Five Ways Britain Changed After The London Olympics

The blazing hoops at the opening ceremony of the London Games (AP Features)

The blazing hoops at the opening ceremony of the London Games (AP Features)

Well first of all, despite the evidence of the picture above, since the London Olympic Games have finished, it has stopped raining fire from on high, so that’s a definite plus.

Here are five other lasting legacies of a sporting event that took the country by surprise, in the most delightful way imaginable.

Joining In
Sports fans and vocal patriots aside, the general attitude towards the Olympics before the event started was one of cynical fatigue. “Why would we want this here?,” people asked, and “how much will it cost?” and “can’t the money be put to better use?”

If there was an engagement, it was with the media tales of spiraling budgets, inefficiency and an intoxication of PR into the event. The sort of thing you’d see in the BBC’s sharp comedy Twenty Twelve.

And then this happened. Danny Boyle’s astonishing summation of British culture and development, with pros and cons scattered across the stadium like confetti, and that rain of fire I mentioned earlier:

In the immediate aftermath, there were stories of the dedicated volunteers that worked hard to make sure everyone got to see the things they wanted to see, of the tireless efforts of all the performers at the opening ceremony, at the closing ceremony, at the Paralympics opening and closing ceremonies. Even social media put down the snark drills and picked up the backscratchers.

One year on, a poll was taken to ask if people felt it was worth the £9bn (nearly $14bn) spent on the event, the infrastructure, the pomp and ceremony, and more than two thirds of them said it was. In an age of reported austerity, that’s an astonishing turnaround, and not just in the appreciation of televised sport either.

The Paralympic Effect
Thanks partly to a brilliant advertising campaign on behalf of Channel 4, who took over the coverage of the Paralympic Games from the BBC’s Olympic feed – the provocative tagline on the posters, to a nation suddenly drunk on sporting endeavor, read “Thanks for the warm-up” – the Paralympics felt like a genuine step forward in the national appreciation of what disability is and what it is not.

If nothing else, it created the opportunity for people with disabilities to speak from a position of relative equality and strength, which is not often the case. And this advert put Public Enemy back in the British charts.

Gold postboxes
For every gold medal won during the Olympic and Paralympic games, the Royal Mail painted a postbox gold – permanently – in the home town of the winner. This is the one they painted in Dunblane, for Andy Murray.

Should you be visiting and wish to find one, they are helpfully collected on a map, right here.

Reality TV
In the immediate aftermath of the Olympics, our medal winners became celebrities, as you’d expect. And that means reality TV came a-calling. First there was medal-winning cyclist Victoria Pendleton appearing on Strictly Come Dancing (the UK’s version of Dancing With The Stars) on a flying bicycle:

And then, more weirdly, our great diving hope Tom Daley presented a show called Splash! in which celebrities were trained how to be good at diving. I have no idea why.

The Skyfall Sky-fall Windfall
The Olympics coincided with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond movies, and for the producers of the franchise, the timing could not have been happier. Quantum of Solace had been a bit too complicated and odd for audiences, and had undone some of the good work Casino Royale put in to establish Daniel Craig as the new Bond and give the series a much-needed yank out of its occasional self-congratulatory smugness and back into the realm of quality drama.

This, then, is the checklist they will have been working to, in order to ensure the 50th anniversary would not be Bond’s last.

  • A great theme song (thank you Adele, that will do nicely).
  • A good story  (tick)
  • A good villain (very tick)
  • The Queen skydiving out of a helicopter.

Some things are easier to come by than others, of course, but it can’t be a coincidence that Skyfall has now sold more tickets at the UK box office than any other movie ever. Including, well, everything.

What are your best memories of the Olympics? Tell us here: 

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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