Film & TV in the Olympics opening ceremony

Feature Louisa Mellor
30 Jul 2012 - 20:01

An estimated 27 million people in the UK watched Friday’s Olympic opening ceremony, and here’s a round-up of the TV and film they would have caught a glimpse of…

Whimsy. Pride. Grief. Early 90s Channel 4 sitcom Desmond’s… Danny Boyle’s gloriously bonkers Olympic Opening Ceremony covered a welcome number of unpredictable bases. Prelapsarian Hobbiton scenes fell to Kenneth Branagh’s top-hatted industrial vision, Mary Poppins shooed away Voldemort, a bunch of nurses did the Lindy Hop, a neon human tube train skipped around like a naked Chinese dragon, and most thrilling of all, a Daily Mail bigot/journalist got properly riled.  

Amidst the ceremony’s many wonders, some of the evening’s loudest cheers came from the montage of TV and film clips Boyle and co. had magpied from the archives. Cheeky little telly nods like naughty schoolboys waving at their mums behind a flustered news reporter were edited into the main event. An anthology of classic  – and some not so classic – UK TV and film clips popped up for the briefest of moments (one notably present just as a single, iconic sound-effect). And seeing as it all went by in something of a flash, we thought it might be fun to look at what made the selection.

First up, during the speedy aquatic journey from the Cotswolds to Stratford, a 2D-animated pair by the name of Ratty and Moley ducked out of the way of the flying camera. Characters from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, the trio including Toad began the evening’s appreciation of British children’s literature, and equally, kids' TV.

Next, fittingly as the camera zoomed alongside London’s South Bank, came a musical tribute to TV arts institution The South Bank Show, in the form of theme music from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Variations. A quick pause over another iconic image from UK TV – the Eastenders opening credits map – and it was into the stadium.

From the much-discussed Daniel Craig and Queenie Bond sketch then, to one featuring the man behind spoof Bond character, Johnny English. Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean, a creation probably as internationally recognisable as David Beckham, was showcased in a Chariots of Fire ‘dream sequence’, aided and abetted by Sir Simon Rattle and his orchestra.

From that point onwards, the TV and film nods came thick and fast. Projected onto an inflatable house in the section celebrating digital doodads (which culminated in an appearance from The Actual Man That Invented The World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee), was a quick-fire series of TV & film surprises.

Starting with the television, after the clip that must flash on weatherman Michael Fish’s inward eye in vacant or in pensive mood, the shows we spotted were as follows: Harry Hill’s TV Burp (opening credits), Eastenders (Charlie Slater extolling the chest hair-producing qualities of a fish pie to Dr Anthony Trueman), Fawlty Towers, Coronation Street (Deirdre Barlow - we think - exclaiming over a tin of sardines and Sally Webster shouting at her daughter), Eldorado (possibly?) Harry Enfield’s Television Programme (Kevin the Teenager), Blackadder (first series, aka the rubbish one), aforementioned barber-shop sitcom Desmond’s, various clips from Top of the Pops, Anna Friel’s 1994 lesbian kiss from Brookside, and Ken Loach’s seminal sixties TV homelessness play Cathy Come Home.

If Doctor Who fans weren’t treated to the eleven-Doctor montage apparently approved but then removed from the show due to the constraints of time, then at least we have the honour of perhaps the most difficult-to-spot reference of all: a single TARDIS whoosh sound mixed bafflingly into a rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Later on in proceedings came a nod to Absolutely Fabulous thanks to Eddie and Patsy’s role in the torch-relay. Non-UK TV was chiefly represented by an odd selection of bits from Modern Family and The Cosby Show.

Film-wise, post-Bond of course, we saw split seconds of David Lean’s Oliver Twist, Gene Wilder in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, something starring Charlie Chaplin, a clip from Powell and Pressburger classic A Matter of Life and Death, John Gordon Sinclair in Gregory’s Girl, the kestrel from Kes, quite possibly a bit of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Wayne’s World, The Full Monty, Trainspotting (naturally), David Bowie's removeable nipples in The Man Who Fell to Earth, Hugh Grant’s stutter in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and a montage of kisses including those from Wall-E, Planet of the Apes, Lady and the Tramp, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, and a real-life post-wedding balcony smooch from their royal highnesses Wills and Kate.

All told, it was a disparate but hugely pleasing selection. As a snapshot montage most of which was themed to fit around a boy-meets-girl narrative including chapters on food, clubbing, and kissing, it was a glorious string of surprises.

Inexplicable at times, but perhaps all the more cockle-warming and personal for its inscrutability to an international audience. A lunatic motley from the UK’s lunatic, motley TV and film history. My high point? There wasn’t a Del Boy falling through the bar or a Blue Peter elephant’s dirty protest in sight. Magical.

Now, the real work begins. For anybody willing to help us fill in the gaps, what are some of the ceremony’s many, many film and TV references we’ve missed?

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