I thought it was ludicrous that the British should have bid for the Olympic Games, that London is far too crowded to seek to attract still more people, that the vast sums of money needed would be better spent on schools and hospitals, etc. I still think that, but if anything could have reconciled me to the Games in London it would have been the opening ceremony, directed by Danny Boyle.
After the punctiliously regimented display by Beijing it was clear that something very different would be required if it were to make any impression, and nothing could have been more different.
From a Tolkienesque vision of bucolic paradise, Boyle took us through the industrial revolution (with Kenneth Branagh as Brunel) through to the present but by a route that reduced right-wingers to apoplexy but struck a bell (literally and metaphorically) with those on the left of centre. He recorded the history of dissent, via the suffragettes and the Jarrow hunger marches in the 30s. while paying tribute to those who died in the Wars and in the bombings on the London transport system the day after the London Olympics was announced. The queen has never been more popular than in joining in the sketch when James Bond collected her from the Palace and they parachuted together down into the Stadium. Mr. Bean (who seems to be enormously popular with children all over the world) joined Simon Rattle in playing the theme from Chariots of Fire (well, he played one note repeatedly) and then by cheating, won the race. And in a dance number dedicated to the NHS (which must have had the Government silently writhing) a reading from Peter Pan by J K Rowling paid tribute to J M Barrie, Lewis Carroll and Harry Potter.
Altogether the emphasis was on a kind of self-deprecating humour in the context of multi-culturalism with the involvement of the young. The National Anthem was performed by a choir of children with hearing difficulties, with those unable to sing signing the words.
But the thing that swung it for me was the tributes he paid to some of our more unappreciated heroes. The spotlight shone on Tim Berners Lee, to whom so many of us owe so much although many may not know his name. He is credited with having created the World Wide Web, the means by which we now are able to contact our friends and family who are far away, and then he gave it to the public. He could have made so much money out of it that Bill Gates would have looked like a pauper in comparison, but he gave it away. I know how much he has enriched my life.
And the Olympic flag was carried by, among others, Doreen Lawrence, the woman who fought so hard for so many years to bring to justice the racist thugs who killed her son in an unprovoked attack and then were protected by a network of the crime families to which they belonged, the corruption of a number of policemen, and the much wider network of institutional racism; Shami Chakrabati, the very intelligent and articulate (and beautiful) woman who has been at the helm of Liberty, the human rights organisation, for years; Daniel Barenboim who is trying to bring together Israelis and Palestinians through his own medium of music; the Secretary-General of the UN; Sally Becker, who worked to relieve suffering during the wars in Bosnia; Marina Silva, the environmentalist; and Mohammed Ali, who needs no explanation.
My business partner, whose views are to the right, while appreciating the parachuting in of the queen and the tribute to the NHS, complained that there was no sense of direction. I disagree. I think it portrayed a nation successfully becoming multi-cultural without disintegrating, technically proficient (in that all the firework and lighting effects worked), and imaginative in designing those special effects, while retaining a self-deprecating sense of humour: a national at ease with itself (if one disregards the very bitter resentment widely felt against an undeserving, overpaid echelon at the top). And that’s not a bad place to be.
So, hearty congratulations to Danny Boyle for showing us a self-portrait to be proud of and to try to live up to.