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The Olympics Opening Ceremony - Things Can Only Get Better

Posted: 28/07/2012 15:18

For the past four years, ever since that bus exploded in the Beijing stadium and Catweazle played a guitar while the world's most famous custodian of haircuts booted a ball who knows where, we as nation have been moaning about the Olympics. We have whined about the cost, the disruption, the cost, the imposition and the cost. At dawn on the Monday preceding its commencement, the Thought Police must have sent a memo round and the entire media have fallen into happy-clappy line in a way that even the Chinese authorities would find impressive. The North Koreans can't be this compliant.

The media's reaction to the opening ceremony was in such stark contrast to the derisive way that the leaked details were received, and seemingly blind to the actual events on the screen, that some collective insanity may be gripping the Fourth Estate. They haven't produced such an ejaculation of blinding positivity since Diana became a Princess.

It started with a film. This was to be expected, if the job of putting it together was gifted to a film director. It was a nicely done broomstick ride through London and a greatest hits of tourist guide history. It was all going so well, until about a minute in, the worst thing that can happen to a television programme, short of being cancelled, occurred - Hazel Irvine started to speak. Once Hazel Irvine starts to speak, the cold fear is that she may never stop. Hazel Irvine must be kept in a cupboard in some forgotten office at the Beeb and only let out to ruin big sporting events such as this. I can't recall seeing her since she did such a great job of making the Winter Olympics unwatchable. She is possessed of the notion that a viewing audience wishes for nothing but to hear her speak, even if, especially if, she has nothing of interest to say. Ms Irvine is also handicapped by the single biggest social tragedy that can befall someone who is a stranger to humour - she thinks she is amusing. She tells endless, witless anecdotes and passes on un-comical jests with the regularity of a metronome. You could set your watch by her - it's 11.30, that must be Hazel Irvine not being funny. Some helpful advice Hazel: you are not funny now, you have never been funny and if you live to be a thousand you never will be funny - STOP TRYING TO TELL JOKES. And as for Trevor Nelson, just one word: why? Which tokenistic reason was proffered to put him on the air? Wherein lies his expertise? Just asking.

Danny Boyle was right to bristle at the thought of commentators yacking all over his big show. Little did he realise the full horror that was to be imposed on his moment by the BBC who employed not one but three announcers, of whom only Hugh Edwards should ever be allowed to speak in public again.

That chap who plays Wallander and the preening teacher in Harry Potter shouted some Shakespeare dressed as the baddie in a Charlie Chaplin flick. Dozens of industrialists swanned about a set that the Teletubbies rejected as too hokey and turned the green and pleasant land into a belching inferno of priapic chimneys and grime. They made indecorous hand gestures that could have represented the pulling of the levers of industry while grubby Olivers mooched about in search of their Fagin. It must have made the people of Manchester feel right at home. If it got foreigners thinking of spending a holiday here, to mitigate the cost of all this, then I am a banana.

There followed the first of two mystifying non-silent tributes to the dead. For what reason were the departed to be remembered with musical accompaniment at the opening of a sports festival?

The Industrial Revolution, portrayed as an unwashed version of the stage show Stomp, did provide one of the few great moments of the night when the sparking, molten, forged rings came together to form the Olympic symbol. Tremendous theatre, followed by another film, this time of James Bond swaggering through Buckingham Palace like Vladimir Putin and the real Queen got an amusing walk on part which became unconvincing the moment they stepped in to a helicopter. At one point they flew over an expensive City of London restaurant roof top, a haunt of those popular swanks of the banking community and they cheerily waved her by. Probably thinking of the fees they charge to maintain her portfolio. The Queen is corgi registered - would she be the one to light the flame? Her Maj jumping out over the stadium was predictable and silly and didn't quite work.

Servicemen took the Union Flag up the Hobbit's hill in a display of formation marching that would get them latrine duty back at base. A Roaring Twenties flapper celebration of...what else?..the NHS hove into view. Seriously? First, a view of a green idyll that has been concreted over and covered with tiny houselets, all the same. Then, an industrial fire that has long since been extinguished and replaced with call centres and financial swindlers and out of town supermarkets selling obesity to the sedentary. Then, our creaking, broke health service which makes the news every day only to tell us how long is the waiting list to die of thirst at its hands. Was this a celebration or a remembrance ceremony?

Mike Oldfield appeared and we were remind that while his album was bought by millions of people, no-one has ever played it twice. More filmed inserts followed. It seemed as though they had run out of ideas. The pervading sense was that they had shoe-horned twenty minutes of inspiration into a ninety minute production. The people who had made the effort to show up to see this in the flesh were watching it on screens half a mile away on the other side of the stadium. What was taking place in the arena that was not indecipherable must have been incomprehensible.

A montage of NowthatswhatIcallpredictableBritishhits played while a slightly chaotic crowd of performers formed what briefly looked like a peace sign for the edification of the despots and unelected leaders of the non-free parts of the world in the expensive seats. That'll teach 'em. Johnny Rotten snarled. Punks pogoed. They actually had pogoing punks.

Where exactly did they spend the money? This was reported to have cost us £27m. Really? Did they keep a receipt? How could they possibly have chewed through all that on something that looked so cheap? Was it spent on Rowan Atkinson's toe curling script, or getting the computer that Tim Berners-Lee was pretending to work on to crash? Maybe they spent it getting that novelty act that sings "Bonkers" to appear. Perhaps the scant few performers were just a tiny number of those trained at great expense but were hired by G4S, so didn't show up.

I had two thoughts - firstly that the whole world was watching this, which made me sad and secondly that at least I had not spent £2012 on securing a seat for it, which made me happy. It was the opening ceremony that made you want to watch Beijing's again. It had the air of a musical that would close on its opening night. Which, of course, it did.

And not a moment too soon, it was over. Or rather the first part was. The second interminable stage was the parade of those participants who were not on strict instruction to get some sleep. To a highly trained elite athlete, shuffling about in the middle of the night for hours on end, waiting outside to come in and then waiting inside for it to be over must be like idling a Formula One car in traffic.

They came and came. An hour of strangers in bad suits and we were still not half way through the alphabet. The lack of anything happening on screen really allowed the announcers to take the chocks off and Hazel in particular gave herself free reign to express her every passing thought. She started the world's least amusing double act with Trevor Nelson. Even Hale and Pace weren't that bad. The BBC helpfully kept flashing up the names of the commentators, so the deranged would know who to send the hate mail to.

About six days after the Greeks walked on, the Brits showed up. The TV director seemed especially enamoured of Tom Daley. There were speeches that no-one wanted or will have remembered for longer than it took to hear them and then something remarkable happened. The spectacle that it could have been from the start unfolded. No feeble jokes, no references to a past thoroughly lost and no Mr bloomin' Bean.

The lighting of the cauldron was properly good. Really magical television which must have looked fantastic inside the stadium itself and was a triumph on the small screen. Almost brought a tear to the eye. Then, the most senior representative of modern music was wheeled out to lead the crowd in a half-hearted sing-a-long of "No no no no no no no, Hey Jude" at the end of which the VIP seats were completely empty and the proles faced a long queue for a train that might show up, strike action permitting.

Thank goodness that's over. Now comes the good bit.

 

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