Monday, 13 August 2012

Olympics Closing Ceremony, London 2012

Well, the London 2012 Olympic Games have just finished (partly - Paralympics coming up in a few weeks of course!). For a nation who usually spend our time laughing at ourselves and complaining about anything and everything (we don't restrict ourselves to the weather, though it comes up a lot) we've surprised ourselves by really getting into the thing, and almost the entire country is high on a surge of unaccustomed national pride. And interest in sports that aren't football. I am actually wearing a Union Flag for the first time in my life.

We still can't take these things entirely seriously, though, as our Opening and Closing Ceremonies proved. Rio de Janeiro's contribution tonight as the flag was passed to them was fun, but it was essentially the sort of thing you usually see at these events, just with a Brazilian flavour - colourful costumes, dancing, mad props. Ours - well, it started with a double-decker bus in Beijing and just got crazier from there. At Danny Boyle's Opening Ceremony, we had a giant puppet Voldemort, Mr Bean, random and slightly irritating teens texting, Tim Berners Lee and even, to my great delight, a tiny clip from A Matter of Life and Death. 'Bonkers' has been the word most commonly used to describe it, and bonkers it was - in a very good and very British way.

One thing that did disappoint me a bit about the Opening Ceremony, though, was that it seemed to think British history started somewhere around the eighteenth century. There was a bit of Shakespeare in there, but where was Henry VIII? Where was the Battle of Hastings? Most importantly, where were the Romans?!

Well, the Closing Ceremony put that right. It was, if possible, even madder than the Opening Ceremony. It was a bit up and down in places. The road scenes that looked like a tribute to the M25 were a bit weird, and while I enjoyed seeing Delboy and Rodders, dressed as Batman and Robin, burst out of an exploding Robin Reliant, I wonder how many international viewers got the reference to an 16-year-old Christmas special episode of a British sitcom. Mostly, though, the ceremony was more crazy goodness.

The Romans were part of the craziest section of all, courtesy, of course, of an ex-Python. Eric Idle (accompanied by the entire stadium) sang his biggest hit, 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.' I can only assume that the skating nuns were a reference to 'Every Sperm Is Sacred' from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, but the song, of course, is from their Life of Brian, a film set entirely in the Roman Empire. Well, except for that bit on the spaceship. Anyway, since crucifixion victims singing might not put across quite the right message of peace and love, instead we got dancing Romans. Doing the can-can. Because - because we're British and that's what we felt like doing!

There was also a rather lovely phoenix on display as the torch was extinguished at the end, which was about the only reference to the ancient Greek origin of the Games that I noticed, aside from some vaguely Greek costumes in the Opening Ceremony. Of course, there are all sorts of Olympic traditions designed to remind us all of their origin, from the Greek athletes parading first at the Opening to the Greek national anthem playing at the Closing, so I guess they don't really need special bits of the ceremonies as well - those are for the host nations.

Idle's number was one of the undoubted highlights of the Closing Ceremony, along with Take That singing 'Rule the World', one of my favourite songs (Gary Barlow proving he's a truly outstanding professional, as I don't think I could have performed like that in similar circumstances) and Freddie Mercury, leading the entire stadium in enthusiastic song 21 years after he passed away. That man is a true legend.

Oh dear, I'm getting all enthusiastic and emotional. How un-British of me. Time to stiffen that upper lip.

In the end, the Romans, who gave us the beginnings of our road network, the first central heating in the country, a lovely Bath spa and a wall to keep out Scotland*, sneaked their way into our national celebrations by being loosely associated with a comedy troupe known for silly walks and a dead parrot. That seems only fitting, when it was part of a celebration that proclaimed to the world that we're completely insane and we don't care who knows it. I'm very rarely given to nationalism of any kind, but I have to admit it, it does make me proud to be British.

Now I'd better go before I admit to knowing every single word to 'Wannabe'... oops...

* I am aware that keeping out Scotland would have lost us a large proportion of our medals. We love you, Scotland. Especially Andy Murray.


  1. Sounds like great good fun -- unfortunately, the video is "not available in your country."


    No doubt it well be on YouTube before the day is out.

