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The Oxford Companion to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony

Many questioned how the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games Opening Ceremony was going to make a mark after the spectacular Beijing Olympics only four years earlier. While Beijing presented the Chinese people moving as one body — dancing, marching, and presenting a united front to the world — the British answer was a chaotic and spirited ceremony, shifting from cricket matches to coordinated dance routines, Mr Bean’s comedic dream to a 100-foot Lord Voldemort.

Danny Boyle’s production referenced many aspects of British history, culture, life, and contributions to the world. Even some of the British audience didn’t understand every reference in the ceremony, so I’ve pulled together Oxford University Press (OUP) resources to help scholars and enthusiasts learn more about it.

For information on the opening ceremony itself, I’m relying on the London 2012 Opening Ceremony Media Kit (which was embargoed until 27 July at 21:00 GMT and an excellent resource in it of itself), the fabulous live blogs of the BBC (you had me at Pandemonium (21:17)) and the Guardian (with a touching concern for the sheep), and the heavily-edited footage from NBC Universal’s Olympics broadcast in the United States (where I was watching). I hope that the complete ceremony and footage becomes public soon for appropriate analysis and commentary from scholars and spectators alike. Please excuse the lack of citations for each individual piece of information.

I’m presenting the information in a list format and pairing it with OUP resources (gathered from memory, the Oxford Index (Beta), and speaking to people at OUP), leaving the analysis to future scholars. I’ve focused on the cultural and historical references of the show, rather than the technicalities of the show itself (number of dancers, lights, etc.), but let me know if you’d like to see those included. If there is an element of the show missing or needs to be corrected, please let me know in a comment and I’ll amend the post accordingly. Please note that the OUP resources are a mix of free and subscription, so if you hit a paywall, trying logging in via your local or university library.

I hope you find this a useful resource.

A Quick Overview of the People Who Made It Happen

  1. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (The Kings and Queen of Britain). Here are a number of resources we put together for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June: Composing for the Diamond Jubilee, How to Write Music Fit for a Queen, Diamonds, Royal quotations past and present
  2. Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee
  3. Sebastian Coe, Chair of London 2012 Organising Committee (UK Who’s Who)
  4. Rt Hon David Cameron MP, Prime Minister 2010-present (UK Who’s Who)
  5. Gordon Brown, Prime Minister 2007-2010 (ODO)
  6. Tony Blair, Prime Minister 1997-2007 and heavily involved in the Olympic bid (ODO)
  7. David Beckham, professional footballer, East London native, and heavily involved in the Olympic bid (UK Who’s Who)
  8. Kelly Holmes, British athlete and heavily involved in the Olympic bid (UK Who’s Who)
  9. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London 2008-present (UK Who’s Who)
  10. Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London 2000-2008 (“Elections and Public Opinion: Plus Ça Change…” in Parliamentary Affairs)
  11. Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (UK Who’s Who)
  12. Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP, Shadow Minister for London and the Olympics (UK Who’s Who)
  13. Rt Hon Sir Menzies Campbell MP, Liberal Democrat spokesman for London 2012 and former Olympian (UK Who’s Who)
  14. Rt Hon Don Foster MP, Liberal Democrat spokesman for London 2012
  15. Danny Boyle, Artistic Director of London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony (UK Who’s Who)
  16. Suttirat Anne Larlarb and Mark Tildesley, Designers of London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony
  17. Rick Smith for Underworld, Music Director of London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony
  18. Frank Cottrell Boyce, Writer of London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony (UK Who’s Who)
  19. Paulette Randall, Associate Director of London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony
  20. Toby Sedgwick, Movement Director of London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony
  21. Temujin Gill, Kenrick H2O Sandy and Akram Khan (UK Who’s Who), Choreographers of London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony
  22. Sunanda Biswas, Co-choreographer of London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony
  23. The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) recorded the core orchestral soundtrack (Grove)
Torchbearer 018 Amber Charles with Olympic Chairman Sebastian Coe, London Mayor Boris Johnson and David Beckham at City Hall during Day 70 of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay. Courtesy of London 2012.
The Theme : Isles of Wonder / ‘This is for everyone’

Artistic director Danny Boyle wanted to showcase the UK’s achivements and contributions to the rest of the world.

Remember that the British Isles consist of two major islands (Great Britain and Ireland) and numerous smaller islands (the Isle of Sky, Isle of Man, and Jersey to name a few). The United Kingdom, the host nation, consists of four nations — England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland — brought together through conquest, monarchy, tourism, and international banking disasters. The Republic of Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom (see long, bloody history). C.G.P. Grey has a helpful video which goes into all this and more for those who are confused.

Where are the ‘Isles of Wonder’? by Anthony Bale provides further explanation on some of the fantastic elements.
See the latest Atlas of the World for more (also a helpful guide for the parade of nations).


A film sequence, mixing fiction and reality, that takes the viewer from the mystical origin of the river Thames to the Olympic stadium in Stratford.

Origin of the river Thames (ODO; “The Thames Valley in the late fifth and early fourth millennium cal bc: the appearance of domestication and the evidence for change” in Going Over: The Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition in North-West Europe)

Ratty and Mole, from the classic children’s book The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (ODNB;
Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows and William Morris’s Old Norse Translations in Notes & Queries; Tending the Heart of Virtue by Vigen Guroian). And to give you an idea of its impact, John Rutter has set music to some of The Wind in the Willows.

A child in a field of poppies (an early reference to World War I) and then a family on a train (is that HP sauce?).

Who were those people waving? Great British Olympians of the past: June Carol, Margaret Wilding, Michael Howard, John Russell, David Hemery, Richard Meade, Ian Hallam, John Knoych, and David Wilkie

Who were those people rowing? The Oxford and Cambridge boat race (“University and College Sport” in The History of the University of Oxford). The song was the Eton Boating Song.

A quick preview of the cricket match.

Battersea Power Station with Pink Floyd’s flying pig (Grove; Rocking the Classics by Edward Macan)

The Houses of Parliament. The current version is the result of a fire in 1834.

The London Eye : Millenium project, ghastly visual blight, wonderful tourist attraction, massive public overspend, and possible alien transmitter

Tower Bridge, the Docklands, Canary Wharf, and the Thames Barrier (Charles Draper in Who’s Who; “Managing Financial Risks in Urban Environments” in Managing Financial Risks)

The London Underground and a ghostly appearance of the Victorian Underground. (Charles Dickens’s Networks: Public Transport and the Novel by Jonathan H. Grossman)

Rotherhithe Tunnel : road tunnel crossing beneath the River Thames (Charles Graham Grant in Who’s Who)

As we approach the Olympic Stadium, we see poster designs for previous Olympic Games (see analysis in an upcoming special issue of the Journal of Design History next week)

The Olympic Stadium: 10 groups of children holding balloons, which (mostly) popped (I remember a couple of 6s sticking around) for the countdown

The ringing of the Olympic Bell by Tour-de-France winner Bradley Wiggins. The Olympic Bell was forged in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (Grove; Alan Hughes, Managing Director in Who’s Who), which forged the Liberty Bell in 1752 (“The Liberty Bell” in Journal of American History; “Liberty Bell Center” in Journal of American History) and Big Ben in 1858 (Benjamin Hall, eponymist of Big Ben, in ODNB). It is inscribed with the words: ‘Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises.’ (A reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, more later.) Remember that bells play an important role in this area as a cockney is defined as someone born within hearing of Bow Bells (ODO; OUPblog) in East London and they have a distinctive rhyming slang (OxfordWords). Campanology (ODO) also plays an important role in the ceremony and the Cultural Olympiad. An OUP composer Howard Skempton wrote a piece for a 2012 project for Church Bells (OUPblog).

Is that a mosh pit (ODO)? Yes, two, with members of the communities of the six east London Host Boroughs: Barking & Dagenham, Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, and Waltham Forest.

Music in this segment:

Green and Pleasant Land

The British Meadow set presents a vision Britain’s past so idealized it could be a Hobbit set. The sequence includes numerous clips from Britain’s sporting past.

