Western culture, including the flouting of moral restraint, the rejection of “traditional values,” the elevation of politics as religion, and the worship of the state in place of God. And, of course, the politicization of the arts.

    To be a conservative in the truest sense is to seek to preserve the best of what makes us great, and to abandon, whether old or now, what contradicts those values. So, I am saddened and grieved by the state of the world, yet calm and confident in the ultimate triumph of righteousness.

    My apologies for wearying you with a sermon. I don’t mean to sound cranky or, what’s worse, bitter. What angered me decades ago, these days merely brings a yawn, a sigh, or a little flash of anger.

    Our state legislature recently cancelled our 1894 state flag with the Confederate symbol. I wonder if we’ll get any credit with the “woke” crowd for designing (and I hope approving in November) a beautiful new flag which may bring much-needed unity. We are seeking to forget what lies behind and move forward in hope.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Woke fascism will be around for quite a while yet, though it has to be said that the extreme Left is on the run politically the western world over. That’s why the US got Trump, but don’t expect the bien pensant to understand any of it. They will, though, in time – when their phony virtues are exposed for the authoritarianism it really is.

    • V. Lind says:

      That’s illogical. whatever else you can call Hillary Clinton, she was no member of the extreme left.

      I’m not very keen on the extreme anything, so I amno fan or Bolsonaro or Orban. But I would not have welcomed Jeremy Corbin, either.

      What the US got was an extreme dolt, and that’s a lot more worrying. Trump is not really interested in politics, though his self-interest has him comfortably aligned him with the right.

      The UK got an extreme incompetent. Boris doesn’t have much politics, either — his conservatism is paper-thin, as he British right is beginning to notice, to its dismay. He’s establishment and likes the privileges to which he has always been accustomed.