I had some weird feelings around 8.00pm on Friday, ones I’ve never experienced in all my Olympic viewing years.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it for a while, but then at 8.13pm, as the Red Arrows screamed over my house in formation on their way back to base, a smoky trail of red, white and blue lingering behind the fast disappearing jets, it suddenly clicked: I suddenly cared about the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.
They were in Britain, in London, and a wave of national pride was overwhelming me. The opening ceremony was always a take it or leave it extravaganza, secondary to the more important winning of medals, but it mattered this time. Then came another, more familiar feeling: “I hope the BBC don’t balls it up…”
And on the whole, they didn’t. The preamble saw Gary Lineker and Sue Barker get comfy in their seats inside the stadium for the first time and natter amiably to a selection of Olympic greats, including the always good value Michael Johnson and a coy Sir Steve Redgrave, who batted away any early enquiries about whether he was lighting the cauldron later on.
There were some informative films, and an introduction to the studio outside the stadium with Mishal Husain and the ever-busy Jake Humphrey.
All good so far. And the pictures still didn’t disappoint, with Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ stirring the soul, Kenneth Branagh as Brunel introducing a stunning recreation of the Industrial Revolution, blending into celebrations of the 1960’s, the NHS, the British as leaders in literature, music, film and technology.
The show was visually amazing, a bit bonkers in places and must have confused the hell out of households from Toulouse to Tokyo, but it held the attention and at times – the creation of the Olympic rings from 19th century molten metal being a prime example – was genuinely moving and brought a tear to the eye. If Danny Boyle isn’t knighted come the New Year, then I’ll emigrate to Syria*
The visuals therefore enthralled, and the direction was superb, capturing the enthusiasm of the participants but with plenty of sweeping shots that fully captured the scale of the show. But while the eyes were treated, the ears were screaming for a rest.
If the commentary of the opening ceremony is an indication of what’s to come, then the 5 Live option or the mute buttons are going to be very busy for the next fortnight. I’ve been a fan of Hazel Irvine for many years since her early days on Scotsport, and she did her best to keep us entertained with nuggets of trivia as the athletes appeared (Paraguay is the only country in the world to have different emblems on both sides of its flag!), but she was badly let down by her two male co-commentators.
Quite why Trevor Nelson was there is something that will be debated for many years to come. He only spoke twice in the opening forty minutes, neither piece of wisdom was memorable. Was he there to chip in with knowledgeable facts about the more youth orientated segments, and help us with information on the music being played?
Either way, he let himself down badly by calling Underworld ‘The Underworld’ as if he was Murray Hewitt, and gave no insight at all into any historical musical genre.
Nelson though was a veritable stand-up comedian compared to Huw Edwards, who seemed to have a bet with someone that he would provide the happiest of occasions with morose observations. He was at his worse during the entrance of the thousands of happy, smiling participants, a joyful crowd of amateur and pro sportsmen who were delighted to be in Stratford.
For Huw though, it was an opportunity to mention the worse points of each country, their long histories of civil war or poverty. Laos, for example, was described as ‘one of the poorest nations in East Asia’, pirates got a mention when Somalia marched on, and Rwanda’s recent genocidal tendencies weren’t glossed over.
This was all a shame, as overall the BBC proved yet again that when it comes to live events or clips packages, there is nobody to touch them. The sporting action for the duration of the Games will be superb, but hopefully we’ll get the commentary we want and deserve too.
* this is a lie, obviously.