Saturday, September 09, 2006

Thank you, Sir Henry.

The world is full of collectors. Some collect stamps and call themselves for some strange reason, philatelists, when stamp-collectors would be self explanatory. Some collect old china and others shrunken heads, although I understand that the latter group are discouraged by the authorities. It’s a human trait and I must confess that I am one of them. I collect eccentrics.

Over the years I have amassed a wide range of these, all of whom have given me much pleasure but are items which, I have to admit, are difficult to dispose of on E-Bay in times of financial hardship. Unlike stamps, old china or even shrunken heads.

Tonight, or last night, whenever you read this, is the last night of the Sir Henry Wood promenade concerts, and Sir Henry is one of the items in my collection. Eccentric is often misinterpreted to mean slightly dotty but it merely means unconventional.

And Sir Henry was that way inclined. Having got his orchestra thundering away on one occasion, out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed some late-comers fumbling their way to their seats. Stopping his crew in mid bar, he turned and viewed the latecomers with a beady eye. Once they were settled, he bowed slightly and resumed the concert from the beginning. I bet they weren’t late next time! He also remarked that personally he had nothing against the bagpipes but felt that they were best heard from the far side of a mountain. In view of the Royal Family’s predilection for those instruments of torture, (remember they were developed to frighten the enemy) it’s a wonder he ever got a knighthood.

But the wonderful thing about the Prom concerts is that Sir Henry promoted them to provide music students with a means of concert going that had previously been restricted to the tiara and evening dress crowd, few of whom could tell a Corelli from their coccyx – and who cared even less.

They were there to be seen, not to listen to some boring music.

As a teenager, my father would take me to one or two of the concerts each year. Sadly I was too late to see Sir Henry in action. My ambition had always been to be a composer but my father sagely counselled me that most composers starved. After a few diversions of career, having taken his advice, I am now able to starve as an author. But he meant well.

It is fashionable for the “gentlemen of the press,” a description which becomes less and less valid by the minute, to denigrate the last night of the Proms as being a jingoistic example of British imperialism. Perhaps they’ve never been themselves for nothing can be further from the truth. To me it is the only time I have seen English men and women thoroughly enjoying themselves in a civilised manner – and all without having recourse to ten pints of beer to release their inhibitions.

So tonight is the last night of this season’s performances and I just wish that I could be amongst the revellers. It would be, of course, all that much more enjoyable were my father to be there with me.


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