World wowed by Olympic opening ceremony

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Actors perform during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Actors perform during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games

British history, culture and the NHS have dominated in Danny Boyle's spectacular opening ceremony to London 2012.

National Health Service staff featured in a prolonged segment celebrating the NHS and children's literature, despite the intense controversies which currently surround its future.

Political disputes were largely put aside as Britain united behind Boyle's intensely patriotic three-hour extravaganza.

Sebastian Coe, addressing the stadium, said that London 2012 would "inspire a generation".


He told the global audience of one billion people: "In every Olympic sport there is all that matters in life: humans stretch to the limit of their abilities inspired by what they can achieve, driven by their talent to work harder than they could believe possible - living for the moment but making an indelible mark upon history."

But ministerial interference in the content of the ceremony had had to be resisted, Boyle suggested in a press conference earlier.

"We started under a Labour government, now a Conservative government," the Slumdog Millionaire director said.

"Seb [Coe] has protected us from any kind of interference. We have been allowed to express ourselves.

"It's the instinct of any government to say we must have this, we must say this. Not everyone is going to like it and not everyone is going to join in. We wanted it to make it accessible to everyone but not be bland."

The ceremony included many cultural references which may not have been familiar to a global audience, including the Archers theme tune, Wind In The Willows and 1980s movie classic Gregory's Girl.

But Rowan Atkinson's world-famous Mr Bean character and an unexpected entrance by James Bond and the Queen will have been instantly recognisable the world over.

The monarch and Britain's most famous spy made an unexpected entrance into the Olympic Stadium in east London, after Kenneth Branagh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel helped dismantle rural England in a depiction of the Industrial Revolution.

Rapper Dizzee Rascal wrapped up a section on digital Britain which ended with an appearance by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the investor of the world wide web. "This is for everyone," he tweeted.

Murder victim Stephen Lawrence's mother Doreen Lawrence, civil liberties group Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon were among those carrying the Olympic flag.

After Olympic athletes entered the stadium, with cyclist Chris Hoy carrying the flags for Team GB, Steve Redgrave was confirmed as the mystery person carrying the Olympic flame in the stadium.

But it was a group of seven young Olympians who lit the flame itself - an elaborate structure uniting the flames of copper petals carried into the stadium by each country.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said that the Games were "coming home" to London, which is the first city to have hosted the Olympics on three occasions.

He pointed out this is the first time that all Olympic teams have at least one woman competitor. Saudi Arabia has two females competing.

Not all approved of the ceremony. Conservative MP Aidan Burley tweeted: "The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen - more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?"

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