Apparently many Olympic traditions date back to the Nazis...
I may not live to see the Revolution, but at least I know what it will be like. Because I was there when the Olympic torch came to London.
The government and the BBC had intended things to be so different. The torch was to be carried by Britain’s brightest and best all the way from Wembley Stadium to the Millennium Dome.
Crowds would cheer as Sir Steve Redgrave handed it to Paul Radcliffe, and Kevin Pieterson to Konnie Huq. And so on through Dame Kelly Holmes, Duncan Goodhew, Denise Van Outen, Sir Trevor McDonald, Max Moseley, Lembit Opik and the Cheeky Girls, then Mr Speaker Martin all the way to the Sugarbabes at Greenwich.
The BBC website even speculated that spontaneous street parties might break out across London. As the location of those parties had been announced in the previous day’s newspapers, they weren’t as spontaneous as all that.
But I was part of the crowd and we weren’t having any of it. We booed the runners, Huq was jostled and Opik had to be extinguished by the fire brigade.
And we asked one another who thought it was a good idea to invite the Chinese military police to guard the torch. As Lord Coe said: “They are horrible. They did not speak English … I think they were thugs.”
He also said the Chinese guards tried to punch him three times. But not even that could reconcile us to them.
In their blue track suits and white baseball caps they resembled nothing so much as the race of fierce, war-like Smurfs that Saruman bred in the vaults beneath Isengard. (It’s a while since I read Lord of the Rings, but I think you will find I have got the essentials right.)
The International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, thought it was a shame the relay was disrupted: “We were sad for the athletes and the torch-bearers. We were sad for the children who watched their heroes and role models booed.”
Nonsense. It will have taught those children a valuable lesson. Just because you see someone on television, it does not mean they offer a moral example you should follow.
Or maybe we should defend Olympic traditions?
The practice of parading the torch around the world dates all the way back to 2004. But it’s true the idea of carrying the flame from Olympus to the venue has a longer pedigree.
Like most Olympic traditions, it was invented for the Berlin Games of 1936. Albert Speer was in charge of the pageantry there, and he decided to repeat the “cathedral of light” effect that had gone down so well at the Nuremberg rallies.
And will the Olympics change China? The Berlin Games did nothing to bring Hitler down, and I’ve never heard it suggested that Moscow 1980 had anything to do with the collapse of the Soviet regime a few years later.
So it was a joyous day, showing London at its vibrant best. People from all classes and all cultures united to howl abuse at a parade of shallow celebrities.
I may come up to Town more often.
Letters urging me to apply for the vacant editorship of the New Statesman arrive by every post, but I decided not to call in at the magazine’s offices while I was in London.
Last time I was there Kevin Maguire’s whippet bit me. Besides, I find it hard to stomach the way that Julian Clary holds court.
Most comedians attract an entourage and Clary usually manages to pull in a large one.
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