The first Olympics we can actually remember with any real kind of clarity - Daley Thompson! Zola Budd! “Of course, many of these contestants come from nations without swimming pools.” All that.
It was also the first time* the BBC went all out on presentation for their Olympic coverage, right down to their special rings-based BBC-1 ident (above, grabbed from a YouTube video itself pretty shamelessly… let’s say ‘mirrored’ from the mighty TV Ark). There isn’t even a special BBC One ident this year.
(*We are completely guessing here. We’ve never seen the titles for Olympics 72’, ‘76 or ‘80 and they don’t seem to be on YouTube or TV Ark. We’ll operate on the basis that if they were so bloody good, someone would have capped and uploaded them by now. Yes.)
But what of the title sequence for the BBC coverage?
A fairly frugal start, with a pretty lo-fi ‘sun’ effect that instantly makes a you bit worried the scary baby face from Teletubbies is about to appear.
Things only improve in quite a modest way, as shots of Famous Olympic Faces fade into view to the opening bars from Vengelis’ most famous offering, in a very mid-80s kind of a way. Come on, BBC! What’s going on, didn’t you get past page six of the manual for your Quantel Paintbox or something?
That’s more like it! A pan over to what were probably termed at the time “3D Computer Graphics”, and a bevelled “BBC Television Presents”. This is more like it. The serif font tells you that this is going to be classy, too.
Pan down with camera facing up, and we see the five iconic rings, from which…
…five more columns emerge. This might look quite comically lame nowadays – yes, we know your microwave can produce flashier graphics than that, even when it’s not plugged in – but we dimly remember being wowed by all this. But then, we were wowed by MODE 7 on the BBC Micro and calculator watches, so y’know.
A slow zoom toward the columns, and a silhouette of an athlete running with the Olympic flame. Quite noticeably this only seems to be animated at about 10fps, but it took a supercomputer the size of Anglesey to generate it all, so shush.
Slow wipe into that mainstay of title sequences – sepia-tinged footage of classic Olympic moments old and new that gradually bleed into colour (“the Games coming to life before your very eyes”, a producer probably announced to his boss in an edit suite, we imagine). Carl Lewis, some steeplechasers, a swimming man, Sebastian “Jam Festival” Coe and such.
Then, it’s our silhouette torch carrier again, this time in front of the official ‘stripey-stars’ logo for the 1984 Los Angeles games, the first point of the titles to give any clue where the while shebang is taking place.
Another pan sideways along the Giraud-shaded Olympic venue, this time to reveal the title of the programme: Olympic Grandstand. As all BBC Olympic programmes should be called. Even now. In fact, especially now, so dads can explain to their offspring about what Grandstand was.
FLAME ON. See, now we’re in business.
Cue more footage of the colourful British characters who we’ll be vicariously living through during the two-week Olympiad. Steve Cram!
Daley “ZXZXZXZXZXZXZXZXZXZXZX” Thompson!
And on to the programme itself, in this instance footage of the Olympic Torch making its way to the host venue in a typically understated Californian manner.
To borrow a phrase from David Coleman, you have to say that’s remarkable.