For Argyll published its response to the London 2012 Games (London 2012: how Britain came to feel good about itself) late on the night of Saturday 11th August, when the nation was taking a breath and contemplating life after total immersion in a mesmeric success.
After that came the closing ceremony – like the opening one, something of a curate’s egg with its strengths on the first class side of good.
The set was deceptively simple – yes it was a Union Flag but, with its converging bands raised towards the centre, it was simultaneously a crown. This was a visual reference to the link between flag and monarchy but it was also an image – a crowning image – of the role of the games themselves in the Britain of 2012.
It was an image London 2012 was entitled to conjure at the end of this transformative event.
The opening sequence was an image of unparalled brilliance of the city which had hosted the Games.
Set in segments of the flagged crown were some of the great structures that identify the city. Through them, linking them, covering them, wrapping objects and people, static and moving, were rivers and acres of newsprint.
This was the city making the news, a city where every single thing in it was part of that news; and it claimed unhesitatingly that this is a city that is the news.
Round all of it was the M25, a great wide orbital embracing bypass filled with traffic of all kinds, like the newspaper set, all white. Bicycles, cars, vans, huge trucks, flat beds, taxis, more and more of them joining the endless business of a city, some running over and through the central arterial flyovers.
And then the trucks and flatbeds became floats, with bands, musicians, tableaux and entertainers carried around into the sightlines of the audience, wherever they were in the arena. These transitions were accompanied by lines of amateur musicians on percussion, using a multitude of bins and bin lids, creating the hard cacophany of mechanised city life.
All of this was spectacular, awesome, capable, full of energy, of possibility, fearless, confident – the best of a city.
Who can know how director, Kim Gavin and his team came up with this but it was utterly galvanic. Burned on the retina.
From then on we moved away from the ‘white heat of the technological revolution’ that is a city and into the lifestyles a city contains. This was the introduction of colour into the palette which, with lighting design that was thrilling and masterful from start to finish of the entire games, blazed and rippled to the end of the night.
There was a pointless and flatlining tableau tribute to British fashion, singularly alien and self-regarding where the games and the spirit of them are inclusive and outgoing.
The triumph of British fashion at the Games was Stella McCartney’s genuinely original design concept for the athletes outfits. These delivered exactly what she had intended – the notion of the national flag, underplayed but subtly insistent – from the headbands some wore, to the wonderfully useful identifiers of the red swimcaps and cyclists’ helmets, to the beautifully cut track suit jackets
There was band after band. star after star, most of them singing the wrong songs and too many of them. You longed for The Proclaimers with 500 Miles to put life in to the dirging. But Fat Boy Slim appeared like an ominous battle controller from Avatar, in the heart of a huge transparent octopus whose body and tentacles simply blew out of the sides and top of the gold charabanc that had ushered around Russell Brand in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. Norman Cook was ‘dying to take us away’.
When the big moment came, the extinguishing of the Olympic flame – this one a superstar of symbolism, design and engineering for the Games – it had competition.
A red, sort of burning skeletal phoenix appeared, rising above it.
Too much. A tad cliched. Too distracting. It reduced the cauldron to the status of one of many effects. And then ballet’s Darcey Bussell flew in, crucified upon yet another red phoenix. Too too much.
We were into the last vestiges here of throwing everything in to the close of a show that, like the opening one, had far too many endings – slackly losing focus and energy.
But the helicopter shots of the arena showed it like a box of jewels in the dark, that fabulous lighting design playing the pixels on each seat in the auditorium like an multicoloured graphic equaliser.
Then the final fireworks took the stars on at their own game.
Unlike the opening ceremony, Kim Gavin had virtually no time to rehearse on the set in the arena.
That all of this was pulled together so magnificently was a fitting punctuation mark to a wholly remarkable Games.