With the Tokyo Games now postponed, a yawning chasm has opened up in the BBC’s summer schedule. Between 24 July and 9 August hundreds of hours of live television were to be dedicated to running, jumping and, in the case of the Greco-Roman wrestling programme, homo-erotic grappling. All that has gone, put back for at least a year. And there are only so many episodes of Mrs Brown’s Boys that can be extracted from the vaults to fill the space.
And yet there is one thing the BBC could do to plug the gap. Something that would cost very little. More to the point, something that, in a time when anti-virus instruction insists we keep apart, would bring us together in a glorious unified huddle. What Lord Hall and his team could do is this: re-run the London 2012 Games in its entirety. Cheer the country up by repeating every single moment of it.
“These Games seem to have exposed unexpected reserves of positive energy,” one commentator suggested at the time. “They have brought out a pride in the country that is passionate without being remotely intimidating or chauvinistic.”
That commentator was the then-Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. There was nothing hyperbolic about such claims. No single event in our recent history has delivered the kind of collective uplift of 2012. How Prime Minister Johnson could use some of that now in this time of all-enveloping gloom. In 2012 the London games cheered us all up. Eight years on, they could do so again.
The joy could begin on the evening of 24 July with a rerun of Danny Boyle’s innovative, witty and properly patriotic Opening Ceremony. Without any of the time difference issues with Japan, this could be broadcast mid-evening, when everyone from seven to 70 would be around to watch, The Queen parachuting from James Bond's helicopter, Mr Bean conducting Chariots of Fire, David Bowie’s Heroes crashing from the public address system as the British team paraded round the stadium: here would be glorious reminder that this little island has long held within it a wellspring of joy.
And how timely its repeat showing would be. The sizeable segment dedicated to the glories of the NHS would be perfectly attuned to current sensibilities. That routine concluded with a bunch of Mary Poppinses flying in to rescue us all; how that would neatly chime with the current political class’ conviction that nanny can make everything better.
In truth it took a while for that magnificent start to be mirrored in the medal table. But the BBC could remind us of the comical sight of the then Prime Minister David Cameron dashing from swimming pool to velodrome in search of a home gold medalist with whom he might associate. And, even if Britons were not yet occupying to the top of the podium, still there was plenty to cheer. Not least Clare Balding – who that summer emerged as a titan of Olympic broadcasting – interviewing Bert Le Clos after his son Chad beat Michael Phelps to win the 200m butterfly in the pool. Balding’s gentle interviewing style brought us a story of parental pride sufficient to penetrate the toughest of hides.
“Look at him, he’s beautiful,” Bert insisted. And how we all blubbed.
This, though, was soon to prove to be Britain’s golden games. On August 1 Helen Glover and Heather Stanning started the gold rush out at Eton. Later that day Bradley Wiggins won the time trial around Hampton Court, ending up flashing victory signs as he lounged on a throne at the finish line.
And so began the torrent. Every day thereafter brought another post box painted gold in a victor’s home town. Nowhere was the bullion more extensively handed out than August 4. Six golds were won on Super Saturday, by the men’s coxless fours, the women’s lightweight doubles, the women’s team pursuit in the velodrome; then, in a 46-minute spree that sent the nation giddy, by Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah in the athletics stadium.
To repeat that day would be to wallow in unashamed delight, transport us back to a time when everything seemed possible. As it would were we to watch again the wonderful Kath Grainger stroking the women’s eight to gold, or Ben Ainslie conducting a chorus of Land of Hope and Glory from his boat off Weymouth, or the victorious showjumping team carried shoulder high by an ecstatic crowd in to the pub in Greenwich, where they were interviewed live and somewhat well refreshed by, who else, Clare Balding.
So the stories would keep coming from that wonderful fortnight. The tale of Chris Hoy crying uncontrollably as he picked up yet more gold, of Andy Murray beating first Novak Djokovic then Roger Federer to win at Wimbledon, and of the Brownlee brothers keeping it in the family as they tore round Hyde Park to claim gold and bronze in the triathlon.
How wonderful London looked in the footage that day. From Hyde Park packed to the gunwales with the excited and the delighted to the wild flower meadows in the Olympic Park, this was our capital at its picture postcard best.
And so it continued right to the end. The last British gold was secured on the final day, just before the closing ceremony, when Anthony Joshua won the super heavy boxing title. Whatever happened to him? It would be nice to be reminded.