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A right royal opportunity?

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Roger Mosey | 11:13 UK time, Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Whether you're a royalist or a republican, nobody can seriously disagree that the royal wedding was brilliantly staged.

With any event involving that number of people and locations, there's always the chance of a glitch. But this was an immaculate operation in the international spotlight.

It was interesting to hear the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, say it was a dry run for the Olympics.

I'm not absolutely sure that's what William and Catherine saw as the primary purpose of the event.

But it is true that the royal wedding is a pointer to the kind of attention Britain will have for much of 2012 - including the Diamond Jubilee celebrations the month before the Games.

Prince William and his wife Catherine in their carriage after their wedding

Ceremonial pomp accompanied last week's royal wedding. Picture: AP

The wedding was a distillation of what the world thinks this country does well: marching bands, guardsmen in scarlet tunics and the ages-old ceremonial in Westminster Abbey.

I recall a conversation in Beijing with an American television producer who recommended that London's opening ceremony should simply be a combination of that with some of the great rock music we've produced in the last half-century.

Judging by their comments on Facebook, senior figures at Locog were among those impressed by what we saw last Friday.

But there's always been a strain of thought that the Olympic Opening Ceremony should be about the the UK's present and its future rather than the past.

I wrote about this and the diverging political ideas underpinning it a couple of years ago in The Spectator: "to exaggerate only a little, the visions extend from excited East End kiddies running towards the cameras accompanied by a pirate radio club mix -- showing the nation we might become -- to re-enacting Trooping the Colour and floating a battleship up the Thames as a statement about our glorious heritage."

At the time, I recommended that the answer to this was to find a creative director who would impose their own vision on the ceremony.

Well, that's what happened. But while the royal wedding is fresh in everyone's mind, we'd be keen to hear your views.

Should we stop obsessing about Beijing's gargantuan ceremony and instead learn the lessons closer to home from last week's events? And is this a time to celebrate heritage or explore our potential?

The Olympics opening ceremony is now only 14 months away, and it's already been discussed at the very top.

This is something prime ministers and mayors see as representing our country and our capital city to another huge global audience. Before the die is finally cast, let us know what you'd like to contribute to their thinking.


  • Comment number 1.

    First off Roger, why has the link to this blog (and some of the other Sports Blogs) disappeared off the front page of the BBC Sport website?

    To the substance of your blog, it is abudantly clear that the many millions around the world (or "billions" are some commentators are at want to say) tuned in to see not only the wedding, but all the pomp, pagentry and circumstance that goes on: as many people on the likes of twitter and in the crowd said, no one can do this apart from the British.

    And that pagentry comes from somewhere - from the heritage of the country. No one blinked an eye-lid when the Australians drew on the rich cultural heritage of the Aboriginal tribes during the Sydney Opening Ceremony. Nor was there any complaint over the heritage brought forward in either Athens of Beijing's Opening Ceremony. The point of the Opening Ceremony is to draw on the heritage of the nation - by all means arrive at the "present" towards the end, but the heritage must be the underlying building blocks of how the ceremony is presented to the global audience.

    Why is there a need to constantly be "progressive" with the ceremony? London 2012 have done "progressive" with the logo and the mascots (love them or loathe them), so why the need to constantly try to be different. There is a sense of celebration and tradition in the Opening Ceremony and they should realise that it is a chance to show of the rich history - and pagentry - of the nation rather than try and show some kind of 'future outlook'.

  • Comment number 2.

    The wedding was an excellent example of what Britain does best, done with military precision. This, unfortunately, is where the 2 main problems arise! The military will not be involved in the running of the Olympics! Unfortunately bumbling politicians will be in the driving seat! Secondly, I'm not sure the IOC will look too favourably to us including our 'glorious' military past (which is essentially what our royal history was built upon!) as a part of any of the ceremonies.

    I really hope we get it right and the ceremonies (along with the whole games) display what a great country we live in, it is just a shame that the people who are probably best at running and organising it won't get a look in!

  • Comment number 3.

    Sorry, forgot to say that I know there was a bit of a issue with the red arrows being involved as they are a part of the RAF, but I think they've sorted that one out now!

  • Comment number 4.

    I was a bit put off by the authoritarian choreography of the Beijing ceremonies and thought the London slot at the closing ceremony was refreshingly egalitarian. Definitely agree about the rock music. Jimmy Page made my spine tingle. And who wouldn't enjoy Brian May doing a rendition of "We Are The Champions"? Clichéd maybe, but like a Royal Wedding, it works.

    Boyle has a huge challenge ahead. The games is all about pointing to the future, but a repeat of the tripe that filled the ill-fated Millennium Dome would be a disaster. The Dome content had strong political (dare I say, Labour Party) overtones and ended up being pretty meaningless and patronising with little reference to British heritage. Boyle has a great ability in presenting uplifting material that doesn't gloss over realities and I hope he can pull of the same at the games.

