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Behind the Beijing bus

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Queen and biscuits?

By Alex Steinitz
Producer, Building the Olympic Dream

Watch episode one of Building the Olympic Dream, London Calling, on BBC Two on Wednesday, 4 March at 2100 GMT or afterwards on the BBC iPlayer. Episode two follows at the same time on Wednesday, 11 March

How do you sum up what it means to be British at the beginning of the 21st Century through the medium of dance in eight minutes, before an audience of a third of the world's population?

That's the challenge that fell to the producers of the British Olympic handover ceremony in the Bird's Nest stadium in August 2008, which I had the privilege of filming over the months leading up to the big event.

The show got off the ground in the Autumn of 2007 when director Stephen Powell came to Olympic head of ceremonies Martin Green with the idea of using a specially constructed London bus that would transform like a Faberge egg in to an outlandish carnival float.

To get the filming started, we were invited to their top secret early brainstorms, where ideas involving the Queen interrupting the show to serve tea, accompanied by a gang show of dancing biscuits, were raised and discarded.

I could sense the tension beginning to build at the beginning of June, when the bus was packed on a slow boat to China.

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There was no going back now in terms of the idea and only weeks left to drill a team of dancers in the routine, while also persuading the top talent of Leona Lewis, David Beckham and Jimmy Page to find time in their busy diaries to come to a rehearsal or two.

But the drama really began to unfold once the production, with us in tow, moved lock, stock and barrel to an old airbase under the gaze of the Great Wall of China for the final two weeks of rehearsal for the big show.

Problems mounted for Stephen and Martin as it became increasingly clear that the Chinese were far too busy staging their own spectacular four-hour show to be able to devote much effort to helping them with theirs.

Blood pressures soared as it became clear that key people like the lighting director would not be able to get into the stadium to set up properly beforehand and the dancers would have to perform their agile routine on a carpet.

Trying to keep up with the unfolding drama meant that despite being in Beijing for the duration of the Olympics, the production team failed to take a day off to see a single sporting event.

London bus in Beijing
A London bus was the centrepiece of the 2012 presentation in Beijing

Meanwhile, Stephen and Martin's difficulties were mirrored by our own.

Even though we had been trying to get a filming permit for months to enable us to be backstage at the Bird's Nest stadium on the big night, we only learned that we would actually be able to film the crucial final scene for our film the night before the big event itself.

In the end, it was worth the anguish so we could experience being backstage during the Chinese show, described by Martin as being "like the Muppet Show on Acid".

Seeing Beckham getting mobbed by hundreds of hysterical Chinese performers, who only moments earlier had been the model of poise and control during their show, and filming the sheer relief on Stephen and Martin's faces as their part of the show drew to an close, are memories that will stay with me forever.



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see also
London takes over as Olympic host
24 Aug 08 |  London 2012
Reaction to the Olympic handover
24 Aug 08 |  UK News


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