Some thoughts on the Olympics come to mind.
Last things first …
The Olympic closing ceremony defied rational
criticism. Raucous, disjointed, frequently
fatuous, it was hardly representative of British rock music, or British anything
else for that matter. Actor Timothy
Spall impersonating Winston Churchill by reciting Taliban’s ‘The isle is full
of noises’ speech was excruciating. The
show’s creator, Kim Gavin, described the show as “a mashed up symphony of
British music”. That says it all,
really, except for the thought that, at the end of a Games fortnight of
engrossing spectacle and drama, even a mad, bad conclusion hardly
If the Olympics were the triumph of organisation
everyone agrees they were, it was because none of the doom-laden pre-Games predictions
came about. There were no terrorist incidents; threatened airport and transport
strikes failed to materialize; buses and trains were less packed than usual; roads
were relatively free of traffic; and an early cock-up by a private security
firm was corrected by using servicemen, an enforced stroke of genius.
Inevitably, the Games have been described as an
extended celebration of human physical endeavour and achievement. Just as inevitably, the hangover will
follow. The British economy remains
stalled in recession. Recovery will
require some of the organisational ingenuity applied successfully to the
Games. Sebastian Coe for
Chancellor? Don’t laugh; there’s already
talk of Mayor Boris Johnson as a candidate for prime minister.
As a former journalist, I was often offended by the
blatantly partisan attitudes of many of the BBC commentators. Subtly partisan would have been understandable
if not commendable, but commentators jumping up and down, and screaming,
whenever a British contestant looked like winning was inexcusably
unprofessional. David Coleman, a
notoriously patriotic hysteric from an earlier era, would have been
embarrassed. Especially cringe-worthy
were John Inverdale’s empathetic tears when a British oarsman broke down after
missing gold. It was bad enough enduring
the cascade of sobs from medalists on the podium; tears in the commentary box
were unwarranted. Michael Johnson, an
American track legend, found the right balance, combining expert analysis with
a low-key manner. I’d love to know what
he thought of his colleagues. Clare Balding
and Ian Thorpe weren’t bad either, but most of the other BBC regulars were
shamefully inept. And often inarticulate: “absolutely fantastic” was trotted out so
incessantly I came close to throwing a shoe at the telly.
It’s not just the commentators who are losing their
reserve; the entire nation seems to be letting go at every opportunity. Some consider this to be a good thing. I don’t.
Emotional restraint used to be considered a British quality – and quite
right too – but increasingly it’s regarded as a character flaw. It all goes back to Princess Diana’s death,
and those mountains of wreaths outside Buckingham Palace,
when even the poor Queen was harried into making her private grief public.
On a final, upbeat note, one that doesn’t involve
listening to inane pop music, well done to the British medal-winners. The tally that put Britain third in the gold table and
fourth overall was a truly remarkable achievement, or if I may put it a more
popular way, absolutely fantastic.
Now, let’s get back to work, and finding ways to make
our own lives a little less humdrum.