Chris Maume: Aboard the round-the-bendy bus
View From The Sofa: Building The Olympic Dream: London Calling, BBC 2, Wednesday
Monday 09 March 2009
It's now a cherished Olympic tradition that the next hosts' short segments at closing ceremonies should be notable only for their naffness, so in one sense the London bus we sent to Beijing, complete with queue, did not disappoint. I liked the line in the Chinese paper Titan Sports Daily the next day: "When the bus pulled over, all the passengers waiting rushed into the door at the same time, which truly damaged the British image."
They may have been slightly missing the point, but they also observed that "the British seem to like to laugh about their stupidity in a funny way", which seems spot on (and a good thing, too). There was plenty of opportunity for that in Building the Olympic Dream, the first in a three-part series, which followed the Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant-style characters given the keys to the brewery and told to organise the piss-up.
Stephen Powell, a TV and live events producer who came up with the bus idea is David Brent (were the film-makers having a laugh when they referred to him as the "creative genius" in the voice-over?), while Britain's head of Olympic ceremonies, Martin Green, is the camp Merchant figure overseeing it all. The closing ceremony segment was basically their audition tape for 2012 – mess it up and they could kiss the big gig goodbye.
Powell presented his ideas. This was what was supposed to happen: the bus rolls into the stadium and peels open to reveal what appears to be a busby but is actually a black woman's afro. Which then explodes into dreadlocks. Then a Queen impersonator comes on (Her Majesty, not the Bohemian Rhapsodists) pushing a hostess trolley and serving tea.
A wave of pain washed over Green's face, resolving into the look that always came over Clint Eastwood just before he killed six men in three seconds in the spaghetti westerns. Oblivious, Powell pressed on.
"There are biscuits of course, we have to have biscuits – people dressed as biscuits – the ones we know and love, like malted milk." He held up a board with biscuits nailed to it.
Then the Olympic logo would turn into a lion and the zebra crossing into a unicorn holding a Belisha beacon. Men in white coats burst into the meeting room and sedated Powell. Or should have.
Drastically toned down, it somehow passed muster with Lord Coe and Co. At which Powell was much relieved: "I only have one idea a year. They were never going to get another one."
As you'll be aware, the bus got built, a routine devised, the celebs brought on board, and the whole operation moved to China – cue Green and Powell watching the opening ceremony with dropping jaws and grimaces of envy. From which point on, whatever you think of the artistic merits of our bit, whether you think we made ourselves a world laughing stock or not, you have to admire their British pluck in getting into the "Bird's Nest" stadium at all.
I don't know if the Chinese authorities wanted us to suffer global humiliation but the obstructiveness seemed wilful. It's certainly implausible, given the all-hands-to-the-pump slickness of their own operation, that they were simply disorganised about it.
First there was the surface. The Chinese insisted on carpet – which is, it seems, about as useful to dancers as a bed of nails. Then there was physically getting the bus and all their equipment from their camp outside Beijing into the city – until a couple of days before the ceremony there was simply no transport. There was no chance to rehearse in the stadium, not even any proper accreditation. In the end, they simply barged their way through into the arena. After all, as any motorist in the capital knows, you don't argue with a London bus.
Give no quarter on the sixth round of the Cup
Call me anal, but in every knockout competition in every sport in the world the round of eight is known as the quarter-finals. Except one. The FA Cup. It's always been the sixth round, and still is, if you look on the FA website. So will somebody please tell Manish Bhasin, Jim Rosenthal and everyone else at the BBC and ITV?
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