With the huge countdown clock appearing above the departure board at Central Station, excitement for the Commonwealth Games has stepped up. The nine digit clock had initially shown 128 days to the opening ceremony before somebody switched it off and on again to get the correct number of 135 days. This minor glitch of 7 days brought back fond memories of being part of a group of Glasgow School of Art students contributing to the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in 1986. The 1986 Games were affected by a large political boycott and financial mismanagement. A rotund newspaper tycoon with black dyed hair called Robert Maxwell had stepped in promising to invest £2m. Unfortunately the contribution of this demagogue was just £250,000 encouraging Private Eye magazine to lampoon him as the “bouncing Czech” (he was Czechoslovakian born).
With The Pastels on my Sony Walkman, I walked over to Garscube Road from Wilton Street to join my fellow GSA students at the Display company. We assembled in a big warehouse and were briefed by a monosyllabic boss man in a nylon shirt on the master plan for the Opening Ceremony. Demographic schemes including Africa and Oceania were proposed for carnival style floats. These would be driven around the running track in Edinburgh with happy people waving their hands in fancy dress. I was put in charge of ‘blowing up’ thumbnail drawings of the Houses of Parliament and applying them to the side elevations of the float. I was given a small projector with a 25 meter flex and a wobbly podium on wheels to complete the enlargement. This took me two weeks to execute and when it was laid out on the warehouse floor, it was twice the size required. I was happy to be dismissed of my duties because it meant I could join my fellow students who had nearly completed their 3D rendering of the great barrier reef. After a few more days we were all asked to meet with the monosyllabic boss man who proceeded to hand us some money in small brown envelopes. Our work was done, it was time to leave and the BBC stepped in.
The graphic design that complements major sporting events from the mid 1960s onwards is a patchy affair. Otl Aicher and the 1972 Munich Olympics was breaking new ground. However, when researching the graphic design for the 1986 Commonwealth Games, I found very little evidence. The logo designed by Joe Hall stands up very well (the cross of St Andrews combined with roman numerals), but I was struggling to find anything else. I shifted my in-depth research to the iPad and YouTube. To my delight I found the VHS footage I was looking for of the Opening Ceremony in 1986. Move over Danny Boyle, Yer Magesty and 007 – this is “Smile With Us”. The floats appear at the beginning up to about 3:25 when the female daredevil with the tan coloured shower cap and swimming goggles defies an icy wind off the sea and lands on the grass. The smooth journey of the floats around this jamboree of a running track is assured by blue tractors. The highlight of the pageant (at 5:00) is a massive shortbread tin on wheels stopping briefly in front of the Royal Box and then being escorted out of the stadium by paramilitaries in white boiler suits – blink, and you will miss it.
Will the Red Road flats being blown up and beamed live into the ceremony at Celtic Park on a 100 meter ‘Window on the Commonwealth’ LED screen, be able to match this?