The British Meadow set includes:

  1. The village green/common, a common feature of a medieval village (“Medieval Villages in an English Landscape” in The English Historical Review; Beyond the Medieval Village)
  2. A water wheel. Water wheels played an important role in London history. (See “Beginnings 1600–1619” in The New River)
  3. Sheep, geese, a cart horse, and other animals (The Encyclopedia of Mammals; A Dictionary of Animal Behaviour; other Biological Sciences resources under Oxford Reference)
  4. Games such as cricket (ODO; OxfordWords; “Cricket and Politics in Colonial India” in Past & Present gives you some idea of its historical signficance), children maypole dancing, and the apron apple toss
  5. A focal point is Glastonbury Tor

Choirs from each nation perform a song of their nation:

  1. ‘Jerusalem’ sung in the Stadium, by Dockhead Choir. Jerusalem (Grove) was composed by Hubert Parry (ODNB) and the words to the song come from William Blake’s poem of 1804, Milton. (William Blake ODNB). The poem is also the source of the phrase ‘chariots of fire’, a reference to Elijah (Oxford Handbook of English Literature and Theology; Encyclopedia of Dead Sea Scrolls). OUP publishes an accompaniment.
  2. ‘Londonderry Air’ from the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland, sung by the Belfast Philharmonic and Phil Kids Choir. The song is more commonly known as ‘Danny Boy’ when lyrics are paired with it (musical airs).
  3. ‘Flower of Scotland’ from Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, sung by The Big Project Choir
  4. ‘Cwm Rhondda’ or ‘Bread of Heaven’ from Rhossili Beach, Wales, sung by Only Kids Allowed, Only Vale Kids Allowed, and the Welsh National Orchestra Singing Club. “Bread of Heaven” is a reference to the Lord’s Prayer (Oxford Companion to the Bible)

Towards the end of this sequence, the ‘March of the Brunels’ (Isambard Kingdom Brunel (ODNB; Grove)) begins towards Glastonbury Tor, complete with a couple ‘General Omnibus Co’ buses advertising biscuits. Kenneth Brannagh (Who’s Who), a Shakespearean actor and director, reads Caliban’s words from William Shakespeare‘s The Tempest (OWC; Grove; incidental music), although in the triumphal style of Henry V than Caliban’s usual mischievous portrayal. (See “Emending Caliban’s ‘scamels’” in Notes and Queries; “Caliban, Columbus, and canines in The Tempest” in Notes and Queries; “Revels’ End: The Tempest and After” in Stage, Stake, and Scaffold.) Edward Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ underscores the speech, a piece often heard during the laying of wreaths at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. [See Elgar above; ‘Nimrod’ dedicated to August Jaeger (ODNB)]


How did Britain get from this green and pleasant land to ironic postmodern society? Via the Industrial Revolution, mass wars, social movements, an influx of immigration, and cultural movements as reflected in this sequence.

Everyone clearly got out their OED to learn that John Milton coined the term ‘pandemonium’. (ODO)

The drastic change in music marks the beginning of this sequence. The drumming is led by Dame Evelyn Glennie (Grove; Who’s Who; “Performing Music and Performing Disability” in Extraordinary Measures), with Glennie under the Olympic Bell and many drummers in the stadium crowd. The music for the slower sequences (the World War I memorial and rings unification) is Underworld’s ‘And I Will Kiss’.

The Industrial Revolution begins: The tree atop Glastonbury Tor rises and industrial age workers enter the stadium from underneath as well as other stadium entrances. They begin taking apart the British meadow set, a strong reference to the impact of the Enclosure Acts and the Highland Clearances. LOCOG has chosen Abraham Darby’s (Grove) 1708 experiment to smelt metal with coke, rather than wood, as the starting point of the Industrial Revolution. (See “The Industrial Revolution: Britain and Europe” in The Lever of Riches; “Understanding the Industrial Revolution” in The English Historical Review)

Smoke stacks rise from underneath the stadium floor. I.M. Brunel (Brannagh) has his picture taken surrounded by Victorian cameras.

The British Suffragettes enter the stadium. Emmeline Pankhurst (ODNB) and Emily Wilding Davison (ODNB) are represented.

The World War I dedication, not just to British soldiers, but to all the world’s lost in the 20th century. Poppies have become a symbol of the war because of Canadian John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields.’ The ‘Accrington Pals’ and other pal battalions are portrayed (men signed up in groups from the same town). (See World War I Origins in OBO; World War I: The Western Front on OBO; numerous books).

More people begin entering the stadium.

