Mitt Romney

A masterclass in self-deprecating fun from - who else? - the Brits

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am

If Beijing was epic and dramatic, London was all about humour. The British are masters of the understatement and the opening ceremony was a masterclass in self-deprecating, laugh-at-ourselves fun. It was irony, shaken and stirred.

Bond and Bean, the Bard and a Beatle, all the best things British, combined to put on a spectacle which, while short of the sheer drama we saw in the Chinese capital four years ago, was a superb celebration of a land which gave the world the industrial revolution and the worldwide web.

A good laugh at ourselves is sometimes the best way to confront life. From the time the first cotton wool cloud appeared, you knew you were in for a night of mischievous and understated joy. Cotton wool cloud translates into the ever-present rain - they were mocking themselves.

The doorman at my hotel couldn't help himself as he greeted me when I returned late after the show. 'Oi, did you see that, the queen and her grand entry,' he chortled merrily. Only the British can take the mickey out of their leader. If you did it in some despotic outpost you would be spirited away by goons. And what an entry. Teaming up the most iconic British film character with the monarch was a stroke of genius. This opening ceremony will always be remembered for this piece of theatre, when Queen Elizabeth made her acting debut. And she wanted to do it.

If Bond was cool and classic, Mr Bean was, as always, bumbling idiocy. The skit with the London Philharmonic Orchestra was delicious, as was the scene from Chariots of Fire. Once again a case of laugh-at-ourselves and try not to get too uppity.

Irony was the theme of the night, most intended, some by circumstance. President Robert Mugabe, sitting in front of his television set in Harare, must have smiled when he saw Zimbabwe lead the large British contingent out.

We also had the first kiss at an opening ceremony when a boy and girl, admonished previously by her mum for going out wearing a less than suitable dress, puckered up, as clips of other famous kisses, including Prince William kissing Kate and Shrek kissing his bride (was that another dig?) were shown.

The quintessentially British show might have sometimes been a tad too complex for the world. You had to know your history to be fully attuned to all the subtlety. And Danny Boyle was selective in picking what part of British history he portrayed.

While there was Maypole dancing and a village green cricket match, there was no hint of the Norman conquest or the Roman legionnaires. Perhaps it wasn't the done thing to remind the audience that Britain was once conquered.

Neither was any reference made to colonial Britain when the sun never set on the Union Jack. That might have rubbed a few people, among the large collection of heads of states who had turned up to watch, up the wrong way. But the past figured prominently with victims of both world wars being remembered.

There were protests inside as well as outside the stadium. It was reported beforehand that Israel's culture and sports minister, Limor Livnat, would stand for a minute's silence as IOC president Jacques Rogge delivered his speech, to decry the IOC's decision not to mark the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Games. I was too far away from the VVIP stands to see if this transpired.

A day which began with Big Ben chiming 40 times - Czech beach volleyball player Petr Benes who was training nearby described it memorably as 'we got ding-donged' - would have probably ended with Mitt Romney changing his mind.

The US Republican presidential nominee, one of the A-list invitees, had earlier been critical of preparations for the Olympics, calling aspects of them 'disconcerting'. He was only voicing what the majority of the British were themselves grumbling over, things like security, with organisers forced to draft in extra soldiers at the last minute, and the transport issues surrounding special traffic lanes for Olympic vehicles.

It is one thing for the British to have a good moan, but outsiders shouldn't stick their noses in, as Romney found out. His criticism has seemingly pulled the country together. British Prime Minister David Cameron was scathing when he said it was one thing to hold an Olympics in the middle of nowhere and quite another thing to stage it in one of the busiest cities in the world. Cameron was referring to Salt Lake City, which hosted the Winter Olympics under Romney's tutelage.

The opening extravaganza would certainly have showed naysayers like Romney that London is ready to put on a dazzling spectacle, one which is uniquely British. You have to be familiar with British idiosyncracy to truly appreciate what you will get over the next two weeks.

We all have to take everything British into our hearts - all their humour, irony and self-deprecation - it is only then that you can truly enjoy these Games.