As of this writing, Team GB have won 14 gold medals and Jessica Ennis is, The Guardian’s and the BBC’s affirmations not withstanding, neither an ‘assassin’ or the ‘Queen of Sheffield’. How anyone could win the heptathlon by stealth is a mystery, and she isn’t a mere queen of any provincial town: she’s an Olympic Champion. We go into these things knowing hyperbole is a particular forte of the BBC commentary team but more of that later. For now, let us rewind.
An age of pharaohs seems to have passed since the London 2012 Opening Ceremony but it’s something that will be seared across the memory of the nation for decades to come. Danny Boyle is clearly a smarter man than any of us knew: maneuvering himself into a position whereby he can give up the tiresome business of directing for the plumb job of organising pageants is a masterstroke. Where was the history, the sense of national identity, in the Beijing commencement? Lord knows they have it. For my part, the moment Kenneth Branagh began strutting around as Brunel whilst chimneys arose from the bowels of the English countryside, accompanied by a thousand drummers and Evelyn Glennie, began a week of barely held back tears. Held back? Reader, I wept like a baby.
On a purely technical/aesthetic/finicky note one wishes the BBC could’ve organised their sound so that we could have heard those thousand drums without our televisions conjuring up the bizarre, banshee-like triumvirate of Huw Edwards, Hazel Irvine and Trevor Nelson in full sonic screech – but then we might’ve missed out on some gems. The Chablis was clearly in full flow by the time of the athlete’s procession; such that Hazel could confidently assert, of an African country known for its diamond production, that there were – ho ho – a few diamonds in their team. A low point in the proceedings, perhaps. Fortunately, young Trevor – representing the younth audience – was there to talk us through the complex celebration of British film and its corresponding soundtrack. (And, on that point, if he’d asked me a month ago if I’d ever seen Mike Oldfield perform with the staff of the NHS, why, I would’ve punched him square in the nose.)
Hazel was also vitally on hand to remind us that this was a ‘left field’ spectacular. Presumably she meant sinister, in the very best tradition of that word. To the rest of the world, and some homegrown critics, it was Very British. I don’t know what that even means. The only thing that could possibly have made it better were if Boris Johnson himself had been there herding those terrified livestock whilst reciting the poem – in Ancient Greek, no less – he’d had written especially for the occasion. Who recites a poem in Ancient Greek at the opening of a global event, you ask? Well, Boris Johnson would – and the whole world would have thought him our king.
By approximately midday the following Sunday, the Twitterati were already bemoaning Team GB’s performance. Of this, little needs to be said than that we’re now third in the medal table. Surely no more than a nation of our size permits, and certainly so when faced with the combined economic might and slavish fervour of the US and China ahead of us.
Clive James wrote the book on sports commentary buffoonery – and why stop aping him now? – but amidst the cavalcade of standard cliches, one hopes that the vendors of London are selling inflatable likenesses of the Team GB athletes because they are, man and woman alike, ‘pumped’. Aren’t we all.
(Originally written for SKRBBLR.com, August 2012.)