  1. Jarrow hunger marchers (ODO; Ellen Wilkinson (ODNB; Who’s Who; “Feminism and Sexuality in Ellen Wilkinson’s Fiction” in Parliamentary Affairs)
  2. The Pearly Kings and Queens (OUPblog; Henry Croft ODNB)
  3. Chelsea Pensioners (ODO; “Alexander Tulloch and the Chelsea Out-Pensioners, 1838–43” in The English Historical Review)
  4. The ‘Windrush generation’ : a version of the ship, passengers, and Notting Hill Carnival performers (See Black British History)
  5. Music: The Sgt Pepper cover version of The Beatles, people on a 1970s DJ float (anyone actually see this?), Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Nostalgia Steel Band (See “Sgt. Pepper and the Beatles: It Was Forty Years Ago Today” in Music and Letters; “All You Need is Theory? The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper'” in Music and Letters; Gordon Thompson frequently blogs about The Beatles; brass band; steel band.)
  6. There is a note that newspaper boys also took part, but I couldn’t see any. Could someone send in more information?

The industrialization has stripped the rustic water wheel and turned it into a textile mill wheel with looms alongside.

A giant ring is being forged in the center of the stadium. Four other rings move from the ridge of the stadium towards the center as the central one begins to rise. As the five rings connect to form the Olympic Rings, a shower of sparks falls.

Happy & Glorious

A filmed sequence begins with a close-up of stitching on a distinctive ‘red coat’ uniform of the Palace Guards. A London taxi drives towards Buckingham Place. A group of tourist children in Brazil caps take interest in the man arriving at the Palace. James Bond (a character that Ian Fleming (ODNB) based on his friend Sir Fitzroy Hew Royle Maclean (ODNB)) has come to escort the Queen via helicopter to the opening ceremony. Her footman Paul and three corgis escort them to the helicopter. The helicopter travels down the Mall, over Picadilly, over to Trafalgar Square, to Parliament Square (where the statue of Winston Churchill waves), past the London Eye, over St. Pauls, over the City where a group of bankers wave and drink champagne, through Tower Bridge, and over to the stadium.

It then becomes a live sequence where two stand-ins (Gary Connery and Mark Sutton) leap from the helicopter with Union flag parachutes. The James Bond Theme plays (OUPblog).

Her Majesty the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Jacques Rogge enter the stadium.

The Union Flag is carried into the Stadium and raised by representatives of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. (OUPblog) Remember that it is the Union Flag on land and the Union Jack at sea.

British National Anthem is sung here by The Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf & Hearing Children. (sheet music 1; sheet music 2).

Music in this section includes: Handel‘s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ (Grove), Handel’s ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks IV: La Rejouissance’ (sheet music), and Blanck Mass’s ‘Sundowner’.

The audience pixel screens which play an important part in the entire event red, white and blue. (See The Story of Semiconductors; Information Technology Policy; and Oxford Handbook of Business History)

Second to the right, and straight on till morning

A reference to Peter Pan’s directions to Neverland. This sequence combines children’s literature and the National Health Service. While the connection is not immediately obvious, J.M. Barrie (ODNB) donated the rights to Peter Pan (OUPblog) to the Great Ormond Street Hospital. GOSH’s acronym and logo are created with children’s hospital beds, which later form “N.H.S.”

The National Health Service is a subject of intensive study and we have a fantastic blog post about popular opinion during its formation coming up Friday. Aneurin Bevan played a key role in its formation. (Also see 24 hours to save the NHS: The Chief Executive’s account of reform 2000 to 2006)

Swing music and dancing illustrates the doctors and nurses struggle to get the children to sleep. Eventually, the children settle. As a child begins reading Peter Pan under the covers, J.K. Rowling (Who’s Who) begins reading the story aloud. Monsters begin to enter the stadium and the villians of British literature come to life.

Children’s Literature References

Mary Poppins, the creation of P.L. Travers (ODNB), comes in to save the day.

More information on children’s literature:

I believe the puzzling giant baby is supposed to be a reference to ultrasound (guessing from Media Kit notes), which was a technology developed by two Scottish doctors and team.

Mike Oldfield (Grove) performs two tracks: ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ and ‘Tubular Bells’ throughout the sequence.


The London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle (Grove; Who’s Who), performs “Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis, composed for the movie of the same name. The film’s title was inspired by the line, “Bring me my chariot of fire,” from the William Blake poem “Milton” (the same as for the hymn “Jerusalem”). [see above] The piece is notable for combining classical orchestral elements with new music technology, specifically the synthesizer (Grove).

