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Oh sure those big fancy opening ceremonies at Beijing in 2008 were impressive -- they had double the budget of this year's performance -- but it seemed like the British had a reply four years later: we invented all that stuff China is just now figuring out. The 2012 London Olympics opening ceremonies celebrated all the things about Western culture that makes live bearable: the Industrial Revolution, human rights, modern medicine, a national health care system, great literature, and pop music. Here's our recap of Friday night's festivities. 

Here soldiers hang out after working in the Excel Center Friday:

(Photo via Associated Press.)

The center of the stadium has been turned into a big earthy shire.

(Photo via Reuters.)

Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins (such a British name!) rings the largest harmonically tuned bell in the world.

(Photo via Reuters.)

The scene changes from the pastoral countryside to Industrial Revolution. Suffragettes, kings and queens are included, and the Olympics rings are forged in steel.

(Photos via Reuters.)

... and then the Queen talks to James Bond. There are Corgis. Bond is played by Daniel Craig, and the Queen is played by the real live Queen.

A fake queen parachutes in:

After a little video showing the fake spy and the real royal arrive at the stadium, the James Bond theme song plays as the Queen enters the stadium. British commentators say she certainly has a sense of humor.

Look at these awesome fake clouds:

(Photos via Reuters.)

...And now a tribute to the National Health Service. Health care politics are different over there...

No, I mean really, really different. Imagine an Obamacare tribute if the Olympics had been held in Chicago.

Happy children dance on hospital beds, because they have health care. The performance moves into a celebration of British children's literature. Most of the dancers are actual health workers, the BBC commentators say. 

Mary Poppins beats Voldemort, and market inefficiencies in the health care system. Better photos to come, but for now:

Now the symphony orchestra is going to play one of the all-time most awesomely sappy sports songs, "Chariots of Fire." Mr. Bean has a starring role.

Ah, here they are: Children getting health care:

The initials of the Great Ormond Street Hospital:

Literary bad guys scaring them:

And Mary Poppinses to the rescue:

(Photos via Reuters.)

And now, a montage of 40 years of British pop songs.

We hear all the usuals: The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, Queen, New Order, Eurythmics, plus, um, Prodigy. While the music plays, people dance in the center around a big house onto which there are projected clips of music videos and movies and stuff.

(Photos via Reuters.)

The flame approaches the stadium:

Guided in a boat by David Beckham:

Those who died on July 7, 2005, the day after London was awarded the Games, are remembered:

(Photos via Reuters.)

And the parade of athletes begins! Greece goes first, as always, and then the rest come out in alphabetical order, except the host nation is last.

(Photos via Reuters.)

Here are some cool outfits. Burundi:




Burkina Faso:




Two Saudi women are competing this year:

The Czechs wore wellies:





(Photos via Reuters.)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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