Robert Hampton

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5th January 2013


Continuing on from yesterday’s review of the year-type thing.

BBC Television CentreJuly (actually, the end of June, but I wrote the blog post on 1st July) saw me make a trip to the legendary BBC Television Centre to watch a recording of Pointless. It was a most enjoyable experience, even if the Central African Republic didn’t come up as an answer. I’m seriously tempted to go back as a contestant.

Liverpool’s Festival Gardens reopened after many years of dereliction. The government announced a whole load of railway improvement schemes, coupled with further plans to price-gouge passengers. I bemoaned the tendency for reviews to oversimplify things with a simple score.

I fretted about Global Warming (and now, after experiencing a week of unseasonably mild weather, I’m even more worried). Heat of a different kind in Liverpool city centre, as preachers continued to claim everyone was going to Hell.

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14th August 2012

Olympic Nitpicking
Posted by at 7.21pm | In the News | 2 responses

Well, the Olympics are over. After the grand opening ceremony largely silenced the naysayers, the sport began and a nation held its breath to see if London really could pull this off.

By and large, we did quite well, in terms of both the games organisation and the number of medals won. I’m not a sports fan, but I had BBC1 on in the background constantly, and several moments stand out: Andy Murray winning a Wimbledon final at long last; the cyclists winning… well, almost everything; Tom Daley winning bronze and celebrating as if he’d won gold; and immigrant Mo Farah winning two gold medals, silencing the Daily Mail and other whingers who bemoaned “plastic Brits”.

Despite (or perhaps because of) TfL’s dire warnings to stay away, the transport problems failed to materialise, with the Tube, train and DLR lines holding up remarkably well. The army covered admirably following the G4S embarrassment. The empty seats in the venues were sad to see (especially for people like me who tried and tried to get tickets, but were ultimately left empty-handed). I hope the ticket allocation is handled more sensibly at future Games.

The BBC have been big winners, receiving deserved praise from all sides for the breadth and depth of their coverage, with every event covered live on the brilliant Olympic web site and via 24 dedicated channels on Sky and Virgin. Commentators and presenters, mindful that a high number of non-sports addicts would be tuning in, took time to explain the minutiae of the sport. They cheered on Team GB’s victories, but other countries were not overlooked, and the line between patriotism and one-sided jingoism was well-observed. Clare Balding and Ian Thorpe (despite his habit of saying “look” at the start of every sentence) deserve particular praise for their punditry.

So on Sunday, all that was left was to bring things to a close. Much has been written about the piss-poor closing ceremony, so I won’t go over it here. Suffice to say a parade of pop stars of varying levels of has-beenness was not an appropriate way to close what was an amazing two weeks.

And what of the much-discussed legacy? Well, our ruling class demonstrates a lot of signs that they are learning the wrong lessons. David Cameron is now demanding that competitive sport be made compulsory in all schools, sneering at “Indian Dance” lessons, and decrying the “all must have prizes” culture that exists mainly in the mind of Daily Telegraph columnists.

David Cameron, I suspect, has never suffered the indignity of being picked last for a team, or finishing a cross country run so late that everyone else had got changed and gone home (I was that soldier). Forcing competitive sport on me put me off any form of exercise for the best part of a decade, and my health suffered as a result. For the sake of every computer geek with poor hand-eye coordination, other forms of physical education must be provided.

Now that the 2012 party is half-finished (Paralympics still to come of course), will be there be lasting change? Certainly the games have provided a real lift to the national mood. Even the grumpiest soul must have been cheered up by the scenes on display. British athletes competing for the honour rather than the money; the thousands of volunteers giving up their time to become Gamesmakers; London, at its best, beamed onto a billion TV screens worldwide. Indeed, Monday morning seemed to bring a collective post-Olympic depression, as people realised it was over.

Will there be a permanent change to the nation’s psyche, though? It would be nice to think that, after seeing the years of training and preparation put in by the athletes, the youth of the nation will use that as a model rather than the cynical “instant fame” celebrity culture. It’s naive and simplistic to say – as some have this week – “if you work hard, you can achieve anything”. With inequality and class privilege still ingrained in British society, you need more than a strong work ethic to succeed (indeed, one-third of the UK’s medallists were privately educated). However, Team GB still provide better examples to follow than those shown in Big Brother, Britain’s Got Talent and OK! Magazine.

Sadly, I’m not sure there will be such profound change. The tabloids, which for the last fortnight have carried pictures of beaming gold medallists, will surely now return to the sexual exploits of footballers. Bankers will still be greedy. Nick Clegg will still be useless. And — oh, joy — The X Factor returns to ITV1 this Saturday.

Hmm… I think I can feel the cynicism returning.

29th July 2012

Playing Games
Posted by at 11.33pm | In the News | 1 response

On Friday I said I couldn’t wait to see what Danny Boyle had come up with. Turned out I did have to wait, as I went out on Friday night to my cousin’s engagement party (congrats Alan and Lisa)!

Fortunately, we have the technology, and tonight I was able to cue up my Freeview+ box to enjoy the Opening Ceremony – all four hours of it.

I’m late to the party, so I will spare you all a detailed analysis – suffice to say it lived up to the Isle of Wonder title. In stark contrast to the dreary Jubilee celebrations a couple of months ago, this was a celebration of the real Britain that the rest of us actually live in – modern, diverse, Britain, with all its flaws and beauty. It’s no surprise that the Daily Mail hated it.

That’s not to say it was tradition-free: Morris Dancers, Jerusalem and members of the armed forces (actually involved with the show, not just filling in for G4S staff). But we also got references to EastEnders and Trainspotting, plus a brief glimpse of the Brookside lesbian kiss (bet that went down well in Saudi Arabia). A potted history of pop Music, from the Beatles to Dizzee Rascal via Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Then, to top it all off: an unashamed celebration of the National Health Service which David Cameron had to sit through.