Rowan Atkinson (Who’s Who), performs the role of Mr Bean as the synthesizer player. He appears bored with his repetitive playing, takes a picture with his phone (as athletes parading will do in a few minutes), manages to retrieve a a tissue from his backpack with an umbrella, disposes of the tissue in the nearby grand piano, and quickly drifts off into a comedic dream. In the dream he is running in the famous beach scene of Chariots of Fire, quickly falls behind, cheats through the use of an automobile and tripping a competitor, and awakes to realize he has missed the finale of the song.

The comedic dream is a notable tradition in British literature, including Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And we need more scholarship on British comedy.

frankie & june say… Thanks Tim

Modern Britain takes center stage with a Mini, a multicultural family, and ceaseless technology. The format is supposed to mimic a soap opera to some extent. I had tremendous difficulty getting all the movie/cinema, TV, and music references, so if you can spot anything, please let me know. (Special credit to vh1 and the Telegraph for their music lists.)

A mother (with child in the backseat) drive towards home in a Mini Cooper. The theme song for The Archers, a long-running radio drama, is playing. Just after entering the home, a clip from Michael Fish’s infamous weather report plays (“Don’t worry about the hurricane” which turned out to be the worst storm since 1703).

Two sisters prepare for a night out on the town as Sugababes’ “Push The Button” plays. The family watches “Harry Hill’s TV Burp.” The teenagers plan a night out clubbing (clubs = sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties). Giant glowsticks are used to depict the London Underground. And then it becomes a love story between June and Frankie.

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD)’s “Enola Gay
“Food, Glorious Food” (Oliver! Soundtrack)
Rizzle Kicks’ “When I was a Youngster”
The Jam’s “Goin’ Underground”

Fawlty Towers, Oliver!, and Blackadder all pop up on screen.

As the children leave, there are numerous British tv clips. Was Coronation Street in there? [If anyone can send in info, please do.]

Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” (Grove; Who’s Who) plays as Frankie and June spot each other on the Underground. A clip from Gregory’s Girl plays, and then a clip from Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. June leaves her phone and the plot is set in motion.

The Sixties Club:
The Who’s “My Generation”
Rolling Stones “I can’t get no satisfaction” (Grove; Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice)
Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop”
The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night”
The Beatles’ “She Loves You” [see above]

The sixties club forms a CND symbol (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), now more commonly used as a peace sign.

Clips from Ken Loach’s Kes, then A Matter of Life and Death (“Rediagnosing A Matter of Life and Death” in Screen; “‘The true business of the British movie’? A Matter of Life and Death and British film culture” in Screen) play.

Music in the Seventies Club:
Mud’s “Tiger Feet”
Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Under Foot” (Grove)
The Specials’ “A Message to You Rudy” (Grove)
David Bowie’s “Starman” (Grove; Who’s Who)
Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Grove)
Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” [see above]

During Bowie’s song, a star symbol is formed and various men go up in rocket packs. Giant Bowie and Queen masques are also used. During Queen, a clip from Wayne’s World and the family wearing 3D glasses are shown.

Music in the Eighties Club:
New Order’s “Blue Monday”
Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”
Soul II Soul’s “Back To Life” (Grove)
Happy Mondays’ “Step On” (Grove)
Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” (Grove)

The Eighties club forms a happy face. A clip from Billy Eliot plays over “Back To Life.”

Music in the Nineties Club:
Prodigy’s “Firestarter” (Grove)
Underworld’s “Born Slippy NUXX”

There are some pogo-sticking mohawk (or mohican as they say in the UK) things for “Firestarter.” I’m guessing a Trainspotting clip played over “Born Slippy NUXX” but I didn’t catch it.

Frankie & June kiss music:
‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ (originally a Broadway song and now West Ham’s anthem) sung as Frankie and June walk towards each other.
Blur’s “Song 2″ (Grove) plays as they kiss.

The film clip playing as Frankie and June approach is from Four Weddings and a Funeral (with a brief snippet of City Lights in there). The kiss montage contains: William & Kate Royal Wedding Kiss, Planet of the Apes, Casablanca, Shrek, an unidentified 1960s movie [help!], Lady & the Tramp, William & Kate again, Beth Jordache and Margaret Clemence on “Brookside” in 1994, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Lady & the Tramp again, William & Kate again, Singing in the Rain, Planet of the Apes again, Wall-E, Romeo + Juliet.

