The Proms, or to give them their full name ‘The BBC Promenade Concerts’ are a season of classical music concerts that take place each summer from mid-July to mid-September at the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, west London.
The first ‘prom’ was held in August 1895 under the auspices of the theatrical empressario Robert Newman with the intention of popularising classical music for the masses. He engaged the conductor Henry Wood and it is Wood’s name that is most associated with the proms.
The BBC became involved in 1926 and the proms are now known as the ‘BBC Proms’.
The origin of the word ‘Promenade’ is the practice that continues to this day of reserving a thousand tickets for sale on the day of the performance to ‘promenaders’ (or ‘prommers’). These tickets, as the name suggests, are standing only and are very popular.
The Proms are seeking to become more ‘inclusive, featuring – alongside more traditional classical composers – the music of Bollywood movies, MGM Musicals, Northern Soul, The Pet Shop Boys, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, and Ibiza Dance music, along with Children’s Proms and Proms based around BBC TV Series such as Doctor Who, whose concerts often include appearances from characters from the TV series.
By far the best known and most popular of the proms is the last night. ‘The Last Night of the Proms’ is a patriotic celebration that culminates with much waving of union flags and raucous singing of ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, although in 2020 the BBC caused a major controversy by suggesting the lyrics were no longer appropriate and only instrumental versions would be played.
After much public anger the BBC relented and a choral version was proposed.
The performances are so popular that – in ‘normal’ years – the BBC holds open air concerts around the country with video links back to the Albert Hall for the climax of the concert.