Mr Bean, Paul Macartney, 007 and the Queen open London Olympics
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“It’s London, son. We embrace the rain,” bawled MC Curtis Walker. But a downpour couldn’t dampen two years of planning - 60,000 souls in the Olympic Stadium roared their agreement from beneath their brollies.
The showers that had swept the land for weeks in the run-up to the opening ceremony had abated for four blisteringly hot days. But they were back as thousands of performers began to take their place for the show.
Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins sounded the newly cast bell which prompted four songs embodying England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The Isles of Wonder was on the road and what followed in the next two hours was a spectacularly imaginative, occasionally surreal breeze through this sceptred isle’s history and culture.
Creative director Danny Boyle dedicated the show to the performers and the paean worked wonders as they depicted the nation’s glories - and miseries - with skill and panache.
Boyle sensibly opted not to compete with the 100 million euro blockbuster that launched the Beijing Games four years ago and his decision was vindicated.
Where Zhang Yimou’s effort in 2008 engulfed the senses, Boyle’s offering was by comparison folksy and accessible.
When Sir Simon Rattle was introduced to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in a rendition of the theme tune from the film Chariots of Fire, it appeared this was the moment when Boyle would pomp up the circumstance.
But just as sobriety was suspected, lights focused on Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean sitting by a keyboard amid the orchestra.
There followed a smidgen of tomfoolery before a Bean reverie sending up the iconic sequence from the film when the clean-limbed bloc of British athletes course along the shoreline as the waves lap at their feet.
Bean was in the phalanx and so determined to be the victor that he required a little skulduggery. Certainly not the kind of thing we saw in Beijing.
And there definitely wouldn’t have been the president enacting a scene with the country’s most famous spy.
But the Queen in her diamond jubilee year entered the spirit of the Games by starring in a film with Daniel Craig’s 007 in which they headed by helicopter towards the Olympic Park over the River Thames. The crowds cheered as they sped by. Even a statue of Sir Winston Churchill moved to salute the pair.
It was bizarre but clearly nowhere near as delirious as Renton’s drug-fuelled dive into the toilet boil in Trainspotting, the gritty feature that made Boyle’s reputation.
The 55-year-old still has a knack for shock though. The show was slowly brought to life courtesy of a green field planted in the centre of the stadium. On various patches of the meadow, rural scenes were played out. Shepherds tended their sheep, two dozen or so villagers darted around with a rugby ball. While they were haring about, others indulged in a spot of cricket.
This was truly England. Or rather a notion of the rosy-faced place and the pastoral symphony was fleeting. Soon the cream-clad contingent was replaced with grimy faces and crushed clothes. Maypoles gave way to brick towers belching out the smoke of an industrial age.
Aggressive discordant drumming echoed the ferocity of social change. It was simple and effective.
So too was the flash through the musical firmament. David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, the Specials, the Sex Pistols, the Who, the Kinks and the Beatles.
Whether the billion-odd worldwide TV audience would have fully appreciated a clip of the 1970s rock band Mud or a snippet from the film Gregory’s Girl or an image of the comedian Tommy Cooper is a matter for conjecture.
But they were gone – just like that – as Cooper would have said.
Paul McCartney took to the stage at 12.40am to sing the closing song Hey Jude.
It was a hit back in 1968 when their Beatles were a veritable counter-culture. Of the Fab Four, only McCartney and Ringo Starr survive, if they’d shared a stage there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house.
As it was, the stirring sentiment was left to Lord Coe. Thirty-two years ago in Moscow he won gold in the 1500 metres. In 2012 his drive and energy as chairman of the organising committee has brought the Games to London.
“There is a truth to sport, a purity, a drama, an intensity, a spirit that makes it irresistible to take part in and irresistible to watch.,” he told the world. “London 2012 seeks to capture all of this.”
Boyle’s show has given him a sturdy building block.
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