Officially a couple (‘status update’), June decides a house party is in order. She and Frankie are dancing in the attic as people dance in the house and on the stadium floor. Dizzie Rascal performs live on stage and appears in filmed sequences.

House Party Music:
Dizzee Rascal’s “Bonkers”
Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse, “Valerie”
Muse, “Uprising”
Tinie Tempah’s “Pass Out”

Who’s that guy typing underneath the house at the end? Why it’s Tim Berners-Lee. And we know who he is.

Fireworks at Tower Bridge

David Beckham is driving a speedboat down the Thames. Jade Bailey, a young footballer, is carrying the Olympic flame. What would Cornelis Drebbel (ODNB) say?

Abide With Me

This choreographed dance sequence, including the Akram Khan [see above], was cut from the NBC broadcast. Emeli Sandé sings a hymn by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847. Images are projected on to a Memorial Wall for the people who could not come to the ceremony. The 7/7 bombings are a heavy reference throughout.


The parade of nations. I’m afraid I can’t cover every country but I thought it was important to highlight a few.

The basic format is teams enter the stadium with three people in front (local child holding a copper petal incribed with each country’s name, the flag bearer, and a placard bearer). The placard bearer wears a dress with the faces of Londoners who auditioned for the ceremony. Teams circle around the stadium, then enter the center of the arena. The country’s flag is planted on the tor and the golden petals are attached to long tubes in the center of the stadium. Drummers keep the teams moving quickly with a rapid beat.

Notable moments:

  1. Greece, birthplace of the Olympics, is the first the enter the stadium. Should we remind the world of the debt we owe to Greece? (Olympic Greatness)
  2. The Czech Republic had a lovely nod to UK weather with their rubber wellies and umbrellas. Glad to see some designers with a sense of humor.
  3. France waved Union flags along with tricolores. Cette entente cordiale est très cordiale, n’est-ce pas?
  4. Israel’s team is marking the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre when Israeli athletes were taken hostage and murdered at the 1972 Olympics. The IOC rejected requests for a moment of silence during the opening ceremony, but a memorial in Guildhall was held on Monday 6 August 2012 and Rogge held an informal moment of silence at the Olympic Village.
  5. Jamaica’s flag-bearer was Usain Bolt – fastest man in the world – and Jamaica got a huge cheer. Remember the number of immigrants from Commonwealth nations that now live on the British Isles (see entire opening ceremony up to this point).
  6. Malayasia was my personal favorite for beatiful Olympic uniforms. I’m hoping to strong-arm our friends at Berg Fashion Library for further commentary on the outfits.
  7. Russia’s flagbearer is Maria Sharpova whose tennis career is resurging after winning the French Open and some fantastic performances over the last year. (Picturing Putin’s Russia)
  8. Saudi Arabia sent three women to the Olympics. This is the first Olympics where every country has sent male and female athletes.
  9. South Africa’s flag-bearer was Caster Semenya who underwent gender investigation. (We’re hoping to have a book on this very topic soon.)
  10. Uganda has an interesting and complex history that cannot be easily dismissed with an Idi Amin reference.
  11. United States has the largest delegation of athletes and they certainly look happy to be in London.
  12. A huge cheer as David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ came on and Team GB entered the stadium decked in sporty white and gold by Stella McCartney. Seven billion pieces of confetti are dropped. Also happy to see many of the athletes in the stadium cheer Team GB on.

Music in this sequence:

  • Chemical Brothers’ “Galvanize”
  • Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep”
  • Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive”
  • Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” (Grove)
  • U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” (Grove)
  • David Bowie’s “Heroes” [see above]

It is at this point that both the Guardian and BBC live blogs report arrests and kettling of cyclists outside the Olympic stadium. Both also noted the not every member of the teams could attend because of events starting the next morning, and one team held their own ceremony.

Bike a.m.

As the British athletes take their place in the center of the stadium, the Arctic Monkey’s “I bet you look good on the dancefloor” starts up. They follow this with a cover of “Come Together” (The Beatles).

Several cyclists dressed as doves (large wing and tail costumes on their back) enter the stadium and ride in circles around it until the finale when one dove cyclist ascends through the sky.

