It seems that Tory MP Aidan Burley didn't terrifically enjoy the Olympics opening ceremony. It was, he said, "the most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen - more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?". Relief soothed him as the dancing and performance gave way to the sports folk. "Thank God the athletes have arrived," he said. "Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!" Tush and fie.
That said, I understand the MP is something of a frustrated impresario, and his snarky observations may have more to do with personal pique than political prattery. According to a few well-placed sources, Burley attempted to collar Danny Boyle no fewer than five times as the multi-million pound event was being put together, with suggestions for additional and amended scenes to make the spectacle truly memorable, articulating an idea of Britain, its history and future which all right-thinking subjects of Her Majesty ought to be able to get behind. Unfortunately for Burley, every single one ended up on the cutting-room floor. I really can't see why. They all sound spiffy to me.
Instead of depicting The Empire Windrush, which brought a large cohort of West Indians to London after World War II, a large mock up of the Belgrano would flee from an advancing regimented battalion of Margaret Thatchers, sitting in tanks. Suspense builds until the unit of Thatchers cry as one "Take them!". Every military drum band in the country hammers, fierce. The tanks' turret-mounted cannons sound in a single volley, and the Argentine ship explodes in a festival of colour and noise. The military bands surrounding the stadium pipe up "Rule, Britannia!"The Dark Lord Voldemort, the Childcatcher and Peter Mandelson erupt from the ruins of the smashed vessel. Rather than being chased away by Marys Poppins, the lithe Thatcher-dancers leave their tanks, and to the stains of Land of Hope and Glory, invest the wicked wizard and cronies with peerages. Peeling Union jacks from the tanks, the Thatchers form the vast ermine and scarlet drape of Baron Voldemort of Hogwarts' cagoule of state. The scene evaporates to the joyful strains of Elgar's Nimrod, as social comity is restored.The stars of the hit West End show Warhorse re-enact the Peterloo Massacre, with real Mancunians bussed in to London play the victims of the vicious dragoons, to be accompanied to the strains of Jona Lewie's festive "Stop the Calvary". David Cameron to make an impromptu guest appearance as the ruddy-faced but incompetent cavalry officer in charge.
Post-boxes rise from the floor, and a host of ladies dressed in 19th and early 20th century costume dramatically lob mysterious packages into them. In a single burst, each box explodes sending multicoloured streamers of paper arching across the stadium. The lighting: sepia, period. Music: After the Ball. A crowd of excited punters, waving papers form into a disorderly cheering mass behind the Olympic hillock (decorated with the Tyburn tree, the dead Oliver Cromwell, played by Hugh Grant, hanging from its branches).The suffragettes link arms, and form a line blocking the opposite half of the stadium. The Epsom Derby. National treasure Stephen Fry, dressed as George V, ostentatiously crowns a pantomime horse - played by Nicholas Soames and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. Emily Davidson (here represented by Dame Judy Dench) breaks out of the suffragette line and intercepts the cantering horse - and is run down in a dramatic explosion of hoof-gouged gore. For a splash of that British sense of Humour George V (Fry) to recite Shakespeare's lines from the final Act of Richard III: "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" All cheer and the tableau evaporates.A Larkrise to Candleford scene, a rural idyll of pastoral England. Overworked children wearily pull at the teats of cows, and bail hay. Stuffy ladies find themselves caught up in suffocatingly safe emotional predicaments. A mix-up at the post office furnishes much of the social drama. In the green fields, cheerfully mud-slapped workers busily sow ballot papers into the soil - every vote cast for the Conservative Party. The light mimics the turn of the seasons. Puce autumn, the ice-blue of winter, the cautious lambent peachflesh of spring - and then, all in a rush, the hot lusty red heat of summer. As the seasons turn, the first shoots of dark hair push through the lovingly tended earth. Come the red, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, wearing full unsullied cricket whites, has slowly sprouted from the good earth. He favours us with a recitation of the opening verse of W.H. Auden's "On This Island":
"Look, stranger, on this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea."
From light lavender lighting, to bloody, fell-handed illumination. Smog. Smoulder. Gloom. The stadium is rent in two by an advancing line of red liquid which bisects the field. The twin floods pool at the very centre of the stadium in a smouldering, scarlet cauldron. To a riot of drums, Kenneth Branagh explodes from the water atop a plinth shooting every higher and higher into the sky. He is dressed as Enoch Powell, and reads a moving passage of Rudyard Kipling's "The White Man's Burden", as ethnic minority dancers carrying whips crackle about him, offering crisp percussive snaps of their goads, driving the population of Candleford into a series of caves which open in the floor of the complex. Haunting, manic laughter.London. A 1930s Italian cafe - Luigi's - is lowered onto the centre of the stage, as several dancers, dressed as different sorts of pasta slide uneasily onto the stage. The ethnically-stereotyped but cheerful business owner hands out ice creams to little children. In a trice, the dancers peel off their penne overcoats, to reveal army uniforms. The moustachioed business owner is brutally taken into custody by the children, to celebrate the internment of Britain's Italian population during World War II. A huge silver cloche ascends into the sky, revealing an outsize and outrageous James Corden, dressed as Mussolini, sitting on top of the Olympic pyre. A helicopter appears overhead, and Jeremy Clarkson falls from it like a fleshy comet, landing beside Corden, swaddled in the uniform of the parachute regiment. The car-enthusiast slugs Corden across the napper, produces a box of matches, lights a fag - and casually flicks it onto the pyre. It explodes with heat and flame. Cue the world-beating running, hopping and leaping.The ceremony to be enlivened throughout by smaller, tableau snatches of British life. A plumber tapping his watch and shaking his head to a distressed looking housewife beside a washing machine. Admiral Byng's execution. A jolly knot of gentlemen, enjoying brandy and choice cigars at their club. A doctor demanding a shiny shilling to stitch up a patient's suppurating chest wound, before handing the gleaming coin over to a triangle of snazzy looking executives in bespoke suits with sharp lines. A knot of shakoed readcoats smartly repelling undisciplined crowds of Napoleon lookalikes with orderly volleys of musket fire. Etcetera. Etcetera.
Maybe next time, eh?