How James Bond whisked the Queen to the Olympics

By Nicolas Brown
BBC Director of UK Drama Production

  • Published

In this year of extraordinary events there was a week in late March of unseasonal glorious sunshine, when we basked in its early arrival and dreamed we might be set fair for summer.

That week, an extraordinary - surreal, even - event happened at Buckingham Palace when Her Majesty The Queen made herself available for a few short hours to appear in a film sequence alongside another British icon, James Bond, 007.

Although not a drama in the conventional sense, "Happy and Glorious", as conceived by Danny Boyle, has a gentle narrative which sets up the Queen's arrival at the stadium for the opening ceremony.

Her Majesty, Daniel Craig, our Brazilian schoolchildren (a nod to four years hence of course) and the corgis all played their parts impeccably and none of it would have happened without the extraordinary and tenacious Tracey Seaward who somehow fitted in co-executive producing these two films with her day job of producing the entire ceremony.

That was the very first element shot of two films - "Happy and Glorious" and "Isles of Wonder" which opens the entire worldwide coverage - that BBC Drama Production have contributed to the ceremony and which started with a brief phone call back in February.

Two short films for the Olympics? Directed by Danny Boyle? Sure, that didn't appear too tall an order and in fact sounded something of an alluring prospect. How difficult could it be?

Bold and exciting

The task had seemed surmountable as we sat in a small windowless room at Three Mills Studios in East London - then the base for the ceremonies team - and watched a computer generated/sketched visualisation of what Danny wanted to achieve.

It was bold, ambitious and exciting - everything one would expect from him.

On that day in March, watching footage of the helicopter rising from the Palace lawn into an azure blue sky (even whilst noting the still thin spring foliage that would have to be improved on in post-production to become convincing summer) the auguries still looked good.

This was despite knowing that ahead lay the challenges of shooting aerial and marine sequences, complex coordination with action on the ground.

All of this in the centre of a city that, not easy to film in at the best of times, was heading towards a period of unprecedented sensitivity and security. Everything was possible.

Then came the weather. We all know about this summer - flooding, monsoon conditions, records broken, the jet stream that stubbornly refused to shift.

Neither of the films is long, but they are largely exterior and each is made up of myriad elements that needed a huge amount of planning and resources, as well as weather, to get right for our expected audience of over one billion people.

Permission to fly

If you are having to secure permissions to fly along the Thames, through Tower Bridge with two helicopters (never done before) or clear the river of commercial traffic you need to do so with several weeks' notice.

If you then find that over the dates you have picked the helicopter can't fly because of the low cloud or is grounded because of a bomb scare on Tottenham Court Road or the footage you do achieve is so utterly grey, damp and joyless as to be unusable, you have a big problem.

Image caption,
Daniel Craig with co-stars in the coming Bond film Skyfall

We had several of those days, with an immovable date in the diary that was racing towards us.

In the end we were lucky. Lucky that the cloud lifted and sun shone at the very end of the day at our second attempt at Tower Bridge (I will always remember producer Lisa Osborne sending me a sequence of stills through the day starting with a crew in wet weather gear, moving to a glimpse of blue sky and ending with glorious shots of two helicopters flying through the bridge as the sun began to set).

Lucky that there was just enough sunshine around - on the third attempt - to capture the beauty of the Thames in its early meanderings.

The look around the source itself, we have to confess, is the result of a lot generators, cabling and bulbs and lucky that there was a team who stuck with it through disappointment, frustration, the cold and the wet.

The result is the delivery of what I think are films full of warmth, joy, affection, wit, surprise and excitement and sunshine and which I hope played their part in a memorable night.