It is traditional to release doves to symbolize peace at the beginning of the Olympic games. Doves are a near universal symbol for peace (See OBSO; Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace)

This is also an opportunity to celebrate the bicycle (the modern version of the bicycle is a Scottish invention). Many of Britain’s medal hopes rest on its cycling teams (which is funny because I think of cycling as the sporting passion of the French). It’s also interesting to note the role the bicycle played in the women’s rights movement (bicycle-riding women were burned in effigy).

Let the Games Begin

The official opening begins with speeches by Sebastian Coe and Jacques Rogge. The Queen states: “I declare open the Games of London, celebrating the 30th Olympiad of the modern era.”

A series of fireworks is followed by the Olympic anthem and the flag bearing. Members of the Royal Armed Forces raise the flag. Then the Oath is taken.

Daniel Barenboim (Grove; Who’s Who)
Sally Becker
Shami Chakrabati CBE
Leymah Gbowee
Haile Gebrselassie
Doreen Lawrence OBE
Ban Ki-moon
Marina Silva
Muhammad Ali

Oath Takers:
Sarah Stevenson Athlete
Mik Basi Official
Eric Farrell Coach

There is a Light That Never Goes Out

I’m not putting together an Oxford Companion to the Olympic Torch Relay, so I’ll try to keep this brief.

Remember this all goes back to Greece, which means Prometheus must get a mention (even Ridley Scott’s version).

At Limehouse Cut, David Beckham’s boat turns off the Thames, heading through the Olympic Park. Jade Bailey passes the Torch to Sir Steve Redgrave (Who’s Who), who carries the Flame into the Stadium. He is flanked by an honor guard of 500 Olympic Park construction workers.

The Torch passed to young athletes who jog around the stadium taking alternate places in the front of a pyramid formation. The athletes: Callum Airlie (17), Jordan Duckitt (18), Desirée Henry (16), Katie Kirk (18), Cameron MacRitchie (19), Aidan Reynolds (18), Adelle Tracey (19). Their sponsors: Lynn Davies (Who’s Who), Duncan Goodhew MBE (Who’s Who), Dame Kelly Holmes DBE MBE (Mil) (Who’s Who), Dame Mary Peters DBE (Who’s Who), Sir Steve Redgrave CBE [above], Shirley Robertson (Who’s Who), and Daley Thompson.

The bell rings. The sponsors give each young athlete a torch, which they light from the main one. Once all the torches are lit, they jog to the center of the stadium. A circular contraption with inscribed petals attached to stems is in the center. They ignite flames in seven petals and these quickly ignite the rest. The stems rise and form one large flame.

Music: ‘Caliban’s Dream’ by Underworld, performed by the Dockhead Choir, Dame Evelyn
Glennie, Only Men Aloud male voice choir, soprano Elizabeth Roberts, Esme Smith (who co-wrote the soprano and choral score), and Alex Trimble (lead singer and guitarist of Two Door Cinema Club).

And in the end…

Fireworks are set off around the Olympic Park. The Arcelor Mittal Orbit, created by Anish Kapoor (Grove; Who’s Who) and Cecil Balmond is prominent. As the fireworks finish, the Olympic rings forged earlier are shown in the stratosphere.

Sir Paul McCartney sings “The End” and then transitions to “Hey Jude.” There is a momentary lapse with the backing tracks, but the crowd gets involved singing along. Volunteers and athletes can be seen holding hands and swaying to the music.

Image: London 2012 Olympic Torch prototype. Courtesy of London 2012.

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  1. Steve Sarson

    Very interesting information–thank you. Here are my thoughts (as a historian), if you’re interested: http://stevesarson.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/the-olympic-opening-ceremony-as-popular.html

  2. Mark Harrison

    … tiny mention for the ‘Tardis’ sound effect that happened in the Bohemian Rhapsody piece.

    It has been reported that there was a longer Dr Who video montage right up to the final rehearsals, but it was cut for timing reasons, leaving a double swish as the only reference to the world’s longest-running SciFi series.

    At about 5 seconds here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78bGdSd9S9E

  3. David Bradbury

    A very handy guide, thanks for all your hard work.
    I haven’t found OUP references for the following comments, but I hope they’ll be of some use:

    The Olympic Bell was not made [I think “forged” is the wrong word here] in the Whitechapel Foundry, but designed by them and (because of its size) subcontracted to a Dutch firm, much to the annoyance of rival founders Taylors of Loughborough, who had submitted a tender on the basis that they would cast it in Britain.

