A Foreigner’s Guide to the Olympic Opening Ceremony
It was literally only the other day that I realised I was born in Radcliffe, just like Danny Boyle. Possibly at the same hospital, I couldn’t find out exactly where, but we both also definitely went to the same university in Wales. As you can see our lives have spanned out identically… Except that I’ve never made a ludicrous film about people going on a expedition to the sun to turn it back on.
I’ve not been a fan of London getting the Olympics with its over-commercialisation, its fascist advertising deals, our athletes selling out, and Sebastian Coe, but then on the spur of the moment I did happen to tune into Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony and I was hooked. Besides, I did have another vested interest…
In 2006 the TV programme Doctor Who broadcast a nightmarish vision of a distopian future where Britain hosted the Olympic Games in the far flung year of 2012. It, Fear Her, was that series’ cheap episode and a contender for worst-episode-ever.
Bizarrely the film Attack The Block “borrowed” some of the plot from it, but Fear Her culminated with David Tennant picking up the Olympic torch from the dazed official torch bearer, on a housing estate, and ran with it all the way to the stadium.
And so as the years ticked by fans started to petition, lest the programme should be proved wrong, that David Tennant himself should be chosen to light the Olympic cauldron. And with the identity of the individual chosen kept firmly under wraps there was every chance that on the night it just might come true.
Probably my favourite part of the opening ceremony taking in a history lesson from green and pleasant lands, to the horrors of the industrial revolution, and the remembrance of the first world war. I didn’t recognise Kenneth Branagh as the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and I felt his performance was lacking a certain something as his hat wasn’t silly enough by far.
Some fools have bemoaned that the opening ceremony was too politically correct, but in a modern era where cigarettes are digitally painted out of old films Branagh accurately portrayed Brunel by smoking a big fat cigar throughout. I don’t know about you, but by screening such a thing on the glamour of TV it’s certainly encouraged me to take up a forty-a-day habit.
I did like the roaming big-hats, especially the Asian-looking one at the back as he seemed to have some sort of serious back injury.
Although after the smoke and the grime the legions of Chelsea Pensioners, and Pearly Kings and Queens, and an army of trippy Beatles clones, and giant yellow submarines were only a sign of the things to come.
Happy and Glorious
I did say on a previous post, before events in the Queen’s diamond Jubilee weekend described here, how in her Jubilee year Her Majesty had surely peaked too soon and I did wonder what other “crowd-pleasing stunts” she had left to pull out of the bag. Well, I obviously wasn’t banking on this:
And certainly not this:
I was disappointed how commentators were quick to spoil the magic for the kids at home by talking about stuntmen, but according to Wikipedia there were American complaints about Today Show commentators who really did believe that we’d just chucked our 86 year old monarch out of a helicopter. I guess seeing is believing.
Although if this Olympic delivery-method alone hadn’t convinced Her Majesty that she’d summoned the wrong British superhero to escort her then the appearance of a living gelatinous Winston Churchill should have confirmed that she should have called upon Doctor Who instead.
It’s interesting to speculate the differences had Roger Moore still been Bond for I can imagine the film playing out, the helicopter arriving, and just hovering there as a billion viewers waited for something to happen. Cue Danny Boyle rushing to a monitor to see the seventies Bond in a state of undress, midway through some carnal act, before turning to the camera to make some witless pun about the royal box.
A section about children’s literature and the glories of the NHS was what it took one gin-sozzled Tory politician to declare the ceremony “left wing” because apparently the suffragette movement that gave women equal status and our national health service are what the Conservative party is dead set against it seems.
Frankie and June Say… Thanks Tim
This segment revealed a young unknown dancing girl, Jasmine Breinburg, to be the stand-out star of the ceremony and showed her to be our very own Beijing Olympics Chinese singing girl.
However I’m not convinced, with all her dancing, that her legs could really have been attached to her body.
And as musical montages from the sixties to the present day played out to mass choreographed dancing they were accompanied by rocket-pack men.
Big-faced David Bowies.
And unbelievably: Evil Punk radishes.
An army of crazed leaping Punk radishes.
Although in hindsight with the heavy use of text messages, mobile phones, and social networking it was pointing to where this segment was leading.
And from a choreography of thousands dancing it culminated with the little house lifted up to reveal underneath the creator of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners Lee, with a surprise reveal akin to one of Family Guy’s Peter Griffin abruptly introducing Conway Twitty.
Either that or from the dancing tumult it was akin to the anticlimax of opening a Kinder Surprise to find there’s not a self-assembly fully working racing car, but a one-piece moulded frog figure.
It was at this point that the commentators implied who it was that was actually going to light the Olympic cauldron when they revealed David Beckham speeding down the Thames with an American female footballer, Jade Bailey, being buffeted about and gripping the torch for dear life.
I was dismayed. Not because of the Doctor Who thing, but because given the accolade they’d seemingly selected a playboy serial adulterer. Best of British? I don’t know why they didn’t go the whole hog and get some other local characters in like the Krays or Jack the Ripper.
I wasn’t going to include this under my Foreigner’s Guide To strand as with a billion people around the world we were all watching the same thing, right? Wrong. If you want to read an American’s account of trying to watch then read Threec’s account here.
For not only did NBC choose to buy up exclusive US rights, but they also chose not to screen it live with the rest of the world but hold it back to later in the day whilst at the same time choosing to edit it so it was more “tailored for the U.S. audience”. This meant cutting out a moving tribute to the victims of the London terrorist attacks, forever linked to the London Olympics, over a wonderfully breathy rendition of Abide With Me.
This wasn’t relevant to Americans? To put it as an over-used comic cliché, so even NBC can understand, which has never been truer said: This was our nine-eleven! I’ve heard it said that there was only two countries where you weren’t permitted to view the opening ceremony: the other was North Korea. Shaming.
With the Olympic flag they also wheeled in Muhammad Ali with his carer who looked a little bit Rosa Klebb. She was either his carer or his puppeteer.
Although, considering his obvious very poor health, you’d have thought he might have raised more than an eyebrow when they dressed him up like the dead one from Randall and Hopkirk.
Still, when it came to the actual lighting of the Olympic cauldron I take it back: they got someone to wrestle the limelight from Beckham, but they did leave him with that windswept blonde on the boat so it’s not like it was a complete waste of a night’s work for him…
With that look on her face there may be good reason why he’s left the scrawny Spice Girl at home.
So the son of Radcliffe’s Opening Ceremony was a huge success, but when it finally came to lighting the Olympic cauldron, with seven unknowns, there was no David Tennant in sight. Doctor Who fans had to make do with the next best thing when his replacement, Matt Smith, acted as part of the torch relay as it went around the country.
But Doctor Who’s Olympic involvement didn’t end there, as far as internet searches reveal, as it turns up London 2012 logos of a couple of different designs.
Only one was designed by a talented backroom art person as part of a background prop for a 2006 TV programme and the other one cost £400,000. One of them looks tasteful and the other looks like a Simpsons’ silhouette sex act. And I think we all know which one is the best, and who can blame the unaware for picking up and running with the wrong one?