California Literary Review

Twenty Twelve — Season 1, Episode 3

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June 30th, 2012 at 9:14 am

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Twenty Twelve BBC

Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes) is overcome by a sense of foreboding.

There’s a story going round that the reason this show is called Twenty Twelve rather than, say, “2012”, is less to do with the confusion with a certain movie than the legal restrictions which anyone faces in using the Olympic “brand”. And by “brand” they mean words. Or pictures. I don’t know whether that’s the case in this specific instance, but during a public discussion at the London School of Economics last week, the academic David Goldblatt mentioned the problems he’d had with the iconography for his recent book How To Watch The Olympics. Couldn’t use the rings symbol, apparently. Couldn’t use a picture of something in real life which depicted the rings, even if it did so entirely legally. And he said he had to be very careful about when and how he used the phrase “London 2012”.

As Goldblatt explained, this was due to the fact that the International Olympic Committee requires governments who accept the games to pass a specific set of intellectual property restrictions into domestic law. As The Guardian reports, these would possibly prevent an athlete from tweeting about what they’d had for breakfast before an event, a pub from putting up a sign inviting customers to watch the games, and recently were used to prevent the Olympian Sally Gunnell from draping the British flag over her shoulders during a recent photoshoot, as this was deemed to be a recreation of a famous photograph taken after she won a gold medal in Barcelona.

I’m not a particularly devoted fan of running races, the Union Flag, or the particular company she was doing that photoshoot for, but even I think we should raise an eyebrow at the idea that the IOC can claim to own the combination of her body and her national flag twenty years after she won a particular race. There’s a fine line between criticising a show and simply describing the show you think it should have been, but when a satire so deliberately tones down reality I reckon we’re entitled to ask questions.

So the section of this episode in which the Head of Brand mucks about with the “sonic branding” of the Olympics, getting more and more entranced with a quick sequence in which one note is repeated several times, might perhaps strike us as a little insipid. It’s momentarily amusing, and continues the uncertainty as to whether Jessica Hynes’ character actually believes what she’s saying, or whether she’s just skating along on an infinitely extended icerink of BS. The more interesting angle on this narrative snippet came from Vincent Franklin’s professional Yorkshireman. “When I were a kid we had no sonic branding,” he declares, before continuing incoherently “If you asked for sonic branding you got a clip round the ear, I don’t care who you are.” It seems the writers are hinting that his particular brand of “no-nonsense straightforward telling it like it is” is essentially the same as all the corporate waffle he’s supposedly puncturing – just a series of phrases strung together as required.

The other problem facing the Olympics Deliverance Committee this week is the discovery of bones during the digging of the foundations for the aquatic centre. They might be Roman remains, but as Hugh Bonneville’s head of the team declares, with typical sensitivity, “Well, let’s hope this guy is wrong. Let’s hope it’s just a murder or something.” (Olivia Colman gives him a giant Danish pastry. The director clearly feels that her character’s emotional hunger needs to be literalised via the medium of outsize baked goods and it’s actually a rather deft touch.) On through this problem, with Bonneville getting all the good lines, as usual – “OK, I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that, because it’s meaningless”, “So what we’ve added is the idea of not having an urban waterhole”, “Is it just me, or is the common thread linking all these options that they’re not really options at all?” – they’re not killer lines on paper, but he does a great deal with them. Meanwhile, Amelia Bullmore’s head of Sustainability is doing a video blog, which delivers some pretty tired jokes about teenagers knowing more about technology than their parents.

As we approach the end of the show, there’s an elaborated version of the scene at the beginning where the increased security measures mean Bonneville’s character has to wait outside the office whilst his PA comes to fetch him. In the last scene, he’s trying to get out, but the security officer won’t let him without authorisation from someone in the office, though he is the only person left. The show wants us to chuckle at how absurd and Kafkaesque the situation is. We might, or we might start shouting THIS IS NOT WHAT’S KAFKAESQUE ABOUT THE SITUATION, HAVE YOU READ THE GUARDIAN RECENTLY? at the television.

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