On 10 May 1941 the Queen’s Hall on Langham Place was destroyed by an incendiary bomb (pictured below) during the London Blitz, and the Proms lost what had been its home since the inaugural season in 1895.
The defiance of Britain as it endured the constant bombing, often referred to as the ‘Blitz Spirit’, ensured that the end of the Queen’s Hall would not mean the end of the classical music festival that Londoners held with such affection, and a new venue was sought for the 1941 season.
On 12 July 1941, just 63 days after the destruction, the forty-seventh BBC Proms season launched at its new home at the Royal Albert Hall.
This first ever Prom at the venue saw Sir Henry Wood (pictured above) conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in a Prom which ended promptly at 9pm in order to allow the audience to get home before the night’s blackout – a rule enforced for all performances until the end of the war.
Soloists at this first ever Hall Prom included Elsie Suddaby, an extremely popular soprano between the wars, who performed at the venue over 200 times, as well as organist Dr Harold Darke, cellist John Moore and married couple Phyllis Sellick and Cyric Smith, two pianists who had met at a Queen’s Hall concert.
The first ever Prom at the Hall was a resounding success, with national press praising the continuation of the beloved classical music festival:
‘The forty-seventh season of Promenade concerts conducted by Sir Henry Wood and the first to be given in the Albert Hall was begun on Saturday with every symptom of popular success’
Naturally, the war continued to heavily impact on these early years of the Proms at the Hall, with the printed concert programmes advising customers of local air raid shelter points, including the Hall’s basement corridors and the Exhibition Road tunnel. A red light was shown in the auditorium if an air raid was imminent and evacuation was advisable, however few crept out, with most preferring to take their chances and enjoy the music.
Now, 75 years later, the First Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall remains one of the most highly-anticipated events in the classical music calendar, opening eight weeks of music from the world’s best classical musicians in one of the best value-for-money music experiences anywhere.
Full programme from the First Night of the Proms, 12 July 1941:
God Save the King
Overture ‘Cockaigne (In London Town)’
The Marriage of Figaro (Aria ‘Voi che sapete’ Act 2)
Handel arr. Henry Wood
Alessandro, HWV 21 (Recitative & aria ‘Ne trionfi d’Alessandro…Lusinghe più care’ Act 1)
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Symphony No. 5 in C minor
Le carnaval des animaux
Der fliegende Holländer, WWV 63 (Overture)
Elsie Suddaby vocal
Dr Harold Darke organ
Cyril Smith piano
Phyllis Sellick piano
John Moore cello
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Henry Wood conductor