Worlds of Wonder: An Olympic Evening with Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce

From Charlotte Weber, Liverpool Hope University Reader-in-Residence

Pandaemonium, The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein, Jane Austen and Dickens – these were just some of the literary greats who appeared alongside

Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce entertain the audience (c.Alan Edwards)

such contemporary icons as David Beckham, The Queen, Mr Bean and J.K. Rowling in Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce’s electric presentation in front of students and staff of Hope University yesterday evening.

The event, which was held in the University Chapel and hosted by The Reader Organisation and the Faculty of Education as part of the Hope Readers partnership project, involved the pair who were part of the creative team behind the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony discussing the literary influences on ‘the greatest show on earth’.

The Hope Readers project aims to inspire a future generation of primary school teachers with a deep and meaningful love of books and reading, which they will be able to pass-on to the children and young people they will go on to teach. The event yesterday was opened by Director of The Reader Organisation, Dr Jane Davis, who thanked the teachers and individuals who had inspired Danny and Frank when they were at school and who helped them to where they are now.

When asked about why he felt it was important to come and speak to the students at Hope, Danny commented,

Part of the privilege of our position is to be able to share our experience with people like the students at Liverpool Hope. Reading for pleasure is the fuel for everything and books, music and films are the creative platform to access the most amazing ideas.

Both Danny and Frank presented themselves to the audience as obsessive readers, with Danny referencing the controversial poet John Cooper Clark and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby as having had a massive influence on him.

The enthralled audience (c.Alan Edwards)

The pair were keen to showcase the books that had influenced their vision during the creation of the opening ceremony as well, and Frank read a section from Humphrey Jennings’ book that documents the Industrial Revolution, Pandaemonium. In fact the book, which Frank gave to Danny as a Christmas present one year, became such a huge inspiration on the ceremony, that the opening sequence, in which huge furnaces and chimneys rose from the ground of the Olympics stadium, was named after it. At the end of the talk, Frank passed a copy of the book that had been signed by both of them over to Jane Davis, to be used as part of the Hope Readers project.

During their conversation, Danny quoted C.S Lewis’ words, ‘We read to know that we are not alone’. Later, after he had read from Paul Farley’s hilarious poem, ‘A poem for the Queen’, which was used as inspiration for the sequence with James Bond and the Queen at Buckingham Palace and which refers to the Queen ‘waking up / in the blue silence of seven hundred rooms’, Danny said,

I would encourage the Queen to read. Because if there is anything that could tell her, when she wakes up in that massive house with seven hundred rooms, that she is not alone – it would be in a book!

Frank Cottrell Boyce, who scripted the opening ceremony and who is patron of The Reader Organisation and Professor of Reading at Hope, responded to a question from the audience about his feelings on being an inspiration to future generations by saying that it was simply a matter of ‘passing-on’ what you receive:

You can only give back what you are given, in one form or another: you feel impelled to pass-on what you love. And that is why teaching, and being an educator is a position of such massive privilege.

After the presentation had concluded, with a reading by Frank of his highly-acclaimed book The Unforgotten Coat, and several rounds of applause from the audience, both Frank and Danny headed over to the Eden building – the university’s Faculty of Education – for over an hour of meeting students and staff, photographs and book-signing.

There has been a massive buzz in the air at Hope about the event for the past two weeks, and it is even more palpable the day after. Both students and staff  agree that it has been one of the best moments at the university, and that it has inspired them and made them think differently about their role within Education. One PGCE Primary student commented:

The Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce talk was great. I’m really inspired to actually read some of the books I know I should read, but have never got round too! I’ll be passing my enthusiasm onto my primary school staff (and pupils) to get reading. What fantastic ideas, and people, to bring to the university! 

The signed copy of Pandaemonium will be on display in the Garden Room in the Education Faculty and Frank has promised to return to campus again very soon to celebrate the success of The Unforgotten Coat in being nominated for the Guardian children’s fiction prize.

Thanks to everyone who attended and made it such a special, lively and exciting event.

Danny and Frank spent over an hour signing books for all the students who attended (c. Alan Edwards)

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