Today marks another landmark for London 2012. Yes sports fans, the new Olympics mascots have been unveiled!
The mascots are a pair of mono-eyeballed spanners called Wenlock and Mandeville, with arms like pincers and a flashing “W” and “M” indented in their skulls, supposedly representing London’s taxi lights. As representations of London go, this seems rather arbitrary. Why not give them a hat that looks like Marble Arch or a knob in the shape of St. Paul’s Cathedral?
Everything nowadays needs a back story. You see this in The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, where a no-hoper of epic proportions is seen hugging various members of their family, who all declare they are “so proud” (Of what precisely? National humiliation?). And so it happens that Wenlock and Mandeville have a back story.
Maybe they were left on the roadside as children, bought up in an orphanage and forced through a comprehensive schooling system and teased by the nasty children calling them “Cyclops”.
Perhaps before their reincarnation they were real life children with a disfigurement, as doctors quarrelled over the best remedy, before suggesting to the parents: “I think we need to turn your children into metal, give them a creepy CCTV-stare and just in case they don’t look mental enough, we’ll add a mock taxi light to the top of their head in case they forget their name. It’s the best chance for them to have a normal life, Mrs. Wenlock”.
The real back story is far less interesting. They are made of leftover steel from the construction of the last girder of the Olympic Stadium, a needlessly specific item; it must have been difficult for the impatient designers to wait for the stadium to be finished before they could even produce a prototype. I wouldn’t be surprised if they cheated a little. They probably borrowed some steel from the merchants down the road and passed it off as genuine leftover steel girder. Who’d know?
At least a modicum of intelligent thought has gone in to the design, unlike some of the previous Olympics mascots. Munich 1972 featured Fritz, a multi-coloured dog available in wood and felt (because you can never have enough felt dogs – in fact London 2012 will be a failure without them), while Montreal went with a black beaver called Amik. It’s unrecorded whether spectators sang “Show us your beaver” at the mascot, although the giggling schoolchild in me hopes they did.
Los Angeles 1984 went for a big white eagle wearing the dressage of Uncle Sam, all red, blue and white stripes, a ridiculous hat and a bow tie traditionally seen in barbershop quartets. The Yanks do a fine line in understatement. It looked like something from a KFC advert.
Cobi the dog, of Barcelona 1992, highlights what can happen when you let prissy art students have their way. Cobi is a minimalist canine made from light brown plastic with black lines for eyes and a small mouth, making it as commercial as a DIY circumcision kit.
Atlanta 1996 gave the world such a strange mascot that it was called ‘Izzy’, as in “what is it?” Created entirely by computer – an Olympics first – and featuring a mouth in its chest, eyeballs on top of its head and pointless red cufflinks, it represents a bold step in to the digital world. But it’s rubbish. It looks like what Lindsay Lohan might desperately dress up as to win public favour in a shameful new reality show.
Sydney 2000 got greedy, using three different mascots. Native creatures Syd the platypus, Millie the echidna and Olly the kookaburra all showed how much the Aussies care about their animals, even if Australian animals seem hell-bent on poisoning the population and scaring tourists away.
Athens 2004 – in a time before the IMF came calling and money was still being frittered away willingly – featured Phevos and Athena, two pale gingerbread men come to life. Beijing 2008 was even greedier than the Aussies, producing five mascots, including a panda reimagined in Japanese anime and a Tibetan antelope (though it is unrecorded whether the Tibetan antelope will be allowed its freedom after the games). So what does all of this tell us about Britain’s mascots?
It may be a thinly coded warning to the world that we mean industrial business and that we are revving up our engines to become an economic powerhouse once more. Then again, it could just be the product of a bored apprentice given the task of making an interesting, child-friendly and marketable product made from steel, failing miserably. I know what my money is on.