When I took the job as director of the BBC’s coverage of London 2012, my cousin asked if anything about the job kept me awake at night. The truth is nothing — so far. I can see that Britain’s television screens going black at the start of the 100 metres final would be bad, since there isn’t much recovery time in 9.6 seconds. Fortunately, however, we’re not wholly dependent on live events; and the pleasure of recent weeks has been seeing previews of what will make the whole year feel special. The best example is the ‘Sceptred Isle’ soliloquy by Patrick Stewart from our new television production of Richard II, which captures the national spirit better than any number of positioning papers on the ‘Cultural Olympiad’.
Our highest ratings are likely to be for the opening ceremony, which continues to preoccupy politicians as well as organisers. I heard Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, saying the other week that he wanted the ceremony to illustrate the way Britain stood alone against fascism in 1940. What happened to ‘Don’t mention the war’? We’ll have to wait until July to see whether Danny Boyle, the ceremony director, has secreted a couple of Spitfires in east London.
Ichaired a debate in ‘Social Media Week’ about the way Facebook, Twitter and the rest are changing sport. These networks let sports stars talk to their fans directly and craft new public personas. Twitter, for instance, has transformed Joey Barton from a football bad boy to a Times op-ed columnist. The two gold medallists on the panel, the rowers Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, tweet about anything from what they’re watching on TV to whether they’ve had a drugs test that day. This isn’t universally acclaimed. UK Athletics’ head coach, Charles van Commenee, has said that Twitter users are ‘clowns and attention-seekers’, and it’s easy to find examples in anyone’s account of ‘look at me’ syndrome. There was some teasing of Zac about the way he’d announced that he was having steak and chips for supper one night: ‘Will let u know how it goes. Peppercorn or red wine sauce?’ Most athletes regard Twitter as a bit of fun, but there is a spikier side to social media. The public can talk back. Olympic challengers be warned: you may miss out on a medal, then find a pile of messages on your mobile telling you and the world how rubbish you are.
Twitter is, of course, addictive. Like other addicts, I tell myself I can keep away from it for — oh, hours at a time. Occasionally, though, I question my digital sanity. I was recently in a restaurant and so enjoyed the first course that I tweeted the chef with my congratulations. Before the main dishes arrived, he had replied from the kitchen and passed on my message to his followers. Should I have talked to my guest and kept off the phone? Probably. Should he have been tweeting while cooking? Perhaps not. But if technology doesn’t allow you to modernise ‘compliments to the chef’, what is it for?
One thing I never congratulate chefs on is the use of onions. I hate them, and all their relatives: shallots, chives, leeks. It’s usually possible — just — to navigate through a menu without them. But they seem to be spreading, like weeds, through the supermarkets and into all sorts of other foodstuffs. Last week I spotted onions as a new ingredient in pork sausages, and a while ago I had to get rid of some fish because smelly onion had inveigled itself into breadcrumbs. I know I’m the wrong person to judge, but I doubt that many people crave onionflavoured bangers or would buy anything advertised as cod’n’onion fillets. There is an onion insurgency, and it must be stopped.
If only there were better news from my football team. Arsenal’s 4-0 loss in Milan was horrible in itself, but it has also ruined a visit to the Emirates Stadium with my godson Jules for the return leg. With a four-goal deficit, and the manager Arsene Wenger saying we’re out of the competition, should we bother going? The worry is that an Arsenal comeback, however unlikely, would be the best night in Europe ever — and leaving empty seats would haunt us. The smartest suggestion so far is to turn up, but leave by half time when we’re sure the miracle won’t happen. That way, what the pundits inevitably call ‘a long night’ will be mercifully short, and we can start dreaming of next year.
Roger Mosey is the BBC’s director of London 2012.
the spectator | 25 february 2012 | www.spectator.co.uk pol_2010_11_2011.indd 15