Topics: From the Wires
LONDON (AP) — Baffled?
If elements of Danny Boyle’s three-hour opening ceremony for the London Olympics went over your head, fear not. We are here to help.
The opening ceremony production is replete with inside jokes and cultural references that many non-Brits may find baffling. The Anglophile dream tour embraces the “Slumdog Millionaire” director’s complex and by turns dark and whimsical vision of life on this island nation.
Who else would have thought of dancing nurses?
So read on, all will be clear.
RING THAT BELL
What is it with Britain and bells? Boyle ordered up a 27-ton whopper from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry to ring in the games. Founded in 1570 and officially Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, Whitechapel — just a few miles from the Olympic Park — also made London’s Big Ben and Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell. Boyle loved that ringing a bell to begin a performance was customary at the time of Shakespeare. The bell rung Friday will be inscribed with a line from “The Tempest,” in which Caliban says “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises.”
NURSES, NURSES, EVERYWHERE
Boyle recruited real nurses working for the National Health Service to take part, a tribute to a treasured national institution that started in 1948 amid the ruins of war-devastated Britain. The state-funded NHS provides free health treatment to all Britons, and is embraced by all political parties. While grumbling about its perceived slow service is widespread — and planned government reforms are controversial — its egalitarian ethos is a matter of national pride. When U.S. Republicans criticized the NHS in 2009, a Twitter campaign in its defense became so popular it crashed the NHS website.
WHAT IS JERUSALEM?
Well, there’s the one in the Middle East, and then there’s “Jerusalem,” the hymn that doubles as England’s unofficial national anthem, belted out at big state occasions and sports matches alike. It’s based on a poem by William Blake, which wonders whether there is truth to the legend that Jesus visited England as a young man: (“And did those feet, in ancient time; walk upon England’s mountains green?”) Blake — like Boyle — contrasts that with a bleaker nation of industrialized “dark Satanic mills,” before calling – “Bring me my chariot of fire!” for a new heaven to be built “in England’s green and pleasant land.”
SPEAKING OF SATANIC MILLS
Britain was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, when transformations in agriculture, transportation and technology brutally reshaped society between 1760 and 1850. Spinning technology led to the creation of textile factories, which was followed by James Watt’s invention of the steam engine, and improved coal mining techniques that powered railroads and ships. The advances of the industrial revolution also led to abuses, which sparked riots by workers and eventually spurred the creation of modern organized labor, as well as overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in British cities that triggered outbreaks of cholera and typhoid.
All that industry made Britain an innovation powerhouse — and Boyle celebrates its pioneers, past and present. He has drawn inspiration from two Britons whose names many don’t know, but whose legacy surrounds us every day — Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Tim Berners-Lee. Brunel was the pioneering Victorian engineer who helped knit Britain together with an infrastructure of iron bridges and railways. He died in 1859 but many of his creations — including the first tunnel under the River Thames — are still in use. Computer scientist Berners-Lee is the inventor of the World Wide Web, the infrastructure of the Internet, which is still transforming the way we communicate and the way we live.
Ask Britons from 6 to 60 about their favorite TV show and one answer will probably dominate: “Doctor Who.” The series about a space-hopping Time Lord first aired in 1963; so far 11 actors have played its lead character, an enigmatic alien known only as “The Doctor.” The show fuses science fiction thrills with humanism and whimsy and is vital suppertime viewing for millions. Its pulsating electronic theme music is instantly recognizable to sci-fi geeks everywhere.
And Boyle would not be reflecting modern-day Britain without a reference to long-running and hugely popular soap operas like “Coronation Street” and “EastEnders.” Unlike soaps in many countries, which are set among the wealthy and glamorous, British soaps have gritty working-class backdrops. One British critic once noted that “American soaps are about watching beautiful people suffer. We like to watch ugly people suffer.”
From Britain’s rich literary tradition, Boyle focuses on its cornucopia of children’s classics. British writers gave the world heroes like Peter Pan, Mary Poppins and Harry Potter — and even-more-memorable villains, from Captain Hook to Cruella de Vil to Voldemort. Perfect material for Boyle, who is drawn to both darkness and light, and directed warm but unsentimental depictions of childhood in the movies “Millions” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Despite the British reputation for reserve, get Brits in a crowd — especially at a sporting event — and they love to sing. So no ceremony would be complete without a good old-fashioned sing-along. “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” is the anthem of West Ham United football club, but known to almost everyone. It’s also an Olympic in-joke: West Ham, an east London team, is bidding to move into the Olympic Stadium once the games are over.
GREAT MOMENTS IN BRITISH WEATHER
Of course Britain’s weather HAD to figure in a show about an island nation, with references to BBC radio’s daily institution “The Shipping Forecast.” Though it provides crucial data for mariners, the forecast is admired for its melodic and soothing chant four times a day. It’s a reminder that even in the jet age, Britain is an island nation where much depends on the movement of the sea.
Boyle also pokes fun, reminding the audience of the moment when BBC weatherman Michael Fish assured his audience that a hurricane would bypass Britain’s shores. Alas, it did not. The Great Storm of 1987 was the most severe to hit the nation for centuries.
More Related Stories
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Greek yogurt, toxic waste hazard?
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Cuomo: "Shame on us" if New York City elects Weiner
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Coburn calls questions about tornado aid "typical Washington B.S."
- Joe Francis apologizes for calling jury "retarded"
- Mary Karr: David Foster Wallace and I kept each other alive
- Conspiracy theorists clash over London attack
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Morgan Freeman sleeps during televised interview
- Voting is not a right
- Destroying the planet for record profits
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Pope Francis: Atheists are all right!
- Pic of the day: Barack Obama at prom
- Anti-Islam backlash in London after machete attack
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Obama’s drone speech will probably be maddening
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boehner: "Inconceivable" Obama didn't know about IRS targeting
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11