An Attempt At A Glossary For Americans Watching The Olympic Opening Ceremony

It was rather British. Here's a little help over some of the main aspects, to provide a little glossary. Twelve to start…

1. The Red Arrows flyby, the aeroplanes billowing out red white and blue, are the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team. Often on hand at important events to provide a colourful skybound spectacle.

2. The Shipping Forecast "Dogger, Fisher Bite", always heard at the end of the night on Radio 4, and listened to by people with no interest in shipping or forecasts, as a ritual of nighttime passage.

3. The countdown of numbers took examples from across Britain, and especially London. 18 in neon was taken from the sex shops of Soho.

4. The trip down the Thames was incredibly stylised from its mythical start through institutions of Henley, Richmond, the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race and into London, with the a snatch of the theme tune of The South Bank Show as they pass the South Bank, Pink Floyd's pink infalatble pig over the Battesea Power Station, and then the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen, a song that was banned from airplayduring the Queen's Silver Jubilee, joining The Jam's Going Underground as they went through the tube network, and the drum beats accompanying the aerial shot of the Thames are from the theme tune to TV soap Eastenders, of which that posed shot makes up the title screen.

5. The song Jerusalem based on the poem by William Blake is a staple of many British institutions, the line "England's green and pleasant land" and gives us the line "Chariots Of Fire" which named a famous Olympic sporting film which we'll get to later, and then dovetails into the threat of "dark satanic mills"  Which is exactly what happened, the Industrial Revolution in Britain, the countryside is ripped up to make cities and industry, and the countryfolk head there looking for work. It was a big thing.

6. Kenneth Branagh is playing Isombard Kingdom Brunel (if speaking from Shakespeare's Tempest) the most iconic representation of the Industrial Revolution. He was responsible for huge feats of engineering, many of which are still part of modern Britain. The line about "Be not afear'd, the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not" foreshadowed what was to come in the show.


7. The Pearly Kings And Queens. Okay, how to explain this. An East End group of ordinary workers who self-styled themselves their own Kings and Queens and who dress in costumes covered in pearls or the equivalents. Now a touristy thing mostly, but they keep the pearls flying. An embodiment if a cat looking at a king, and then fashioning its own mock crown.

8. The Union Flag parachutes are straight out of the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond is literally on His Majesty's Secret Service here. This also marks the Queen's acting debut.

9. The NHS, is the National Health Service, our universal healthcare. We're really proud of it. GOSH however is the Great Ormond Street Hospital, a charitable hospital that specialises in treating children, and which receives funding from the Peter Pan books. Hence the way in, under the sheets to children's literature with this quote…

10. That's the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Peter Pan's Hook, The Queen Of Hearts from Alice In Wonderland, Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmations, Voldemort from Harry Potter (with JK Rowling on the mike) and Mary Poppins from… well.

I'm hoping Mr Bean and Chariots Of Fire is self explanatory.

11. Frankie And Jean Say Thanks Tim –  I'm not going to go through all the music, film TV shows seen (though I now really want to watch Gregory's Girl and Kes again), but we get a blossoming love story using social networking and people working through the decades to find each other, by way of a lost mobile phone. But as the mother walks to the house from the car, the strains of radio series The Archers, one of the world's longest running soap operas started it off, as well as Michael Fish's disasterously wrong weather forecast that saw blizzards hit the country – and did you catch the sounds of the TARDIS materialising at some point during the seventies? And it was nice for Danny Boyle to use Underworld and show his breakout film that they wrote music for, Trainspotting. Dizzee Rascal's Bonkers track was given greater prominence with a live performance, and is a stereotypical example of modern East End London grime music, exactly where the Olympics stadium has been built. Also notable were songs that were banned in some form on original release such as Anarchy In The UK and Relax… but this love story, this social networking life that we see, is so much down to one man.

12. Under the house is Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, and who created the first website. Yes, he's one of ours. And you though it was Al Gore. He is sat using a NeXT Computer just like the one he wrote the first website on. And his message to the world, spread throughout the stadium is that he web should be for everyone… and the story we've just seen play out, joining two people together, the way people live today, all as as a direct result of the work of this mild mannered underpaid British research scientist.

UPDATE: Apparently NBC didn't know who he was. And in the three hour delay didn't think to Google him. Something Sir Tim made possible…

Okay, that's a batch… any questions? Any more I should add?

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

twitter   facebook square   instagram   globe