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The Independent Culture
You have to stand around for hours and it's not really conducive to a good performance," said Daley Thompson, explaining the drawbacks of the Olympic Opening Ceremony (BBC1). Des Lynam, I would hazard a guess, did not need to be taught this lesson, which is why David Coleman got the job of commentating on the first event of the centennial Olympics - a marriage of artistic hoop-la and elaborate diplomacy which now demands quite exceptional reserves of stamina. As the friable world crumbles into mini statelets and bite-sized nations, and as more sports achieve Olympic status (brace yourself for bungee-jumping) the opening parade stretches out ever longer.

Being out of training for these night events, I confess I fell out well before the finish - the last thing I recall is the sight of the Lebanese team entering the arena but after that all is merciful blackness. As a result I did not see Muhammad Ali's tremulous appearance as the final torch-bearer and I am glad I didn't. Despite the charitable spin applied by most commentators, it sounded pointlessly distressing, a vivid demonstration of the American appetite for collective pity - already a traditional feature of the Oscar Awards, which are no longer complete until a stricken star has been wheeled on so that the assembled celebrities can give a standing ovation to their finer feelings. Still, good taste and understatement are not what you expect from an opening ceremony. You expect fireworks and marching bands, kilometres of rippling fabric and shifting mosaics of costumed performers. You expect David Coleman, trying to keep his head above water with talk of "tribes" and "spirits" and "significance". All of which you got in American-size portions. (American-size portions had also delivered some of the most perfectly spherical bodies ever seen in an Olympic stadium. When the PA system asked the crowd to get ready to "point your torches at the blimp" there were some nervous- looking tuba players down on the arena floor.)

The best bits were those in which the hosts exploited their native talent for sincere jubilation - in particular the moment when a stadium full of cheerleaders belted out a fizzy drink anthem called "Welcome to the World". The close-ups revealed that they meant every word of it and the authenticity of that tinsel sentiment was somehow more moving than the passages of calculated solemnity which followed. When they got mythological, things were less comfortable. One historical preamble appeared to show the Greek God Lycra advancing towards the Olympic flame with his divine consort Spandex, after which we were given a giant shadow play, in which athletes formed themselves into a frieze of Attic competition. As effects go it was pretty special, a way of magnifying individuals so that they could be seen in the cheap seats, but it carried with it a faint undertone of pornography - when the young men started to chase each other round the circular screen the mind drifted to less decorous vase-paintings, ones that would lend themselves to silhouetted tableaux.

International harmony might be useful for the Olympic games but it is a blight on the thriller writer. In the absence of the old Cold War oppositions, PG Duggan (better known as the actor Patrick Malahide) has had to assemble some new ones. He has taken no chances that he might run out; civilian is set against soldier, criminal against terrorist, policeman against spy and bureaucrats against everybody. Unfortunately, he didn't take the precaution of adding a plot that makes sense. You can enjoy Writing on the Wall (BBC1) if you can believe that an unreconstructed Communist subversive would still look to Yeltsin's Russia for her ideological identity; that after three bombs in a concerted campaign US security would be lax enough to allow the bomber to drive on to a base and casually plant a fourth; that a trained terrorist would recruit street children to conduct her campaign. But it would be easier, surely, to imagine the Wall was still in place.

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