You know how I keep saying I hate the Olympics. Well there is one bit of the Olympics I like, it’s the bit which suggests that there is still room for bonkers artistry and fireworks this a po-faced search for medal Dorado. I have always liked opening ceremonies; probably from the moment that bloke on a jet-pack flew around the stadium in Los Angeles. Casts of thousands, explosions and allegorical histories presented as interpretive dance. As a child I was really into interpretive dance, and was often praised for my ability to inhabit the persona of – say – Fernando whilst leaping around the living room. In later life I discovered the cruel truth that actually no-one EVER danced like that except Pans People and they (and successor groups) were wound up in the mid eighties. There was no career in it for me. Unless – 2012…

But before we get to 2012, let us consider last weeks opening ceremony. The Birds Nest Stadium is an impressive venue, and the Olympic district is packed with enough interesting buildings and boulevards to make this ceremony special. And the fireworks were very impressive. The opening synchronised drummers were also stupendous, down to the glow-stick drumming. It all started very well. But, well I think I can sum it up with two complaints.
-No giant inflatables
-No people in giant foam rubber suits. NOT EVEN THE MASCOTS.

The Olympic mascot should act as a clueless MC for the whole event. Oversize in uncontrollable inflatable form, or like a drunk giant in foam rubber, the mascots embody the essential silliness of doing the Olympics in the first place. A celebration of sports which by themselves are not very interesting, the Olympics gives gravitas to kayaking in a world which could not care less. The opening ceremony should be arty, should be ambitious and should be – like any mass art in a sports stadium – a bit silly.

China did not do silly. They tried to pack three thousand years of history into interpretive dance and hi-tech staging which was all very impressive but lacked the coherency of a giant inflatable panda rolling across a sea of people. We dreaded ten minutes of five hundred synchronised Ti-Chi martial artists, which we predicted. There were impressive bits: the giant planet at the end and the moveable type: but in the end Zhang Yimou threw manpower at the project and went for respectable. The invention of moveable type is important, but is it China’s killer app? Even when dancing like some sort of out-of-control robot? Or people drilled impressively inside boxes.

Which brings us to the BBC presentation of the opening ceremony. In the past they have been happy with Barry “I’ll commentate on anything for a tenner” Davies. He’s retired though and so the BBC struck some sort of truce between news, sports and arts coverage with Huw Edwards, Hazel Irvine and Carrie Gracie (who she?*). Huw tried to invest the whole thing with majesty – suggesting that we would be pleasantly surprised by how the did the movable type segment. We, rightly, guessed within a second, that there were people in the boxes. We were right and thus not surprised. Commentating on this type of thing is a thankless task, but the overall seriousness of the Chinese effort made it a lot easier than usual. The three presenters managed to find themselves special niches in the process:
HUW: To describe what we were seeing and say the word Undulating (FIVE TIMES)
CARRIE: To say what we are seeing is based on the theme of harmony (TEN TIMES) and Confucius (NINE TIMES).
HAZEL: To explain that in the eighties the contents of her wardrobe were mainly day-glo nu-rave outfits (the only piece of proper bonkers commentary).
So it looked nice, the gigantic scroll was impressive, but it was nowhere near silly enough to go down as a great. When rolling Sarah Brightman on at the end is the strangest part, you know it has failed in the mental. London 2012 will have urban street dance, an animatronic history of grime with a gigantic robot Wiley fighting a gigantic robot Dizzee Rascal and a holographic re-enactment of the battle of Britain. And a giant fellating foam rubber Lisa Simpson, AND BE ALL THE BETTER FOR IT.

(It will if I can get involved with it anyway!)

*She turns out to be another newsreader, this one, whose main qualification for being authoritative on Chinese culture is spending a year teaching English. To which I say Huw Edwards is Welsh, which is where the Inn Of The Seventh Happiness was filmed, so he knows AS MUCH AS HER.