  • Comment number 5.

    I hope our historical past will not be left out of the opening ceremony as the ceremonial aspect of our heritage is something we do well and I suspect would be expected from those viewing afar.

    I also hope that if our ceremonial past is highlighted it is done properly with real guards and horses etc and not modern substitutes, so the ceremony can be something that everyone both home and abroad can be realy proud of.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm with TheNobleOne too many cooks will spoil the 'ceremony' and I think that word is key. To be a true ceremony it should have pomp at pageantry in its introduction to set a stage for the glamour, glitz and a piece of modern Britain!

    Good luck to Boyle.

  • Comment number 7.

    Like most Britons I am neither a so called royalist or republican. I am a normal Brit who puts up with them as they put up with us. Will the media stop deviding Brits into one or the other.

  • Comment number 8.

    I hope there will be at least some attention devoted to Britain's history and heritage, and that is after all what a lot of the world will expect. As others have mentioned, this sort of thing has been included in every other opening ceremony - the Chinese were even including references to the 'invention of gunpowder' etc. Boyle could easily produce a rounded vision of Britain starting with more traditional aspects and then moving through famous British music from the last few decades into something more modern.

    But I very much doubt it, given the approach we've seen in the Olympic bid, mascots and branding so far. I share #4's fear that we'll end up with a performance version of the Dome with its bland politically-inspired content. Perhaps a 'faith zone', a lecture from Shami Chakrabati, some gags from Bruce Forsythe, Beckham displaying a new tattoo and a concluding dance from 'Diversity'. I hope I'm wrong.

  • Comment number 9.

    There's room for a bit of everything to be honest: Olympic ceremonies are quite long.

    I think after the Royal Wedding and with the Diamond Jubilee only a month before it, it would come as a huge dissapointment if all the ceremony is is pageantry. And also, don't forget, there's plenty of pageantry in Olympic ceremonies anyway, with the parade of nations, the raising of the flags, the lighting of the cauldron. And actually, I find those aspects do drag on a bit so to fill up the rest of the ceremony with our own pomp would be as dull as dishwater.

    Opening ceremonies need to surprise and delight. Neither Rule Britannia at one extreme, nor the X-Factor winner at the other will do that. Both are predictable and dull and I know, thankfully, Danny Boyle with give us neither. The ceremonies need to be a spectacle and a celebration of the event we're hosting; if Boyle focuses on this, our national identity will shine through naturally. It really doesn't need to be forced on the world through obvious iconography or populist tat.

    I'm confident in Boyle and, despite the budget being nothing like the scale of Beijing's, it's still in in the millions. Boyle + the team who've worked on previous Olympic ceremonies + a good budget + a stadium full of flag waving Brits + the beautiful new Olympic park setting should only result in great things. A bit of optimism please people!

  • Comment number 10.

    More of the royal wedding style for the opening ceremony. Unfortunately its going to be far to PC and will probably completely ignore our proud and ancient history and traditions.

    I imagine some sort of hip-hop pop idol farce that will apparently represent our supposed multi-cultural society while at the same time erasing all British history from the programme.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think that the Olympic Games planners should recognize that Britain's heritage is an asset, we do history well, leverage that to do a staging in the athletic outfits of the time legendary Olympic moments... the runner in the Olympic Marathon from the 20s that collapsed short of the line etc, all done in a dramatic fashion. In that way each countries iconic moment can be reference in a drama.... as for progressive, leave that to China and those gimmicky guys in the Far East... lets go for substance and quality

  • Comment number 12.

    Of course we must put our history on display (and that includes pageantry as a style that never goes out of fashion). It is admired around the world (why else would London have again been awarded the Games?) and often emulated.
    - Our Parliamentary and Judicial systems are the models for most democratic countries. Allied to the stability of the monarchy and the wisdom and experience of the Queen (12 Prime Ministers and 12 US Presidents), we are contributing to the future of the World.
    - May the ceremonies include the best of British inventions, the steam engine, the jet engine, and the computer, that continue to be widely used around the world.
    - Sure, include our musical heritage, all of it, but also all our artistic heritage, poetry and all.
    - And, since the Olympics is a sporting event, let's celebrate sports that we invented or first codified. Cricket and Rugby would be a good start.
    - We've got plenty to be proud of and plenty that continues to inform and inspire the World. Let's get busy planning to get the show on the road and onto the streets of London.

  • Comment number 13.

