The Sun Never Sets

Several expressions of British culture not seen on NBC’s broadcasts
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The Closing Ceremony in London were quite the spectacle, but NBC missed out on some truly spectacular sights and sounds from the British Isles.

Photo courtesy of cloudzilla.

Every Olympics is an opportunity for the host nation to broadcast itself to the world as it pleases. Over the past fortnight and change, London has displayed its apparent best, putting together vibrant Opening and Closing Ceremonies. While not so similar to the awe-inspiring, borderline fearsome images we saw in 2008 in Beijing, these events presented London and Great Britain as a whole as the sort of place a person might actually want to live — a cosmopolitan city with rich culture, special heritage, and aging rock stars.

Mayor Boris Johnson and the rest of the city have claimed success, at least if the metric is elevating London to a level above rubbish. Yet, as well as things went, any host city must depend on international television to act as its outlet to the world. When one of those networks is NBC, whose issues we discussed two weeks ago, the host city might not get quite the amount of global attention it had hoped for.

So, while American viewers might have thought they saw London as all it could be, the truth is that they missed out on some of the most daring expressions of British power. After thorough research and reports from Britons on the ground, I have learned of several performances and competitions NBC failed to broadcast during the past two weeks. Read on to get the full picture of how Great Britain wanted the world to experience it.

Mike Leigh Presents the Opening Ceremony
English filmmaker Danny Boyle has been widely lauded for his vision for the Opening Ceremony, a lavish tribute to the United Kingdom’s mark on the world with the Industrial Revolution, literature, health care, music, and some old guy who apparently invented the internet. What many don’t know, though, is that Boyle was not the first choice. Rather, they preferred independent filmmaker Mike Leigh, whose commitment to a low budget and unified theme impressed austerity-minded Prime Minister David Cameron.

Leigh declined but did agree to produce ten minutes of the ceremony. Utilizing his standard collaborative method, Leigh met with his most well-regarded actors and spent months concocting the perfect way to show the world what his home country does best.

The assembled crowd cheered as actor David Thewlis arrived in full trenchcoat in a callback to his award-winning character from 1993’s Naked. He then launched into a five-minute monologue on the adverse effect of corporations on England, which only ended when he was tackled by an anthropomorphic pill. The mascot then took off its helmet to reveal Imelda Staunton as the eponymous character of 2004’s Vera Drake, who kicked off a song-and-dance number about the reproductive health benefits of the National Health Service (as reported by Michael Gluckstadt). Somewhat surprisingly, Leigh’s segment culminated in a joyous tale of the lives of Gilbert and Sullivan, though all agreed the change of tone was a treat.

NBC Alternative: An interview with Jordyn Wieber’s five-year-old cousin Kelsie.

A Very Special Performance by Jarvis Cocker
Sunday’s Closing Ceremony was largely an extended concert, with performances by The Who, something called Jessie J, and Beady Eye (aka Oasis without Noel Gallagher [aka the especially pissy one]). Along with Blur’s huge concert in Hyde Park, it was a big day for Britpop, the subgenre that served at the frontlines of the mini-British Invasion in the mid-’90s.

The alleged third wheel of Britpop, Pulp, was not seen in most of the world. However, the BBC sent cameras to the home of frontman Jarvis Cocker in the hopes that they could get him to perform a couple songs. He declined, but did allow them to tape him as he smoked a pack of cigarettes, fed his cats, and cleaned his glasses, all while wearing a three-piece suit.

NBC Alternative: Michelle Beadle and Debbie Phelps visit Harrods for £50 makeovers.

Stiff Upper Lip Competition
The Olympics allow international fans to watch sports they might not otherwise get to see, but some of these games still don’t air on NBC. One of them, the stiff upper lip competition, has as great a tradition in the UK as dressage or the modern pentathlon — in fact, no one from outside Great Britain and its former colonies has ever competed at the Olympic level.

Over a grueling set of heats, participants are forced to undergo difficult psychological tests without wincing. They are then deducted points for every quiver of their upper lip, with the lowest score in each round moving on and eventually winning gold. In this year’s contest, challenges included hearing that the tea had gone cold, learning that a favorite stallion had fallen ill, and prolonged exposure to the AC/DC song Stiff Upper Lip. Fifty-seven-year-old Surrey legend Sir St. John Wynne-Candy won his fifth gold medal, but most on-lookers will remember Chelsea-born Clive Kensington, who earned bronze despite being born with very thin lips and the inability to grow a mustache.

NBC Alternative: A Mary Carillo report on the differences between french fries, chips, and crisps.

The Smiths Reunion
American audiences went gaga over the Spice Girls’ zigazig-uh-mazing reunion during the Closing Ceremony, but another of the evening’s performances qualified as even more notable. Manchester rock pioneers and notorious in-fighters The Smiths briefly rejoined to perform their ode to British unity “Panic.” However, halfway through the song, lead singer Morrissey began a rant against British leaders, reiterating his hatred for Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton and reaffirming that he and guitarist Johnny Marr have barred Prime Minister Cameron from liking the band. Morrissey then managed to utter the name “Oliver Cromwell” before his mic was cut. After, most commentators remarked that the whole thing had gone much better than expected.

NBC Alternative: Ryan Seacrest explains retweets.

William Shakespeare vs. Charles Dickens
One of the more memorable moments of Boyle’s Opening Ceremony was the destruction of Lord Voldemort by dozens of flying Mary Poppinses, an image that could only be concocted by someone with a fixation on creepy babies (Exhibits AB, and C) and the idea to make a romantic black comedy featuring angels as undercover love operatives and a bar-room performance of “Beyond the Sea.” Yet this was not the only tribute to British literature on the night. After Voldemort was vanquished, giant inflatable figures of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, the titanic figures of English literature, were loosed upon the scene. Gillian Anderson, whom Hollywood traded to the BBC for Hugh Laurie in 2004, stepped out to narrate a make-believe fistfight between the two writers. Dickens eventually came out victorious when Anderson announced that anti-Stratfordian scholars have learned that that Shakespeare’s plays and poems were actually written by a sentient meat pie. Various experts, including former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, have disputed the result.

NBC Alternative: A special preview of “Them’s the Breaks,” a new sitcom starring John Stamos as a pro surfer turned orthopedist.

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