A defining moment for Britain

Person waving Union Jack How do you pin down national identity?

Only rarely do countries get the opportunity to describe themselves to a watching world. Today's Olympic opening ceremony is a defining moment for this country - literally.

But trying to pin down national identity is always a difficult and dangerous occupation - even more so if your chosen medium involves marshalling 1,000 people, nine geese and 70 sheep on a sports field.

The man who has taken on that challenge, film-director Danny Boyle, accepts that in looking to please everybody he is "bound to fail". His aim is to put on a show in which the vast majority of Britons can say they found "something of themselves".

He understands the risk that in portraying itself, Britain might be seen as backward looking, wallowing in its past, nostalgic for the "good old days". Boyle admits he has been alert to the beguiling nature of what he calls "muffin moments".

Equally, a portrait of Britain that hopes to discover national character in London buses, Marmite soldiers and faded celebrities risks being glib and shallow.

There is a balance to be struck between the "pomp and punk" faces of Britain, as Boyle has put it. The United Kingdom is a land of contradiction and paradox and tonight's show will only be true to this country's complex personality if it celebrates both.

Fireworks over Olympics stadium after dress rehearsal for opening ceremony Fireworks were seen over the Olympic stadium after a dress rehearsal

We love the disciplined order of ceremonial and pageantry. But we resent any authority that tries to herd us into line.

We are profoundly proud of our art and invention - the land of Shakespeare and Newton, Darwin and Dickens. But we also revel in the quirky, the absurd and downright daft - the land of Monty Python and Mr Blobby, the Sex Pistols and Little Britain.

Boyle has said the show needs to be "idiosyncratic". He is right - that is a defining characteristic of my country. Austerity may have done us a favour - it would have been quite wrong for London to have attempted to match the extravagance and grand uniformity of Beijing's ceremony four years ago.

Not for us regimented orthodoxy on a vast scale. We celebrate individuality and incongruity. It is that quality which underpins this country's tolerance and sense of fair play. Britain likes to see itself as the little guy standing up to the bully.

Olympics coverage online

Olympics images

Tonight's show needs to reflect our history: the journey from rural economy through industrialisation and urbanisation to regeneration and a reconnection with our bucolic past is a central thread within the tapestry of the nation.

Tonight's show needs to reflect our creativity: our writing, our song, our invention are all key to this country's personality and development.

But, for me, the ceremony must also be witty and whimsical. It needs to include plenty of jokes at our own expense - some of which the rest of the world may never understand. It should not be too obvious.

In defining Britain to the rest of the world and ourselves, tonight must see a show that is sometimes anarchic, often contradictory and occasionally baffling.

Because that is the kind of people we are.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 51.


    The point I am making is that at a certain point in time the discussions have to end: someone has to make a decision.

    I didn't particularly care about some of it but in the end the boss is the boss. Artie types tend to be rather unsophisticated Lefties but they can do spectacle rather well. We saw a spectacle: that's all.

    I would have started with Oliver Cromwell but The Queen was coming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.


    CND, Chakrabati, revisionist multicultural pre-industrial british agriculture.

    What I call politics is how (some) people see the country?

    Of course - I acknowledge that.

    But many others don't see it that way.

    Therefore my point - rather than making a spectacle we could all have got behind, it only served to emphasise division.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.


    What you choose to call the politics is how a lot of people see the country. We could all draw up a list of items to disagree over but we weren't running the show and at a point you have to go forward with something.

    To a degree I am glad there was a focus on the NHS. The whole world appreciates our system of medical treatment free on demand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.


    Mrs.S, a dyed in the wool monarchist, also remarked about Her Majesty looking at her nails. I retaliated that HM is The Queen, so she can do what she likes: that is the point, isn't it? To me HM looked tired: she is 86 and it was very late in the day. I am not a monarchist but I like The Queen. We need to treasure her more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Entry of the athletes/drummers: good.

    Thing with the petals/flame: excellent.

    Shame about the politics - a lot of it just rubbed our noses in the division which afflicts C21 disunited kingdom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I'm shocked by the amount of negative comments from British people I have seen on this and other sites re the opening ceremony. I'm Irish and I thought it was absolutely fantastic (apart from Paul McCartney). A potted history of Britain, the NHS, Literature, Music, Technology, the Queen & Bond. 000'sof volunteer performers who no doubt had the night of their lives. Be proud Britain it was great.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I have been an expat most of my life and watching this morning at 4am from Indonesia, I can say I was awestruck and very proud to be British. That was the best opening ceremony I have ever seen. The combination of pageant, humour, history, spectacle was incredible. Well done GB! Please understand what a fab job was done and enjoy the moment. You will have inspired a generation. Be proud today!

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    But I just can't get over those uniforms. What a disaster. Like 70's glitter - without the good taste.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Oh the Opening Ceremony was a triumph, Amen to that.
    But can't we sometimes get the 'whole truth' from BBC commentators where royals are concerned? The Queen was NOT looking on proudly as her own team G.B. appeared, she was disinterestedly picking at her nails! Her 'opening speech' was spoken without a glimmer of a smile. And why didn't so many empty VIP seats deserve a mention?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I may not be able to tell you what it is to be British - but what I can say is that I'm incredubly chuffed to be so. Brilliant opening ceremony!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Someone wrote - 'Enjoy the sport, the rest is just nonsense?'
    Say that in the faces of volunteers, community workers and professionals who have spent hours and hours fulfilling ambitions and dreams that we are now lucky enough to experience, sport related or not.
    I choose to be positiive about this day... it's much more fun.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    "London 2012 will show 'Britain can deliver', says PM"
    But what exactly can it deliver on?

    NOT health CARE.
    NOT real JUSTICE.
    NOT one set of laws applicable to all WITHOUT exception.
    NOT a written Constitution.
    It has however delivered a system of government that does NOT work for or in the public interest, that is tyranical in nature & offers no real future to our children.
    SPIN ON!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    "...a defining moment for this country - literally."
    The one thing this country is good at it is 'putting on a show' - pure performance. Another picture painting exercise is about to begin.
    The shame is that the picture being prepared for the world via various forms of media, who are part of the problem, is nothing like the reality being faced by many, but by all means enjoy the distraction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Like many Canadians, I await defining moment: 13,000 stage props used in the Opening Ceremony, 10,000 adult volunteer performers, 1,000 children volunteer performers, & 23-ton harmonically tuned bell that will signal I've not fallen asleep & am not dreaming.
    (CTV, live 4 ET/1 PT; CTV, taped, 7 ET/PT)

  • Comment number 37.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I was lucky enough to have a ticket to the rehearsal of the opening ceremony on Wednesday evening. The geese sound weird out of context and perhaps they are anyway! But the atmosphere was phenomenal and although I am "saving the surprise" the parts of the opening ceremony I watched, I loved! Tonight is going to be amazing. I only hope its as good on TV as it was being there!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Should just be an athletes parade and events start but as this is about 'Defining' the country I was born and brought up in I'd better find out what the country is all about. It's not the place it used to be. There's no predictable future here for the children growing up today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I was at the rehearsal on Monday. Trust me, you'll enjoy it even if parts don't seem sports related.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    What a pompous man you are!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Sorry, used to be a solid patriot, but only see it as nostalgia now.

    The olympics seems symbolic of todays disunited kingdom

    A handful of big corporations making billions, a handful of organisers making millions - small busineses locked out & seeing tade fall.

    'Team GB' unsure if they will sing the national anthem - are they british, scottish, welsh? ... The coach is Dutch.


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