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A thing of wonder

03 August 2012


BY THE time you read this, the world's media will so completely have chewed over the Olympics 2012: Opening ceremony (BBC1, Friday of last week) that nothing further remains to be said. But we, of course, have our own particular concern: what can we pinch from it in order to spice up the family eucharist?

I have to say that I am somewhat at a loss. Not because I did not see anything worth copying - rather, that I cannot work out how to replicate the ambition, imagination, and scale of this stupendous achievement. I thought that it was, almost entirely, quite wonderful.

Again and again, we were astounded by the themes, forces, and actors that the director Danny Boyle considered worthy of inclusion - not just in peripheral, walk-on parts, but as central to the story. For instance: the national anthem, sung by Kaos, the signing choir for deaf and hearing children; the construction workers lining the route of the Olympic torch; the NHS staff and Great Ormond Street children; and, as the climax, the lighting of the flame not by a sporting hero, but by seven unknown young athletes.

Again and again we could hardly believe our eyes. How could those enormous factory chimneys rise up? How could the green and pleasant land be transformed into industrial wasteland? How could the Olympic rings be forged before our very eyes, then fly up into the sky, then transform into cascading fireworks?

Some have described it as chaotic: I think the exact opposite - that it was an astonishing triumph of complex choreography. Dozens of things were going on at once, the fruit of meticulous planning and practice. Here is an altogether new standard for the servers' societies to emulate.

The only element that jarred was the commentary. Obviously, they were desperate not to repeat the Jubilee river-pageant fiasco, and had mugged up enough facts to tell us what were the principal exports of each of the 200-plus nations as their athletes processed into the stadium.

I found a distressing contrast, however, between the generosity of spirit of Boyle's production, and the chauvinism of the commentators. Instead of relishing the extraordinary diversity of each country, they kept telling us how long we had to wait for Team GB to turn up. Instead of relishing the excellence of our guests, they were assessed in terms of the threat that they presented to our projected medal tally.

But never mind them: the overall impression was glorious. Detailed, eccentric, quirky, and essentially subversive, it poked fun at what we most deeply cherish. This is the British way at its best, and the Church of England can feel pride that the one element that no other nation on earth could replicate was the show-stopping performance by our Supreme Governor. It seemed to me to present an entirely new, admirable Olympic spirit.

As a kind of forerunner to all this, Bert and Dickie (BBC1, Wednesday of last week) told the story of how we won the gold medal for double sculls in the previous Olympics to be held in Britain, in 1948. It was a classic example of historic docudrama, pitting upper-class sportsman against working-class hunger to win. Overall, it was sentimental and smug.


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