    Thanks for the "heads-up."

  2. As soon as I saw the dancing Romans I thought: "Pop Classicist will be content." A perceptive and witty blog, as usual. Thanks for staying up late to do it. :-)

  3. Was Freddie Mercury a hologram? I fear we'll be seeing a lot of that in future.

    I can remember when the opening and closing ceremonies were simple things: the athletes marched in, there were a few speeches, and then a runner came in with the torch and lit the cauldron in the opening and the closing was just speeches and a formal hand-off to the next host. As a native Angeleno, I blame Los Angeles and the 1984 games. They wanted to make the world forget the US boycott of the previous games and the Soviet boycott of those, so they went to Hollywood for a spectacular. Sigh. Now everybody is out to top the previous performance and come up with ever more creative ways to light the cauldron. Give it a few Olympiads and we'll see the hologram of Jesse Owens or even Coubertin if there's any film of him coming in to light the cauldron.

  4. Thanks Caroline :)

    It wasn't a hologram of Freddie Mercury, which I'm quite glad about as those things are a bit creepy (though the sci-fi fan in me is quite excited that we're getting ever closer to the band from The Flipside of Dominick Hyde). At least, I don't think it was. It looked to me like a flat image, possibly project onto a screen (though I confess I'm not sure where the screen came from).

    Sorry about the video - it wasn't on You tube yet when I looked last night, but it probably is by now!

  5. My main thought last night was - I wonder why they didn't hologram John Lennon and Freddie....

  6. Nice post... I also enjoyed the Romans dancing! It made my day! The whole closing ceremoney was amazing

  7. I watched bits and pieces of it. When a singer I came on that I didn't like, I switched off to other things for a few minutes. I did like the Eric Idle bit; that appeals to my silly side.

    That said, however, the idiot who thought letting Russell Brand show up was a good idea needs to be smacked. Repeatedly. For the next fifty years.

    Russell Brand is the most obnoxious human being on the planet.

  8. Here's the video Juliette, you should embed it here! ;o)

    Definitely my favourite part of the Closing Ceremony, and so glad it finally gave you the chance to write something on the blog about one of the ceremonies! :D

    I hadn't noticed the Romans were doing the cancan until you brought it up, now I can't stop laughing whenever I see them! :p

  9. Cris, for some reason Blogger's video tool can't find that particular video - I've added the best one I could find, or people can follow your link

  10. Strange... on the YouTube page itself it allows you to share, embed even "Blog this" with Blogger! But I've noticed before that some videos I found on YouTube couldn't be found afterwards with the Blogger video tool! :s

    The link I put up is from the official Olympics YouTube channel, so best quality out there! ;o)

  11. Given the fact that you are so fascinated by the subject of gladiatorial fights (as am I), if you had the chance to time-travel back to ancient Rome and spend a few days watching the Games and spectacles in an ancient Roman arena, the Colosseum ideally, would you? And do you think you would get caught up in it and enjoy it, or would you be horrified? And if gladiator games were to be revived today, with volunteer participants vying for some prize, would you watch? For myself, I have to admit that I would love to see something like that, and I probably would enjoy it. Even more than the Olympics. What say you?

  12. I wouldn't watch modern gladiatorial fights, no. I don't even really watch boxing or wrestling - sometimes I have problems with ice skating because of my terror that someone's going to hurt themselves! (And yet, somehow, I'm fine with Formula 1...). Though I quite like fencing (the big masks they wear reassure me!). It's the fictional version of gladiatorial fights I like, where the outcome is controlled by the author.

    If I could go back in time I would want to catch something at the Colosseum, but I think I'd try to catch one of the not-to-the-death fights - a sword-fight to first blood or something. Even that I might have trouble with! I'm quite squeamish really, I just suspend disbelief for TV shows. When I was little Mum told me it wasn't really blood on TV, it was ketchup (to be fair, she probably said 'like ketchup') and I have hung on to this comforting thought ever since!

  13. Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will be back later to read some more. I am bookmarking your feeds also


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