Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Twenty Twelve: Series 1, Episode 3

The main event may be over, but the London Olympics are far from done. The Cultural Olympiad is ongoing, to which end I spent 6 hours last Saturday in a chemical factory in Birmingham watching musicians dangle from the ceiling and fly around in helicopters as part of Stockhausen's Mittwoch aus licht ('Wednesday from light' - it makes about as much sense in any language). Personally, my reason for doing this was that my brother was singing with Ex Cathedra in the World Parliament scene (which bore a distinct resemblance to Plato's Symposium, except no one suggested boys were better lovers than women. And everyone was singing the whole time). More objective reviews may be found herehere and here. And tomorrow, of course, is the Opening Ceremony for the Paralympics, which I am very much looking forward to seeing next week.

As a thank you for putting them up for the musical-helicopter-extravaganza, Mum and Dad bought me the complete DVD set of Twenty Twelve, a BBC mockumentary sitcom about the organising of the London Games that I'd missed most of first time around. I'm sure there are parts of Twenty Twelve that were pure fiction, as in the end, the Games seemed to go off pretty well. But there were quite a few aspects of the show that were frighteningly accurate. The second episode, for example, had a coach carrying delegates from Rio de Janeiro getting completely lost in London because the coach driver didn't know where he was going. When Brother and I took a special Olympics coach (from First Great Western as is happens) to see the table tennis in the first few days of the Games, the coach driver spent 15 minutes driving around the same roundabout in Coventry because he had no idea where he was going, and when we got the Olympic Park, he disappeared up a small side street and then had to turn around in it (luckily there was a handy car park). And that was only the start of our transport difficulties... Anyway, suffice to say, some aspects of the show are pretty accurate.

Episode 3 of Twenty Twelve sees an unexpected hiccup in the building of the Aquatic Centre, as the site for the Centre turns out to be contain a Roman burial site (possibly along with some other Roman stuff involving cheese - I didn't really follow that bit). This may have been what Fictional!Boris Johnson was trying to explain on the phone, apparently in Latin. (We Classicists are mostly very pleased that the Mayor of London is so keen on our subject, but it is possible everyone else in the country is less enthusiastic).

Situations like this are basically a nightmare for everyone involved. Although new finds are always exciting, no archaeologist wants to rush in and tear as much to possible to pieces as quickly as they can to meet a building deadline (the archaeologist here is particularly unimpressed at being offered two days, which is a nice touch. Real archaeology, as opposed to TV archaeology, takes a lot longer than two days). This sort of emergency dig - known as rescue archaeology - has been done, albeit in a period of months, not days, but it's not ideal. Meanwhile, anyone spending a lot of money on a new building project is going to be frustrated to learn that they have to wait for a bunch of archaeologists to do their stuff before they can get on with it, and if you have a deadline like the Olympic Opening Ceremony to meet, it really can't be done. It's no wonder Twenty Twelve's protagonist Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville) was hoping the bones would turn out to be just a murder.

After some potential solutions have to be vetoed (for instance, making the diving pool a couple of metres shallower so that it wouldn't go down as deep as the Roman bones, which could have a knock-on effect for the divers), the eventual solution, taking out the architect's beloved urban water hole and preserving the bones underneath the entrance hall, has to be communicated to both the architect and the public. This would be easier if PR head Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes) didn't think the Romans founded the Olympic Games. (To be fair, the Romans did have the Olympics - they kept them going until AD 394). And that joke would look more exaggerated if a genuine BBC programme celebrating the Games hadn't declared that they took place on Mount Olympus.

According to the Aquatic Centre website, 'before construction began on the site of the Aquatics Centre, archaeological investigations discovered evidence of an Iron Age settlement; including an ancient burial site with four skeletons.' The website does not explain what actually happened to the Iron Age bones, or whether they ended up underneath the entrance hall.

Twenty Twelve has a wonderful dry wit ('As usual, it's Monday morning'), all narrated in the soothing tones of David Tennant (I have a couple of Doctor Who audio books narrated by David Tennant. Besides, you know, being the Doctor, his voice with his real accent is perfect for listening to for hours. It must be the Scottish thing). It's well worth discovering on DVD - while the immediacy of the issues covered may have passed, the humour is just as fresh and the characters just as engaging. It also makes a rather nice souvenir of the London Games as a whole - especially if your coach was unable to find its way in either London or Coventry...


  1. Sounds like fun! :o)

    I'm looking forward to the Paralympics as well, particularly the opening ceremony since a couple of months ago I started following the blog of a retired 60+ year old London woman who participated in the games as a volunteer and will be in the Opening Ceremony tomorrow night! :o)


  2. I'm actually fairly sure David Tennant is Irish. But in any event, yes, listening to him is a lovely experience.

  3. He's definitely Scottish. So is his accent, though Northern Irish accents can sometimes sound similar to Scottish (my Mum has sometimes been mistaken for Scottish). http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0855039/

  4. Ah, well, he should have been Irish. :)


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