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Monday, 21 September 2015

My Thoughts on National Anthems ...

First Blogged here - just before the London Olympics - on 17 July 2012:

There are going to be a lot of them on the airwaves in the coming weeks and someone will surely organise an Olympic contest to pick a winner.

It won't be the United Kingdom; it doesn't have a National Anthem - loyal subjects call on God to make the Queen feel good and that's about it. If you don't believe in God or the Queen, you are a bit stuffed.

God has by now clearly heard better tunes: He has sent Her very few victories in her very long reign. The camera can cut to Team Argentina to illustrate successful invocation of the deity, but it can't cut anywhere else.

In the old days, when concert halls started the evening and cinemas ended with the National Anthem, I was one of those people who stayed seated. I recall one occasion when the concert-goer behind made valiant efforts to yank me to my feet. Another occasion was more interesting.

There used to be a cinema in Oxford Street which showed European films and was popular with students. They screened Ă…dalen 31 (Bo Widerberg, 1969), a powerful Swedish film about bad employers and good workers in the years before the social democratic party secured the hegemony which made Sweden a model for progressive politics (so much so, that I made Sweden the first foreign country I visited, in 1964).

The audience was clearly moved by the film, but no sooner ended than the Anthem struck up. The juxtaposition was jarring and, without thinking, I shouted some protest. To my surprise, it was taken up and afterwards people gathered round to talk. More usually, in ordinary cinemas, people simply walked out during the Anthem which is the real reason they gave up playing it. The Monarchy wasn't as popular then as it is this year.

Nowadays, I stand up for the Anthem, not to embarass those I am with. But in the sixties, we were all in it together.

When England throws off the yoke of the United Kingdom and declares itself a Republic, it will already have a flag and a football team. But it will need an Anthem.

An Anthem should reflect a nation's better self and aspirations; the words should be well-known and well-loved. Ideally, a football crowd should be able to turn in a half-decent performance.

That reduces the choice to two:


Sir Hubert Parry set Blake's words to music in 1916 at the request of the Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges. It was designed as a contribution to the war effort. Parry soon had doubts about contributing to that senseless slaughter and may well have withdrawn the music but for the fact that Jerusalem was also quickly taken up by more progressive forces: the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (the Suffragettes)adopted it and Parry promptly assigned them the copyright. The Labour Party also took it up. ( I am relying on the very detailed interesting Wikipedia entry "And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time" ).

So as a National Anthem Jerusalem would nicely incorporate England's conflicted political history. Its God is not the primitive deity of the National Anthem and there is nothing in it an atheist cannot live with.


First released in 1971, but not as a single until 1975. John Lennon's words are very well known (the world over - though in America they have a version which replaces "Imagine no religion" with "Imagine one religion"). I think it is regarded with great fondness though it did not become a #1 Hit until after Lennon's death. The words do appeal to our better selves and aspirations. Whether a football crowd could sing a verse, I am not so sure. But they'd give it a try.

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