Spirit of Victor Meldrew is cast out as London uses humour in Olympic bid

Livingstone shows how an amusing campaign can steal a march on joyless Paris and tainted Madrid
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Ken Livingstone, as is his wont, departed from schedule yesterday in helping to present the detailed plans for London's 2012 Olympic bid.

Ken Livingstone, as is his wont, departed from schedule yesterday in helping to present the detailed plans for London's 2012 Olympic bid.

Like a stand-up comic on a riff, the Mayor of London warmed to his theme that Britons were temperamentally pessimistic. "We have that feeling that the world's going to hell," he extemporised. "It's almost as if the soul of Victor Meldrew lurks in us, waiting to break out. But I think that's changing. There's no reason why these Games can't be made to come in on time and on budget."

Resuming his text, Livingstone added: "Confidence in Britain's bid is rising at home and abroad. We have planning permission in place, we have an agreed funding package, we have the green light for new transport schemes... the bid belongs to us all. Support it and believe in it. It's our chance to renew, revitalise and re-energise our city. Nothing could be more inspiring than to compete for this honour, to win it, and then to go on and deliver the most successful Games in history - one no one alive will ever forget.'

Although Livingstone has an irrepressible urge to go out on a loop (a vague enquiry by a reporter from the The Times concerning negative aspects to a London Games elicited the following: "I'm sure that I can't think of any... with the exception that your newspaper will probably still be around") he was broadly on-message yesterday as he took part in a genuinely impressive exercise to explain the Games blueprint that was handed to the International Olympic Committee on Monday.

Livingstone's mention of confidence went to the heart of yesterday's efforts by a London 2012 bid which is being chaired with increasing assurance by Sebastian Coe.

While his predecessor, Barbara Cassani, was nowhere to be seen - like the spent first stage of a rocket, she now appears to have drifted off into the cosmos - the double Olympic gold medallist played the central role in presenting the capital's renewed aspirations. He stressed at all points how the criticisms made by the IOC in their evaluation report six months ago over transport links, regeneration, political backing and public support, had been diligently addressed.

As the bidding process moves into a more open stage of lobbying ahead of February's visit by the IOC Evaluation Commission, London 2012 organisers revealed a device that could prove subtly effective - humour. It is something that has been conspicuously lacking this week in rival presentations by the Madrid and Paris bids.

A four-minute promotional video will surely engage many of the 123 IOC members who will decide in July whether the 2012 Games go to London, Paris, Madrid, New York or Moscow.

Linked by the figure of a girl who runs past the sights of London the film sees successive members of the public catching the spirit of the Games and attempting various Olympic activities such as pole-vaulting with a scaffold bar or fencing with rolled umbrellas.

There is a sequence of cameo appearances by Jeremy Irons, Helen Mirren, Martine McCutcheon, Olympians Kelly Holmes and Matthew Pinsent, Roger Moore (in 007 mode) and David Beckham, who is pictured scratching his head over a crossword in a café before responding to the fleeting sight of the running girl and filling in the last letter of his troublesome word - "united".

The gags are sufficiently visual to appeal beyond English-speaking IOC members. But the enterprise would have been fruitless had the earlier concerns of the IOC not been addressed.

What became clear in the course of yesterday's presentation was that the London team have been dotting their i's and crossing their t's assiduously.

Jonathan Edwards, amiable and articulate, underlined the fact that every sporting venue put forward - including those for shooting, mountain-biking and fencing which have been made more central at the IOC's request - had been approved and signed off by the Bid's athletes' commission, headed by five-times Olympic champion Steve Redgrave.

As a result, London 2012 now claims the most compact of the five bids, as well as the unique feature of having an Olympic Village at the centre of the main Olympic Park.

The statistics are stacking up in the capital's favour. Eighty per cent of competitors will be within 20 minutes of their venues and 50 per cent of them will live and compete in the Olympic Park. When it comes to the Paralympics, the number of competitors within 20 minutes of their venues will rise to 95 per cent. There will be 10 dedicated rail lines supplying the Olympic Park - Sydney only had the one. There will be a capacity to transport 240,000 people per hour, with one train arriving every 15 seconds.

Beyond the statistics, however, there appears to be a momentum gathering in a week where London's two main perceived rivals have enjoyed no conspicuous improvement in their fortunes. Paris's presentation was viewed as being safe, but dull and Madrid's organisers have seen the racist incidents during Wednesday's football match between England and Spain threaten to sully their international standing.

Coe acknowledged that what took place in the Bernabeu Stadium was a "disfiguring episode", but denied that Madrid should now lose the right to host the Olympics. He was gracious - and he can afford to be.

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