A smorgasbord of cultural events in London have been announced by the BBC next year to commemorate the 2012 Olympics. A huge Hackney music festival has been announced alongside a star-studded Shakespeare season, a host of London inspired TV programmes and the commissioning of Mercury Music-Award winners Elbow to score the theme for next year’s coverage.
Flying in the face of recent announcements to make £700m of savings this year, the BBC’s director general Mark Thompson likened next year’s cultural extravaganza to “a Russian military response”, with “a vast army of people and writers and directors focusing on it”.
The BBC seems to have something for everyone prepared next year, with Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend bringing two days of music to the East’s Hackney Marshes. The first acts to be announced are suitably London-centric – Leona Lewis, Plan B, Florence & the Machine and Tinie Tempah. With a crowd of 100,000 people attending, it marks the biggest concert Aunty has ever staged. Tickets to the event, which will see double the stages present at Radio 1's Big Weekend, are free with the majority being allocated to people living in Hackney and the surrounding boroughs.
At the other end of the scale, the BBC will mark next year’s Olympics with a Shakespeare season. New adaptations of four of Shakespeare’s History Plays, Richard II, Henry IV Parts I and II and Henry V will be aired, with Jeremy Irons, John Hurt and Julie Walters all making an appearance. Also showing is a season of programmes celebrating London including a new film by punk film director Julien Temple. New documentaries about UK artists David Hockney, Lucian Freud and Olympic Park sculpture creator Anish Kapoor will also air.
While BBC Proms will perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on the opening day of the Olympics, the song you’ll hear most of is “First Steps” – Elbow’s newly written score to next summer’s coverage. Featuring the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Community Gospel Choir, the top-secret song which will accompany 2,500 hours of Olympics coverage sounds appropriately epic. Elbow frontman Guy Garvey has called it a “noble anthem” but worries "there's part of you that thinks is everyone going to be sick of this by the end of the year!”
The BBC events are just part of the Cultural Olympiad, a nationwide £97m programme of arts and cultural events surrounding next year’s games, which includes the London 2012 festival running from June til September.
By Chris Mapleston