Oh Danny Boyle, a knight, a knighthood’s calling! Well if you are to believe the good folk of the English town of Bury – where the Oscar winning director and architect of the Olympic opening ceremony hails from – it certainly won’t be long before one of their own is summoned to Buck house for a bit of ceremonial sword waving. Although from a quick poll of my co-workers, it seems that Mr. Boyle’s epic production didn’t strike a chord with everyone.
Kiwis, South Africans, Indians, Fijians and Samoans alike confessed they were left in a state of bewilderment by the transition from country bumpkins, through the industrial revolution, a manic party of modern music and an intense celebration of the National Health Service. Where was the sport? Where was the story of our growth from mother earth? There wasn’t even a big red bus for crying out loud.
All of which misses the point by a country mile, because what Boyle offered was perhaps a better insight into the mentality of the British than the world has ever seen.
The national public relations department has hardly been doing the old country proud of late, portraying a land of gypsy weddings, drunken yobbos and the bloody Chawners. God Save the Queen? God help her would surely be more appropriate; trapped on that isle of alcoholic, bludging, wasters. You would be forgiven for thinking the only culture that could be found in dear old Blighty was in the yoghurt.
But that is to miss the point. For every tracksuit-clad teenage mother of eight or herd of scavenging pikeys there are hundreds – thousands possibly – who still place great esteem on the values that made the nation great. Jam and Jerusalem. Cricket on the village green. Keep Calm and Carry On. People who take a quiet pride in the fact that the world today runs on the engineering genius of Brunel, still dances to the tunes of Lennon and McCartney and entertains itself with sports first dreamed of in that green and pleasant land.
Boyle played to this magnificently. And despite the smattering of comic turns and self-deprecating humour, it was a celebration of Britain for the British. And for the rest of the world, an education.
But perhaps there are some who have already been educated. I suspect that unique combination of eccentricity, creativity and technical nous will be strangely familiar to anyone who has experienced the ‘joys’ of owning a British car. And I don’t mean an American car designed for the British market – Ford Capri owners take note – but something truly British, designed on the back of a fag packet and built in a factory run by Trade Unions or simply a glorified shed.
Be it something mainstream like the Mini or Morris Minor, a working tool like the Land Rover or an out-and-out work of lunacy such as any TVR or Ultima you care to mention, there is that wonderfully hedonistic mix of engineering resourcefulness, character and uncertainty as to whether a catastrophic electrical fault will render the whole thing useless at a very important moment. And they can all point to providing a platform of technology, performance, fun and inspiration from which the rest of the world has taken up the baton and run.
For a country that has to deal with its recent cultural contributions including dwarf-tossing rugby teams, Simon Cowell and a fat Lancastrian TV freak show, it should be wonderfully reassuring to be reminded that the strains of national influence can be seen in so much of what makes the world great today.
So while the rest of the world may have been left flummoxed by a very British Olympic opening ceremony, it should come as no surprise that the locals have taken it – and its creator – to their hearts. Oh Danny Boyle, oh Danny Boyle, they love you so.