When did Olympic opening ceremonies become musical productions on the scale of Busby Berkeley on steroids?
Way back in 1948, when London hosted the Games for the second time, the opening ceremony consisted of the various army bands playing a selection of tunes for the spectators, a 21-gun salute (presumably using up whatever ammo they had lying about) by the Horse Artillery, wing commander Donald Findlay took the Olympic oath, the Queen’s father announced the whole bang shoot open, everyone sang the national anthem and then they all went home for tea.
This musical dancing number nonsense didn’t happen when the Soviets held the games. You had massed choirs of Soviet cuties singing upbeat numbers about tractor factories on the Steppes behind massive displays of synchronised combine harvesting, under a firework display that put the Pentagon on DefCon 4. Huge USSR body builders with muscles the size of Ailsa Craig actually built the stadium out of precast concrete blocks live during the ceremony. The male athletes came in later to sneer at the Americans who weren’t there.
Actually, I blame the Americans. Might as well, it’s usually their fault one way or another. I remember the 1984 Games when they had dancing pianos coming out of the walls and a bloke in a jet pack. For one brief minute I thought synchronised piano playing had made it on to the sport roster.
Mad musical numbers got the green light and the world seems to have gone progressively bonkers since then, leading up to the Chinese, who had an opening ceremony so vast you could see it from space with what seemed like half the population singing and dancing in the stadium. The other half were actually in another secret stadium doing the singing, but weren’t cute enough to be seen.
And so to London. No pressure, lads. Given the British ability to take any event and turn it into a Ruritanian casting call, I expected some marching bands and perhaps a bit of a flypast – which, to be honest, I was quite looking forward to. I’m a sucker for the Battle Of Britain flight. The minute I hear the roar of the Spitfire’s Merlin engine I’m usually in tears, although I do realise the sight of a Lancaster might have appeared a tad insensitive to our German friends, especially since we’re now asking them to buy Europe instead of invading it.
Not even I thought that they’d throw the Queen out of a helicopter. Take that, USSR, USA and China.
Upping the ante for a bite of Olympic fever
People, we may have to look at uppin’ the ante on opening the Festival. It’s no longer enough just to run away in a mass formation when the first plaintive flyerer advances toward you – although we are very, very good at that – nor is it enough to engage in group eye rolling when a backpacker asks the way to the Grassmarket. We shall have to do more than synchronised finger pointing for American tourists looking for the Castle pre-Tattoo.
I’m thinking Robert Burns, giant Trainspotting toilets, marching Tunnock’s teacakes, just one huge flyer for the whole Fringe, which you can see from space, and the Krankies fired from a cannon.
Anyone got phone numbers for Sir Sean, any Bay City Roller, the Red Arrows, David Tennant and that bloke from the Go Compare advert?
Hurrah to those fab gals Glover and Stanning for winning that gold medal. At last, the commentators could stop saying things like ‘Well, he’s got a lot to do to stay in the medal hopes’, which roughly translates as ‘the only way this lad is going to see the podium is by slipping Mickey Finns into the Powerade’, or my other favourite ‘the rest of the field isn’t really helping Britain here’. No, of course not. That’s not their job. Even I know that.
Feeling the pulse of the nation
How much would I have given to have been sitting in on the planning meetings for that ceremony?
Just to hear the phrases, right people, we’re thinking Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Mr Bean, Sir Simon Rattle, live sheep, at least four industrial chimneys, let’s just throw in giant glowing birds on bicycles for good measure, and oh, does anyone have a phone number for Paul McCartney, the Arctic Monkeys and Daniel Craig?
Of all the wonderous moments of the ceremony – aside from the alarming thought that an entire stadium was looking at Her Majesty’s knickers as she parachuted into the Games – the moment where the initials NHS blazed into the night was the best. It was exhilarating to see our greatest post-war achievement publicly honoured, especially in front of that chap Cameron who seems to want to sell the whole thing on eBay.
Mind you, given the amount of dancing nurses on display, I did find myself worrying about the staffing levels in nearby hospitals.