2012: Let the fun and Games commence

From mockumentaries to Mike Leigh, the cultural response to 2012 is typically off the beaten track, says Gerard Gilbert
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The Independent Culture

So did you make your ticket application for the 2012 London Olympic Games on time? Or were you so befuddled by the whole Easter-bank-holiday-royal-wedding fixture pile-up that you missed last night's deadline? Maybe you just see the whole running-jumping-throwing-etc extravaganza as a deadly dull waste of tax-payers' money – a subject at best worthy of parody, at worst of ignoring altogether. Well, if you do you're in tune with television's initial artistic response to the Games of the XXX Olympiad.

In Albert Square, for example, there has been precious little mention of the global event unfolding on its doorstep – the BBC even refusing a request from Newham council to update the opening titles of EastEnders to include the Olympic Park (in 1999, the iconic aerial sequence was updated to include the Millennium Dome). That's a bit of an insult, given that the Royal Mail recently awarded the Olympic site the hitherto fictional E20 postcode that is used in the soap. Although a report at the weekend suggested that there could be an Olympic storyline in 2012, you'd think that Billy Mitchell, a proud West Ham United scarf-wearing market trader, would have a view on West Ham vs Spurs tussle over the future of the Olympic Stadium. Think again.

I spotted my first 2012 reference last summer, in Dominic Savage's BBC2 drama Dive, about a young swimmer aiming to compete in London. So far, so aspirational – surely the party-poopers couldn't be far behind. Indeed, along came the BBC4 mockumentary Twenty Twelve, starring Hugh Bonneville, Olivia Coleman and Jessica Hynes as members of the "Olympic Deliverance Committee". The first episode, with brilliant timing, poked fun at the idea of a countdown clock in the same week that its real-life equivalent ground to a halt in Trafalgar Square.

There have been accusations (denied by the BBC) that Twenty Twelve, which is written and directed by John Morton (People Like Us), is a rip-off of a very similar Australian spoof of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, The Games, which is returning this autumn with a spin-off, The Games: London Calling. Twenty Twelve has been commissioned for a second (and surely final) series.

Armando Iannucci is also joining in the party, using Twitter to say that scripts for a new series of The Thick of It are being written in time for the Games. If Twenty Twelve has had fun with Boris Johnson ("If Boris comes they're going to have to sew his shirt into his trousers", quipped Bonneville's head of deliverance, Ian Fletcher), you can only imagine the spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker's future asides about the London mayor.

One of various plausible details in Twenty Twelve, the construction of an Olympic wind turbine dubbed the Angel of Leyton, was based on an idea that was scrapped last summer. But for those with a taste for grand projects, there will still be the 115-metre high Anish Kapoor sculpture in the Olympic Park – aka "the mutant trombone" – whose afterlife will be monitored by an organisation Iannucci might have dreamt up, the Olympic Park Legacy Company. It is doubtful that the OPLC will be demanding advance copies of the author Iain Sinclair's new book, Ghost Milk, which imagines a rather more ignominious future for the Olympic monuments.

Anyway, with Danny Boyle and Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliott) in charge of the creative side of the opening ceremony and Mike Leigh taking part in the Cultural Olympiad – having been co-commissioned by BBC Films and Film4 to make "an Olympic reflection on athletics in general and running in particular, as well as aerobics, karate, football, swimming and Pilates, not to mention taxis and second-hand cars" – it seems 2012 is going to produce one of the most left-field artistic responses to the Olympic ideal (180 degrees different to the totalitarian grandeur of Beijing).

Blame Boris, if you like, for turning up to the Beijing closing ceremony in a London bus. Self-deprecation seems to be the television order of the day.

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