Tuesday, 31 July 2012


In spite of my misgivings about Britain hosting the Olympics, I watched Friday nights's Opening Ceremony to the Games with something approaching rapture. Danny Boyle's production was a distillation of the nation: a magic - and on Friday night at least - united  kingdom where  eccentricity flourishes alongside industry and startling creativity - the City didn't get a look in. We had maypole dancing, cricket, Isambard Kingdom Brunel  (Kenneth Brannagh reciting from The Tempest),  acts of remembrance, Chelsea Pensioners, and good old Paul McCartney doing his crowd-pleasing all inclusive finale with the chorus of Hey Jude.
  The spectacle seemed a bit twee at first, with grassy meadows redolent  of Hobbit-shire and the London Symphony Orchestra performing Elgar;  but when the dark, satanic chimneys appeared out of the grassy sward, culminating in the forging of the Olympic circles by grimy industrial pioneers, the whole thing took on a heroic significance. There was Sir Tim Berners-Lee with two old desktop computers, creating the world wide web, an extraordinary example of intellectual generosity and altrusim, inspiring others to share their knowledge for free and enabling anyone with a computer connection  to become a champion of sales.
   It wasn't only about the inventions and the industry and productivity:  The NHS was represented by hundreds of volunteers from the nursing and medical sectors,  all dancing and delving to showcase this jewel  in the UK's crown, and remind us perhaps what we would lose if this altruistic institution of 1948 were privatised. Industry and productivity may have been overshadowed in the last thirty years by finance - the towers of the City replacing the smoke stacks, but we can still preserve the NHS. If that was Boyle's leftist warning, then, in the idiom of football commentators, I think the boy did good.

   Much of the spectacle would only be recognisable to Britons, and maybe that was the best thing about it, reminding us of how we got here (immigration getting a look-in with the Windrush marchers, inclusiveness with the disabled children's choir) and where we are now. The global message, however, was blazingly, gloriousl clear through giants of the arts: JK Rowling and a selection of rock gods from the past three decades - five in the case of McCartney.

There was also a note of comedy from an unexpected source:  as the German athletes paraded their flag around the stadium, their ambassador or whoever he was, gave what looked like a Nazi salute. My daughter's horror was captured on the multinational broadcast cameras in the faces of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who were sitting behind the German officials. After the initial shock, Boris and Camilla, those quintessential examples of old-shire Britishness,  burst out laughing.

photo by John Scattergood