Last night of the Proms 

31 January 2011

At first glance, the axing of the BBC’s Electric Proms may superficially seem regrettable but perhaps understandable from a financial perspective given that major cuts have to be made. But as with those recent website cutbacks, you still can’t help but wonder whether the right choices are being made for the right reasons.

OK, so the end result was more Radio 2 mainstream as opposed to cutting edge avantgarde, but the Electric Proms was a major and flourishing cultural event in itself, which then begs the question as to exactly what will replace the Proms and whether it will have the same cultural impact as a consequence.

Indeed it’s perfectly possible to argue that the Electric Proms was in itself even more important than something like a public library, since it’s theoretically possible to buy cheap secondhand books from a charity shop if there’s no library, but impossible to replicate such a wide spectrum of live performances if they didn’t exist in the first place.

Plus those supposedly reassuring words in relation to providing Proms-style performances in an “alternative, more cost-effective way” mean absolutely nothing if those promises aren’t backed up with solid actions, which given purely practical considerations are unlikely given the scope and (most importantly) nature of the cutbacks.

We’ve been here before in the past with Channel 4 when it first launched its FilmFour subscription movie channel. Initially Channel 4 promised that arthouse movie content wouldn’t disappear from Channel 4 altogether, but that promise was broken after what only seemed like five minutes even if the reason(s) were ratings-related at the time.

So there you have it: the BBC spending less money on cultural events with a vague promise that everything will be alright in the end.

Losing major occasions like the Electric Proms will result in just a series of occasional music concerts, losing yet another “social cohesion” element in a similar vein to that previously-announced plan relating to removing non-news content from the BBC’s local websites (perhaps turning website sections into poor copies of Google).

And eventually you will have the corporation’s critics saying that the BBC could be easily privatised because it may end up offering little of distinction above and beyond what commercial channels like ITV can offer, still of course ignoring that all-important absence of commercials between and during the programmes.

How to dismantle the BBC in several less-than-obvious stages.

You Say

3 responses to this article

Glenn Aylett 31 January 2011 at 2:25 pm

A painful time for the BBC for the next four years as its licence fee is frozen and in real terms will fall by 4 per cent this year. While the Electric Proms isn’t the most important thing the BBC does, it is a sign, along with the 650 redundancies at the World Service( I could possibly be made redundant this year so know how these people feel) and a 25 per cent cut to BBCi, that the BBC is going to have to do less for the rest of the decade. Don’t be surprised if a digital television or radio network could be for the axe next.

David Hastings 31 January 2011 at 10:37 pm

Personally I feel that the BBC should have axed a ‘major’ service before finally deciding to embark on yet another round of around-the-edges tinkering that ends up degrading much of the content it produces. There’s no point in having a BBC that produces sub-standard content just to save a bit of money, because the whole thing will become devalued as a consequence.

From my perspective, the most likely BBC service by far to be axed is BBC Four, because regardless of its excellence BBC Four’s programming will get higher ratings when transferred to BBC Two; namely a return to the 1960s-early 1990s period where the Swedish version of Wallander could coexist with snooker on the same channel. Throw in an additional Red Button video stream for occasional continuous concert/opera coverage during the evening whilst snooker/Top Gear/etc. is in progress on BBC Two and few people should feel aggrieved at such a loss. (I would also turn BBC HD into BBC Two HD as further compensation for the loss of BBC Four.)

And BBC One is now starting to resemble what ITV(1) was like 20 years ago; namely still producing innovative drama and other productions but gradually becoming risk-averse due to financial reasons. Then anti-BBC politicians will swiftly move in for the kill given the slightest provocation (and this will happen sooner if News Corporation is permitted to take over BSkyB).

Glenn Aylett 1 February 2011 at 2:55 pm


Much as I like BBC Four, what you’re saying is right. Dramas like Hattie and Most Sincerely would probably treble their audience if moved to BBC Two and would give BBC Two a distinctive image again instead of being a home to second rate sports tournaments and property shows. BBC Three, I think, should stay as this provides a far more intelligent alternative to ITV2 and its reality trash for the under 35s.

BBC One is light years ahead of ITV1, its main rival, but what’s to say the temptation to squeeze out another two Eastenders episodes if ratings fall and the anti BBC brigade go on the warpath.

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