A breakfast meeting has been called at the Olympic Deliverance Committee. Ian (Hugh Bonneville) fondly imagines this will lead to increased productivity, but his PA Daniel (Samuel Barnett) sees it largely as an opportunity to branch out from the predictable range of baked goods he usually provides and into those little Portugese custard tartlets he’s always thought would be a good idea. There’s a brilliant sequence right off the bat when he tries to help the meeting go well by offering to fetch coffees, but just prompts a round of competitive beverage-ordering from Siobhan (Jessica Hynes), Fi (Morvern Christie) and Kay (Amelia Bullmore). When it sticks to office politics and manoeuvrings in the smokers’ corner, Twenty Twelve gets it absolutely right sometimes.
But, this being a show about the London Olympics, they can’t keep to the minutiae of interpersonal dynamics and modern irritation. So a plot creaks into operation involving the starting pistols due to be used for the Games, which have been converted by one individual to fire live ammunition. This needs to be sorted out before the arrival of the US security forward team, and is immediately on the agenda of the Twenty Twelve Security Committee’s Special Catastrophisation Unit, whose meetings the show has to interrupt with bleeps to aurally redact sensitive information. Yes, it’s a cheap joke, but it’s also very funny. As The Count [Censored] (look it up on Youtube) proved, putting bleeps over the most innocuous words is an easy route to making losers like me chuckle heartily. The star of the Special Catastrophisation Unit is Rachel Crane, who is played by Robin Weaver and uses nouns like “pre-conversationals”.
Of course the real hilarity around security at the Games is available to those contemplating the way in which British troops have been brought in at short notice to cover the incompetence of a private security firm. And the fact that those troops are apparently patrolling the Olympic venues wearing the insignia of a private commercial organization – LOCOG, whom you’ll remember from last week are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Meanwhile Lord Coe (that cheerful good bloke who occasionally pops into this show to polish his image as a man of the people) declared in an interview on BBC Radio that someone wearing a Pepsi T-shirt would probably not be allowed into the venue, because Coca-Cola are an exclusive drinks sponsor of the games, though he did assure the reporter that someone wearing Adidas trainers would probably not be made to take them off, despite Nike’s sponsorship. LOCOG rushed out a statement contradicting Lord Coe (apart from anything else, the doubt over Adidas needed to be squelched because Adidas trainers are part of the uniform for staff at the Olympics) and saying that only large groups wearing clearly visible branded clothing would be ejected from the events. These are the sort of security policies which British troops will be implementing, apparently. But do pay attention to the story about the starting pistols.
Over at Perfect Curve, the PR firm hired to put the Games’ brand across (featuring Siobhan Sharpe, darling of the commentariat) they’re trying to get people really enthused about their travel choices. Obeying the prime directive of branding, they try to come up with a pun first, and then try to fit the rationale around it. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the standard operating procedure for British life generally. And a very good thing too. Unfortunately the pun they come up with, “Way To Go”, is not a very good thing, but sometimes you have to accept you’re just passing on the traditions and ways of our people to the next generation.
Back to office politics, as Fi and Ian go out to lunch and indulge in the a little fencing about whether she should apply for the job of Head of Posterity, since she’s already Head of Legacy and you may as well continue your career trajectory within future-oriented abstract nouns once you’ve found your niche. Some nice work here with the booze dance, as Fi watched Ian to see if he’ll order wine with lunch, opts for water when he does, and then follows him into a small glass of white when he relents.
The US security forward team arrive, and the show gets rather tediously tied up in painting them as dour, humourless and not valuing the wonderful quirkiness of the British group. One of the least attractive traits of the way the British talk about their arts, if we’re talking in overbroad generalization, as we believe we were on the subject of puns, is the continual emphasis on how wonderful their sense of humour is compared to other nations’. I happen to believe that’s true, and am well up for wallowing in British comedy (so long as it’s made absolutely clear that 70s sitcoms were not “classic banter”, they were a horrid aberration in a line that produced Ben Jonson, Jerome K. Jerome and David Mitchell) but there’s something rather insecure and blustering about this insistence on it. It puts us at a particular disadvantage when turning up our noses at the flagwaving varieties of patriotism we purport to despise in other nations, because it’s not so terribly distantly related. Anyway, the American security team want to handle the modified guns and wave them around (I know, it’s like national stereotypes were just invented and they’ll go mouldy if they’re not used up quickly) and Ian Fletcher gets shot in the foot. He’s rather good at being shot in the foot, it turns out, is Hugh Bonneville. Good combination of surprise, agony and attempted carrying it off casually. He loses his dignity with dignity.
Dr. Jem Bloomfield studied at the universities of Oxford and Exeter and is currently an Associate Lecturer in Drama at Oxford Brookes. His research covers the performance of Early Modern drama and the various ways it has been adapted and co-opted throughout the centuries. His own plays include “Bewick Gaudy”, which won the Cameron Mackintosh Award for New Writing, and he is working on a version of Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy “She Stoops To Conquer”. His writing on arts, culture, and politics have appeared in “California Literary Review”, “Strand Magazine” and “Liberal Conspiracy”. He blogs at “Quite Irregular” and can be found on Twitter @jembloomfield