Friday’s Olympics Opening Ceremony was perhaps the most deliriously audacious live spectacle of the Internet age. Devised by the Anglo-Irish Danny Boyle, it celebrated the uniquely English heritage of industrialization, socialized medicine, drug-inspired music trends, James Bond, and fantasy literature. God, how did I even write that sentence? Anyway, it was a night of both triumph and tragedy for nerds—while the geek-friendly moments of the ceremony were copious and unashamed, there was still Twitter outrage over a rumored appearance by Doctor Who somehow being cut for time. As I tweeted at the time, this was somehow nerd privilege overrun. As some anxiously pointed out, there was a “Doctor Who Tardis sound” at the end of the pop music/social media segment, but that was not quite enough to drown out the other supremely nerd-centric moments that were viewed by a billion people worldwide:

Glastonbury Tor is a place renowned in Christian and pagan mythology and figures prominently in both Celtic and Arthurian lore. Its central place in the Olympic festivities gives it an even more modern allusions. The sacred tree around which the national flags are planted goes back to pagan tree lore. Go read The White Goddess if you need any more explanation.

The whole forging of the ring sequence—surrounded by belching smokestack towers—was overtly Tolkienian, even if it didn’t directly reference the professor. It echoes the “Scouring of Shire” chapter of Lord of the Rings—Tolkien’s own allegory of the destruction of agrarian Britain by the advent of industrialization—while the visuals seem to reference Peter Jackson’s take on Isengard. I would say there is also some Wagnerian/Norse Das Rheingold in there, but best not to bring up Germanic lore here.
Kenneth Branagh appeared as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a cigar-chomping engineer and architect, who designed railway grades and bridges. While he lived before the internet, Brunel seems the kind of guy who would today play D&D as an undergrad; he also designed the “train shed” where the Bristol Comic-Con is held.
Cricket is secretly the nerdiest sport of all.
The money shot.
James Bond and the Queen of England jump out of a helicopter together. Not quite sure this is directly “nerdy” but it is awesome.
Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean symbolizes the long, long association of Angliophile Brit-com fans and comics readers. Also: rude noises.
J.K. Rowling stands in for Britain’s long long association with children’s fantasy, from Carroll, through Nesbit, Milne, Lewis, Grahame, Travers, etc., etc. The only thing one might have missed in this astonishing segment is more overt references to Willy Wonka.
For some reason, a giant baby was constructed and carried aloft by glowing doctors as hospital patients looked on. I think this was Danny Boyle’s reference to Svankmajer and the Quay Brothers, leading Bob Costas to helplessly wonder, “I don’t know if that’s cute or creepy.”

Little noticed, Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh appeared in the scrum as the roller-skating Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was written by Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond. See? It all fits together. [Via]

A squadron of Mary Poppins descends to defeat Lord Voldemort, whose appearance is notably more inspired by the Mary GrandPré illustrations than the film. (Yes I know GrandPré is American.) This was like, seriously, the other greatest thing ever.

This tribute to Yellow Submarine cartoon designer Heinz Edelmann satisfies fans of children’s cartoons.

’80s neon nostalgia infused the whole music segment.

The Prodigy’s Keith Flint stands in for that aging club kid we all know who just won’t give up his glow sticks.

And of course, some guy was at home live tweeting the whole thing, in this case Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who sent the very first HTTP packet, this inventing the Internet.
As the parade of nations got underway, nerd moments became less frequent, as the jock contingent took over, but we can all sympathize with the Czechs for their awkward rubber boots-centered ensemble. Was this the Monty Python references many longed for?
The Swedes inexplicably cosplayed as Waldo.
This Spaniard just cosplayed.
And the Queen loved EVERY MINUTE OF IT. Jesus.
No explanation necessary.
This wasn’t nerdy but the incredibly theatricality of the Opening spectacle was just extraordinary. Somewhere deep down, we know a beautiful girl bearing a torch speeding up the Thames, her hair whipping in the wind, with a clothed David Beckham standing behind her, will be a fantastic visual. But to see it actually happen, glowing in LEDs, the boat sleek and swift…you must simply be glad this actually happened. It also goes back to the Arthurian allusions of the opening, with the imagery of Lady of the Lake.

I wasn’t sure I was an Anglophile before, but I guess I am now.


  1. Since test cricket is played over 5 days (6 hours each day) I sincerely doubt its any less manly than baseball or Wrestling ! :)

    Yes there now T20 (3 1/2 hours) and One Day Cricket (7 hours) but the real deal remains test cricket.

  2. Loved the music selection too. While in the USA, Meredith, Costas, and Lauer seemed to glom onto the boomer-friendly Stones, The Who, Beatles & McCartney, I liked that we got some OMD, Bowie, New Order, Clash, Sex Pistols, Frankie, and The Jam.

    Rowan Atkinson was my favorite part though.

  3. Have more respect and don’t use the lord’s name as a random exclamation. People need to quit the double standard and respect christianity like any other faith.

  4. so, no one else notice the bit lifted from the league of extraordinary gentlemen, 2009? danny boyle gets ideas off of alan moore?

  5. @shark jumper – hate to tell ya, but bowie, new order, clash, the jam, frankie, and the sex pistols, while not on the scale of the stones and beatles, are pretty boomer-friendly in their own right. it’s all good.

  6. I loved it all, but yes Doctor Who and Monty Python could have featured more prominently. I think the Czech costume – umbrellas and gumboots was a comment on the English summer weather!

  7. The nerdiest moments and you don’t mention “Tubular Bells” (used in the Exorcist) and Mike Oldfield? :) The entire segment of the National Health Service and the Harry Potter-bit used Oldfield’s music. He was performing and playing guitar as well.

  8. Definitely Kenneth Branagh— onetime Hank the Fifth and director of THOR—quoting another Will-I-Am S. play in the opening moments…

  9. I for one never doubted your Anglophilia, from the moment you first asked my husband to talk more. :) How much did Ben translate for you of the opening ceremony? Always handy to have a Brit around to explain what a born-and-raised American is bound to miss. I actually thought the ceremony’s pop culture references were far more universal than nerdy, which I consider a good thing.

  10. The one thing that could’ve turned me into an Olympics appreciator instead of an Olympics hater is if they had indeed let David Tennant in full costume light the big fiery thing. Such an opportunity wasted. Shameful.

    Also, mm – JHC, lighten up… they’re all equally ludicrous.

  11. Good work, Heidi. You made me laughed a lot.

    As an anglophile myself, I thought the opening ceremony was fantastic. The only thing really missing is the Tardis crashing in the middle of the stadium and Matt Smith coming out of it.

  12. Cricket isn’t *secretly* the nerdiest sport, it’s *explicitly* the nerdiest sport. Nerdier than Magic: The Gathering, Badminton and Ping Pong combined to the 87 jillionth power.

    Honestly, I’m surprised I have to tell you these things.

  13. Such a surprise to see the Beat comment on the Olympics! Ah, loved every second of the opening. It was bonkers. Made me proud to be a Brit… and I don’t say that very often in life.

  14. (Pssst… the Queen, she’s German… House of Hannover… but they don’t talk about that, ever since Eddie the Eighth. Don’t mention the war, and all that.)

    The torch relay? A German invention, from the Berlin Olympics.

    No mention of the UK’s team uniforms? Was that a Hitchhiker’s reference?

    Myself, I was a bit disappointed they didn’t have Morris dancers. But then… this whole performance was one big Morris dance…

  15. @MM don’t tell us what we should and shouldn’t respect, Religion, Politics or anything otherwise. Else I will berate you everytime you use the world “AND” as AND is the name of my God and shouldn’t be used in vain.

    The fact you said that shows a lack of Tolerance, and the passive enforcement of your views on everyone else. The flagrant “Quit the Double Standard” is your interpretation of others views on Religion. I couldn’t give a toss about anyone’s Religious beliefs so don’t you dare tell people what to do, or we will turn on you and tell you to man up and shut up.

  16. Nerdiest moments? All these occurred during the “Thanks Tim” (multimedia) section and I presume they didn’t make it onto the TV broadcast, which is a shame:

    1 – Extended montage from the Wickerman finale shown on side of house and edited in sync with Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Underfoot” providing references to pre-Christian UK Wiccan religion, “Sumer Is Icumen In” the earliest known English language song and Christopher Lee (and by extension Hammer Studios and British horror in general)

    2 – Blink and you missed it appearance by a spinning Tardis on one of the in stadium video screens synced with the Tardis sound effect.

    3 – Two clips from the opening titles of the Prisoner (Patrick McGoohan in his car, Patrick McGoohan walking down corridor) shown on side of the house during Rolling Stones “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”

    4 – Monty Python series 1 opening titles shown on in stadium video screens during Mud “Tiger Feet”

    Come to think of it, maybe there was also the Pink Floyd “Animals” pig hovering over Battersea Power Station during the opening video and Mike Oldfield playing “Tubular Bells” (one of the biggest selling British albums of all time and of course aka “The Theme From the Exorcist”)

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