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Andrew Lloyd Webber wades into BBC Proms debate: 'Send for Tim Rice'

The award-winning composer has written a letter to The Times concerning the ongoing debate

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Composer and venue owner Andrew Lloyd Webber has stepped into the ongoing debate surrounding the performances of "Rule, Britannia!" at the BBC Proms.

This weekend rumours began to swirl that two songs – "Rule, Britannia!" and "Land of Hope and Glory" may be cut from the iconic Last Night of the Proms, well before the confirmed set list had been revealed.

As reported earlier this week, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who has drawn repeated fire from the arts industry for a delayed response to the ongoing pandemic, was quick to step in on the Proms setlist, saying that the two numbers should be retained in full.

The setlist, since announced, will feature the two numbers but the decision has been made to remove the lyrics, which in turn caused further outcry – petitions have been set up to reinstate the words, with the BBC accused by some publications of censoring the tunes, due to their association with British imperialism and colonial history.

Now Lloyd Webber, responsible for the likes of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Phantom of the Opera has given his thoughts on the matter in a new letter to The Times.

Within the letter, Lloyd Webber states that "Rule, Brittania" would sound "ordinary at best" if it was performed without lyrics, but that there are many a writer who could fix any "offending lyrics" – such as those referencing slavery. Lloyd Webber has an obvious solution – "In the 50th anniversary year of Jesus Christ Superstar, the BBC should send for Tim Rice."

Rice, a prolific lyricist who has been responsible for the likes of Evita, The Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and more, is one of 16 artists to have won an Emmy, Oscar, Grammy and Tony (commonly known as an EGOT). RIce has yet to respond to Lloyd Webber's comments.

A number of thought leaders have voiced concerns over the existing lyrics. Talking to The Guardian, the founder of Chineke! (an orchestra where the musicians are majority Black, Asian and ethnically diverse) Chi-chi Nwanoku said of "Rule Britannia": "It's so irrelevant to today's society. It's been irrelevant for generations, and we seem to keep perpetuating it."

Historian David Olusoga added in an interview on BBC Five Live that, as a Black man, it makes him feel "uncomfortable" to hear the song, and that he'd rather the Proms instead featured William Blake and Charles Hubert Parry's "Jerusalem" – seen by many as an unofficial national anthem. "Jerusalem" is now set to be performed alongside "Rule, Britannia" and "Land of Hope and Glory".