The Queen “jumping out” of a helicopter with James Bond was a highlight. It seemed to be an attempt to show the Monarch as a individual with a sense of humour and it worked – a shame, then, that she spent the rest of the ceremony looking so bored. The camera cut to her as the Team GB athletes walked in – she was looking away and picking her fingernails!

The absolute best moment, however, had to be the appearance of Tim Berners-Lee. As he waved awkwardly at the crowd, I wondered how many people in the stadium actually appreciated the contribution he has made – not only did he invent the World Wide Web, but he gave it away for free to everyone to use and enjoy as they saw fit.

For overseas viewers, used to the plastic pomp and pageantry that we usually project at national events, it must have been slightly bewildering. For me, it worked. I have never been overly patriotic, mainly because a lot of aspects of British life (hereditary privilege, football, reality TV) annoy me. But Mr Bean? Shami Chakrabarti? A multiracial choir from East London singing the national anthem? Yeah, I can go along with that.

Praise is rightly being heaped on the show’s director, Danny Boyle, but let’s not forget who has the writing credit: a Scouser, Frank Cotrell Boyce. He has written a first-hand account of his experience putting the show together.

Boyce deserves special praise for this: The Dangerous Conversation, a letter which he sent to various parties regarding Dow Chemical’s involvement in the Games.

There’s still lots to be cynical about with these Games (the empty seats, the heavy-handed policing, the fact that the men’s beach volleyball players are wearing vests), but the Opening Ceremony has gone some way to compensate for that for me.

27th July 2012

Going for Gold
Posted by at 6.34pm | In the News | No responses

Tonight is the culmination of seven years of work, which began on 6th July 2005 when London was announced as winning bidder for the 2012 Olympics.

Since then, there has been a regular moans and complaints from the media and the public about the preparations:-

  • The distribution of tickets, hampered by technical problems and with millions of people missing out in the ballot (I tried so hard to get tickets, and failed).
  • The special treatment of sponsors (including such lovely companies as Dow Chemical), with draconian penalties for anyone “unofficial” who tries to make even the slightest bit of capital from the games.
  • The security clampdown, with London turned into a virtual fortress for the duration of the games, until it was undermined by the G4S fiasco, as a private company fails to deliver on its promises, generating embarrassing headlines around the world.

Given all the above, it’s hardly surprising that there have been so many grumbles about the Games. Embarrassing stumbles like the Korean “wrong flag” incident only serve to deepen the jitters.

And yet… as the Opening Ceremony approaches and the BBC’s best and brightest presenters scurry around the Olympic Park, I feel my cynicism draining away, to be replaced by a cautious optimism and – dare I say it? – excitement.

There were scoffs when the organisers announced the “green and pleasant land” theme of the opening cermoney. Now, people who attended the rehearsal event are tweeting excitedly about something that is “splendidly British and magnificently bonkers”. I cannot wait to see what Danny Boyle has cooked up.

Hopefully, over the next two weeks, the concerns and sceptism will prove to be unfounded, and we can enjoy a great sporting spectacle. Big names are lining up to compete: Chris Hoy, Tom Daley, Victoria Pendleton, Andy Murray, Rebecca Adlington. Joining them are hundreds more Team GB athletes who may not be so anonymous after this fortnight has passed.

As Jonathan Freedland points out, in an excellent piece in today’s Guardian, this event is Britain’s chance to define its position on the world stage for the 21st century.

Also, the video of Jeremy Hunt’s bell breaking is really, really funny to watch.

1st June 2011

Posted by at 8.25pm | In the News | 1 response

There’s just over a year to go before the world’s elite athletes descend on the nation’s capital for a high-spirited fortnight of skill, sportsmanship and urine tests. Yes, the 2012 Olympics will soon be here!

I am not a big sports fan, but when tickets went on sale I was swept up in the patriotic fervour. What an amazing chance to be part of something special, an event that is held in this country once in a lifetime. I jumped on to the official London 2012 web site and applied for tickets.

In fact I went a bit crazy applying for tickets, and ended up requesting £630 worth. I was worried that this might be a bit much to put on my Visa card, but you have to speculate to accumulate, don’t you?

As it turned out my debt-related fears were groundless. No, I haven’t suddenly won the lottery or received an inheritance from a distant relative who snuffed it. It’s more simple than that: the deadline for payments to be taken from my account came and went yesterday and the “pending transactions” section of my credit card online statement remains stubbornly at zero. I think it’s time to face facts: I failed to get a single ticket allocated to me in the ballot.

If it’s any consolation (and it isn’t), I’m not alone — 250,000 fellow punters have been similarly disappointed.

It is a little bit unfair that some people could afford to splash out and risk thousands of pounds, while lots more (like me) had to be more conservative with our application, reducing our chances of winning.

Anyone who has sat clicking the Refresh button on a ticket web site while waiting for in-demand concert tickets to go on sale will understand why the Games organisers have done it this way. However, I still can’t help but feel a bit miffed. In fact, I’m going to write a letter of complaint.

Dear Lord Coe,

— No, actually that’s too formal, let’s try again…

Dear Sebby,

I wish to express my disappointment that I have not been allocated any tickets for the London 2012 Olympics. I now feel totally disenfranchised from what is supposed to be a special event that will bind the country together.

I have a long-standing interest in Men’s Diving, and it is absolutely not because I want to see Matthew Mitcham wet and Speedo-clad, honest.

Yours truly,
Robert x