The Last Night of the Proms, for the uninitiated, is the lighthearted and patriotic final night of the Promenade Concerts, which have run during the summer at the Royal Albert Hall since 1895. The best-known elements of the second half of the program have been in place since the 1950s and include: Rule, Britannia; the Fantasia of British Sea Songs; Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 (Land of Hope and Glory); and Jerusalem -- the 1916 Hubert Parry composition of William Blake's poem (also the unofficial anthem of England). It is intensely patriotic, yes, with simulcasts in huge open spaces such as Hyde Park -- attended by thousands of fans. It is also peculiarly English, with the patriotism taken a bit tongue-in-cheek so as not to mimic the seriousness of the supposedly humourless and earnest foreign types. There are silly hats, costumes, balloons, kazoos, and a pantomime of bobbing up and down during the Fantasia of British Sea Songs (see below).
[Royal Albert Hall, Kensington]
The Vancouver concert, which I have attended previously, has a particular poignancy. As I explained to a friend it becomes, in a sense, “more English than England.” The average age seems to hover somewhere around 80, with a good proportion of attendees remembering the War – many, I am sure, even having been childhood evacuees to Canada. (They perform a tribute to these evacuees every year.) Its Englishness is very much “under amber” – the Englishness of longing and nostalgia. Though many of these individuals immigrated to Canada in the bleak postwar days and have never really demonstrated an interest in returning to Blighty, the sense of an idealized Englishness is palpable. It mimics the Englishness of John Major's famous description: "a country of long shadows on county cricket grounds, warm beer, green suburbs, dog lovers, and old maids cycling to holy communion through the morning mist."
[Quintessential Englishness - cricket ground, North Devon coast]
I identify, as you have probably figured out, with these sentiments though I am not of their generation, nor am I English. My feeling for England is somewhat second-hand though no less "real," and perhaps no less idealized. But this is alright. Of all the faults that one could possess, I do believe that anglophilia/nostalgic Englishness is among the more benign. Such feelings usually come part and parcel with elevated ideals: a sense of fair play, consensus-building, a respect for rights and freedoms, tradition, individualism, and the like. The fact that they are often unrealized ideals makes them no less admirable. There is something perpetually optimistic about singing the line to "build Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land." It evokes a longed-for utopia that appeals to the universal human sense of good. For the Idle Historian it is bound up with the splendour of the occasion, the music, and the sheer good fun that is The Last Night of the Proms.
Fantasia of British Sea Songs (wait until around the 5 minute mark for some world-class bobbing):
The Classic Finale:
Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils