A beginners' guide to the BBC Proms

How do I buy tickets? When should I clap? And what the hell is a Prommer? We answer all these questions and more in our lowdown of the BBC Proms
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Tickets

As soon as the programme comes out, go through it carefully - not in a nerdy way; just so you can choose your concerts and plan your ticketing strategy. If you're going as a one-off, then it's worth buying a seat. If you want to go on a more regular basis then it's more cost-effective to Prom, which means buying a standing ticket in the gallery or the arena. The gallery has the advantage that you can spread yourself out but the arena is much closer to the action. If you plan to go very often, you can get a season ticket in advance, guaranteeing entry to any Prom up to ten minutes before the start of the concert. Otherwise, just turn up on the day, queue, and pay £6 for one of the 1,400 standing tickets.

Queueing

This can be part of the fun or a necessary evil. The latest you can join the queue is 45 minutes before the start of the concert, when Prommers are admitted into the hall. The most sensible time to arrive, however, depends on who's playing. It's infuriating to wait in the queue, only to have the door shut in your face at the last minute due to high numbers. If it's likely to be a popular performance get there early, particularly if you want a good position in the hall. Stewards hand out raffle tickets, allowing people to leave the queue for up to half an hour and then reclaim their place.

Etiquette and ritual

Prommers have an eleventh commandment, 'Thou shalt not barge in at the front if you've only just arrived'. In the past, this unwritten rule tended to be left to the prommers to enforce, resulting in some frayed tempers and righteous bristling during the concert. Once the music has started, the only real etiquette is to listen quietly, however there are a couple of traditions unique to the Proms (see below).

Calls

These range from welcoming the orchestra in the language of the players, to a vocal tennis match on the Last Night of the Proms. Somebody will shout out 'Anyone for tennis?' at which point the audience in the arena call out 'ping', and are answered by a 'pong' from the people in the gallery.

Prommers' Applause

Similar in technique to normal applause but in the arena, you get a unique strain – the Prommers' Stamp – the mark of an exceptional performance. Someone will begin to stamp their foot slowly, and is joined in unison by other Prommers. The speed will pick up until it gets too fast to maintain and dissolves into general applause.

Survival

Those prone to queue-rage should bring provisions: chocolate and an entertaining companion for ordinary Proms; sleeping bag and thermos flask for the Last Night. As you are not allowed to bring food and drink into the Royal Albert Hall, you should make sure you have consumed your queueing ration before you reach the front door. Thereafter, you are obliged to buy the food and drink for sale inside, which, let's just say, is slightly more expensive than your local supermarket. So, either make sure you are satiated before entering the RAH's hallowed portals, or bring a wad of cash, because it will get hot in there, particularly if you're packed into the arena with all the heaving bodies. And don't go thinking that you can nip over to the said supermarket at half time – there isn't one near enough to make it back in time.

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