    TheNobleOne in #2/3 - it reminds me of a story a while ago about the restoration of a Lancaster bomber, and the people doing it said they hoped it might have a role in the Olympics opening ceremony. Not sure that would quite fit with the spirit of the ancient concept of the Olympic Truce...

    I've a lot of sympathy with RobH in #9, and I don't think anyone would argue you can do a ceremony without *any* sense of history and heritage. The question is what you choose. China missed out rather a lot of its recent past, and the better option for us may be to choose those historical landmarks that really shaped the nation as it is now.

  • Comment number 14.

    Maybe the Lancaster could drop incendaries on the German team?? thats sort of history and heritage. Fortunately the Royal Wedding shares something with all the previous opening ceremonies ,I have given all of them a wide berth .With work,family,not watching tv all winning out. So either pomp n pageant or funky modern, just keep a sense of perspective ,plenty will have something better to do.

  • Comment number 15.

    @timepasser. You're that busy, yet you somehow find time to read and comment on an Olympic blog about the opening ceremony just to say you're not interested in the opening ceremony. OK then!

  • Comment number 16.

    not busy,dear boy just not interested enough to watch. As to reading blogs on a variety of topics since when has being widely read and having an opinion on how public money is spent a capital offence?? lol

  • Comment number 17.

    Danny Boyle is in charge of the Ceremonies and I for one trust him to deliver. Unfortunately though I don't trust the BBC to do a good job of broadcasting it, as the Royal Wedding showed up the BBC's weaknesses in HD broadcasting. To cover the Royal Wedding in HD, the BBC had to effectively shut down one of its two HD channels- BBC HD channel was reduced to transmitting a static picture on freesat and freeview HD for the entire duration of the wedding to focus resources on BBC One HD. I wonder why? Would this be anything to do with all the complaints about inadequate HD bitrates and poor HD infrastructure at the BBC?

    Also, the only channels to transmit the Royal Wedding in full HD resolution (1920 lines) were Sky and ITV - so I guess that means I'll be watching the Opening Ceremony on Eurosport HD on Sky - they have the broadcast rights, and I bet they deliver a better HD picture than the BBC do. Because it has a decent HD infrastructure, Sky News had a far better picture than BBC One HD for the Royal Wedding.

    Roger, can you tell us what are you doing to make sure you have the right HD infrastructure to broadcast the multi streams of HD you will be getting fed from the Olympic Games? At the moment the BBC can't even broadcast the Royal Wedding in full HD resolution. You won't be able to shut down one of the HD channels - you'll need them both I assume for Olympic sports. A well lit Royal Wedding is hardly challenging for HD tranmission yet the BBC had to shut down one of its two HD channels. How will the BBC's infrastructure cope with the demands of multiple fast moving HD sports across multiple channels? Right now, the evidence shows you do not have the HD infrastructure at the BBC to do this - e.g. On the odd occassion the BBC broadcasts sports on two HD channels simultaneously the picture quality completely degrades. Please assure us you are building a decent HD infrastructure to broadcast the games.

  • Comment number 18.

    #17 I don't know all the ins and outs of HD, resolution, bit rates and all the techy stuff but I understand that it was only BBC cameras inside the Abbey for the ceremony as part of the pool arrangement for all broadcasters. Even at the Games it will be the BBC providing the pictures. Eurosport etc etc won't have cameras in the stadiums.

    As to the ceremony I'm sure Danny Boyle will pull off something special. We can't do (and don't want / need) a 'Beijing' but maybe Athens could be the model - a more cultural pagent - I remember the sculptural procesion and the shapes rising up from the area floor. And given the development of technology, Vancouver with its use of projections is also worthy of consideration - though they had the advantage of being inside so it was possible to turn off the lights !

    BUT lets not have a load of second guessing and fake outrage 'what no morris men, red arrows, brass bands, maypole dancing?'. Equally, if we are to have a pop concert section then a firm 'no' to a parade of x-factor style winners - restrict it to UK talent that has sucessful international appeal and a record of success.

    My suggestion would be something on the lines of 'Britain and the world' featuring all the good things that we have done for the world whether it be inventing sports and technology but also culture. That may sound boring but I'm sure Danny Boyle could make it appealling not only for those in the stadium but also for the TV audience.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think " Spelbound " BGT winners should be involed in the OPENING & Closing ceremony. Just my opion.

  • Comment number 20.

    Digitalscoobiedoo in #17: I'm told by colleagues that the issue about the royal wedding was a technical one triggered by BBC One HD and ITV1 HD broadcasting the same pictures at the same time for much of the event. This won't apply to the Olympics.

    As for the quality of the picture - it seemed excellent on my set at home, and there doesn't seem to have been an upsurge of complaints about either BBC One HD or BBC HD. Indeed, the reverse: the HD pictures have been one of the sources of praise.


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