Hetty Crist

Hetty Crist

Deputy Press Secretary

Part of UK in USA

27th July 2012 Washington DC, USA

Keep Calm and Host the Olympics

With the spectacular opening ceremony happening in London tonight, I wonder how many people attending the London 2012 Olympics this year will have been there in 1948, the last time London held the Olympics?

My father was one of those who attended the 1948 London Olympics at the old Wembley Stadium, a 12 year old boy, he and his two siblings, plus his mother or father (depending on work commitments) went to the Olympics everyday for two weeks.  In 1948, London was a broken city barely struggling out of the Second World War. The Blitz had left piles of rubble where neighbourhoods once stood.   Rationing was still in effect and there were shortages of milk, eggs, coal and housing. The Olympic Games was not welcome by many that year.

“Our country will not be able to handle the Games: it will take too long to rebuild London,” predicted one English sportswriter, as reported by author Janie Hampton in her book, “The Austerity Olympics.” “England would be jolly well satisfied never to hold the Games again.”

But happen it did and my father has fond memories of how much he enjoyed it and the tremendous atmosphere. What struck me most was how different the experience was then. It was a much simpler affair.  He and his family were able to go everyday for a fortnight and sat in the same seats,  buying their tickets from a local travel agent in Chiswick High Road. My Grandfather ran the family bakery in West London and so went with them when he could, the rest of the time my Grandma took them. There was a basic opening ceremony more like a military parade with each country marching behind its flag, it was over relatively quickly.

How different from the millions of online ticket bids that today’s spectators must take part in to get a piece of the action and the spectacular three hour opening ceremony that everyone is sworn to secrecy about.  That’s how much more the Olympics have come to mean in recent years. In 1948 there were 135 events, and the entire cost of the games came in at a shade over 1.2 million dollars. Today’s games are a 14 billion dollar operation. My dad takes a rather dim view of all the money involved now and hankers after a simpler time when all the competitors were amateurs and had day jobs that came first, it all seems a bit cut throat to him now.

As for Olympic merchandise, when asked about 1948 my dad replied that ‘They didn’t really go in for that kind of thing then.” This year’s Olympic merchandise is set to bring in an over £1 billion in total revenue. Back in 1948 in a post war Britain, with few Olympic sponsors,  outside Wembley Stadium spectators were given free Coca Cola to drink in booths.

So what of the winners that year?  Because of World War II Germany and Japan were not invited to participate; the USSR were invited but chose not to send any athletes. The United States team won the most total medals, 84, and the most gold medals, 38 – some things never change.  Team GB won 23 medals, three of them gold.  We won 47 medals in the last Olympics in Beijing-and some have predicted we will win 25 gold medals in the summer Olympics this year.

According to my dad the Swedish won a lot of athletics that year having been neutral in the war and the Turkish did well in the wrestling for the same reason. Fanny Blankers- Koen the Dutch woman aka ‘The Flying Housewife’ sprinted into the record books winning four gold medals at the Games that year, as a 30 year old mother of two she proved that sometimes women really can have it all. The Americans (as always) did well as did the Jamaican team on middle distance running. In the men’s sprinting our man Emmanuel McDonald Bailey came sixth but the USA were number one that year with champion Harrison Dillard.

My dad was one of the lucky ones who had a TV back then, it had a nine inch screen and it’s cabinet was far bigger than the rest of it, it was made by Busch who had a factory in Chiswick and he was able to watch the Olympics in the evenings when he got home on the BBC after 8.30pm only, that was the only channel that existed back then and programming only ran in the evenings. This year NBC are streaming all events live on numerous different outlets, including many TV channels and i-pads and iphones, meaning that most everyone will be able to watch the Olympics if they want to. It is expected that the TV audience for the Opening Ceremonies has the potential to reach 4 billion people,  this is larger than the entire population of the world in 1948.

And what of London? That struggling, bleak, post-war city has truly risen from the ashes and is now one of the most vibrant, diverse and exciting cities on the planet. The finance capital of the world, it  attracts millions of pounds each year in tourism and investment. It will now host the greenest games ever and create a legacy to last beyond my life time which will inspire a future generation.

My dad will not be attending this year,  he is retired by the sea and wouldn’t like all the crowds,  he will watch it on TV instead (as will I, here in the US) and it will be pleasing for both of us to see how the Greatest Show on Earth will be delivered in London, a city that has changed and developed so much and one that we will both always call home.

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About Hetty Crist

Hetty Crist served as the Deputy Press Secretary at the British Embassy in Washington. Educated at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle (the same as Jonny Ive!) Hetty has worked…

Hetty Crist served as the Deputy Press Secretary at the British Embassy in Washington. Educated at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle (the same as Jonny Ive!) Hetty has worked in a range of communications roles in both the public and private sector at companies including Microsoft, The Institute of Directors and The National Autistic Society. She joined the British Embassy in July 2010 having previously worked for seven years in government communications roles in London at both The Department of Health and The Foreign Office. In Washington Hetty was responsible for communications work around the UK Economy and the Eurozone, Energy, Trade, and UK domestic, legal and judicial issues as well as Consular and Corporate issues. Her work also included highlighting all that the UK has to offer through the cross-government GREAT Campaign and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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