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London Olympics begin with a flourish in Opening Ceremony

With Shakespearean flourishes and pogoing punk rockers, and featuring the actor who plays James Bond on service to his actual majesty, Queen Elizabeth, the United Kingdom opened the Olympic Games on Friday night in a hip and humorous fashion.

The much-anticipated ceremony, directed by Danny Boyle, launched the 2012 Games that promise as good of a show — the final swims of Baltimore swimmer Michael Phelps, among them, who on Saturday faces his toughest challenge against rival Ryan Lochte.

But Friday night was about spectacle not sport, and to the 60,000 in the Olympic Stadium as well as a worldwide audience estimated at four billion, it was a jolly good show. It told Britain's history, but not from dusty schoolbooks but from its music, its popular culture and its idiosyncratic humor.

"I am so proud right now," said Matt Abbott-Williams, 27, among the many who watched from pubs and parks set up with big TVs for this special, shared moment.

"The Britsh have always been different. We're eccentric and weird. I get that, but this is us."

Indeed, no icon of the culture was left out. The highlight for many was a video clip of Daniel Craig, the current James Bond, taking the queen onto a helicopter, which morphed into a real life whirlybird flying over the stadium and parachuting down what looked to be the queen.

Of course it wasn't, but when the monarch entered the stadium, the crowd roared nonetheless. There and even in the pub, Blue Posts, people placed their hands on their hearts and sang, "God Save the Queen."

In the stadium were the likes of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and other political and governmental leaders from around the world. In the royal box were Princes Harry and William, and William's glamorous wife, Kate.

All were treated to a veritable sweep of British music, movies and legends, from Mary Poppins to Harry Potter, the Rolling Stones to the Sex Pistols. A passage from The Tempest was read, which lent the program its title, "Isle of Wonder."

"I had no fever about the Olympics actually," conceded Jon Coates, 31, "until now."

The program also answered the running guessing game over who would light the cauldron. Audiences saw live footage of David Beckham, denied a spot on the British football team competing here, speeding in a boat up the Thames. As he passed under the iconic Tower Bridge, fireworks shot off.

Eventually, he would be seen handing off the torch to a man on a dock — Steve Redgrave, the great Olympic rower. He ran it into the stadium, but handed it off one more time to the actual cauldron-lighters: seven young athletes, fulfilling the Games' slogan, "Inspire a Generation."

Earlier, the traditional parade of athletes took place, the U.S. team spiffy in navy and white Ralph Lauren. Phelps and other swimmers watched from the athletes village — saving their legs for the swimming competition that begins Saturday and includes the grueling 400-meter individual medley. Entering last as the hosts, Team Great Britain arrived under a confetti shower and with David Bowie's "Heroes" blaring.

"I have never felt so proud to be an American," said Suzanne Stettinius of Parkton, who will compete in modern pentathlon.  "That was the greatest experience of my life.  I cried when I saw Muhammed Ali. Beyond words, amazing."

But if tradition was abided by, much of the night was an oddball yet engaging panoply — with surely the coolest soundtrack ever for an opening ceremonies. Boyle took viewers from bucolic England, complete with live sheep and geese, through the smokestacks of the Industrial Revolution and then to the digital age of the Internet and texting. Appropriately, the director himself took to Twitter even as the show progressed, thanking tweeps for all the compliments that were already pouring in.

Pride was everywhere, something that doesn't always get past the renown British reserve of stiff upper lips, of staying calm and carrying on.

"I thought we were going to embarrass ourselves," Abbott-Williams admitted.

Instead, the ceremonies showcased how great British music is, classical to rock to punk to rap. The night would end, as long known, with Paul McCartney, leading what seemed like a global sing-along of "Hey Jude."

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