    “F Buttons’s” seems wrong at both ends, though the decision not to print the full first word is in line with the official listing.

    The “Hobbit set” version of the British countryside has emerged as one element of a strong (if occasionally frivolous) internet meme based on comparisons of stills from the ceremony and from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.
    See also Tolkien’s own illustration “The Hill: Hobbiton-Across-the-Water” from “The Hobbit”.
    Treating Tolkien as the elephant in the room raises all sorts of possibilities, providing, for example, an explanation for the numerology of the event, in the famous verse from LOTR which lists the various odd-numbered sets of rings of power. On the other hand, there is another (perhaps additional rather than alternative) explanation for the number choices and almost everything else in the production- the great game of “tease the Chinese”. Where the Beijing 2008 opening ceremony had a traditionally lucky eight bearers of the Olympic flag, London added a very special ninth in the form of Mohammed Ali, one of many 2012 participants who challenged the 2008 aura of airbrushed perfection.

    The Giant Baby- good call on the ultrasound, neatly explaining the ripples seen on the baby’s body, and the lack of colour. However, the Scottish team’s triumph from the late 1950s onward was specifically the development of ultrasound imaging for obstetrics- the basic principle had been pioneered a decade earlier in the USA.

    Your explanation of the origin of the title “Chariots of Fire” is a little unclear. The “Jerusalem” verses form part of Blake’s preface to his poem “Milton” (a preface which is, amusingly in this context, a call for revolution against the cultural traditions which originated in ancient Greece).

    The pogoing punks first appeared to accompany “Pretty Vacant” back in the Seventies, then bounced back for “Firestarter”. And yes, “Born Slippy” was given its famous context in “Trainspotting”.

    Nice to see “Wall-E” in the kissing montage. I suspect that if asked, Danny Boyle would not begrudge the loss of one or two of his “Slumdog Millionaire” Oscars which, under a less anti-animation Academy regime, might have gone instead to the Pixar classic.
    Typo “Dizzie” for “Dizzee” at the end of the kiss section.

    Do enough of us actually know with confidence who Tim Berners-Lee is? Many a geek in recent weeks has had to point out that he did not “invent the internet”. Rather, as his tweet indicated, he took an internet which had existed for two decades as a walled garden for academics and techies, and transformed it into the first digital information sharing system “for everyone”.

    The 7/7 bombings connection for “Abide With Me” is intriguing precisely because it is NOT a “heavy reference”. There were many photos in the memory wall section, all uncaptioned, and if Hazel Irvine hadn’t highlighted 7/7 in the BBC commentary, we would all have been left to interpret the tribute in our own ways.

    “Several” cyclists dressed as doves- did you mean something like “several dozen” or were you distracted by NBC’s commentators?

    Ending fireworks- perhaps worth mentioning that the music was Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse”, ending with the words “And the sun is eclipsed by the moon”, the significance of which seems to have become apparent at the beginning of the Paralympic opening ceremony.

  4. […] to ensure your blog editor loses sleep… The Oxford Companion to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony by Alice […]

  5. […] O: Olympics The 2012 Olympic opening ceremony held in the UK provided many surprises and moments of awe for those viewing the opening of the games. However, nothing matched the sense of shock and overarching joy of seeing Her Majesty the Queen escorted by 007, played by Daniel Craig [Who's Who], from Buckingham Palace to a waiting helicopter. The Queen and Bond then parachute into the London Olympic opening ceremony and provide the world with a royal entrance like nothing that has ever been seen before. Read the OUPblog’s Oxford Companion to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony. […]

  6. […] of Dame Evelyn Glennie, the deaf percussionist who performed so impressively at this year’s Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Check out her performance of “Libertango” for solo […]

  7. […] composed in my round-up, but I can’t look back on 2012 without thinking of the hours put into “The Oxford Companion to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony.” I never did get round to one on the closing ceremony. Perhaps I can face it in 2013! Alice […]

  8. David

    Have it recorded on my sky box harddrive, will watch it from time to time for years to come I think.

  9. John

    just watched it again what a wonderful ceremoney

  10. […] A. “The Oxford Companion to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony”. OUP blog, 12 Oct. 2012, https://blog.oup.com/2012/08/oxford-companion-london-2012-opening-ceremony/ Accessed 6 July […]

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