When Mr Bean played ‘Chariots of Fire’ at the 2012 Olympics with the London Symphony Orchestra

4 August 2021, 09:38 | Updated: 15 March 2024, 16:34

Rowan Atkinson, Mr Bean, performs during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012.
Rowan Atkinson, Mr Bean, performs during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. Picture: Alamy

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Remembering the iconic time British humour and a great orchestra took centre stage at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, to create a timeless moment of music and comedy.

As cameras panned over the Olympic Stadium, and broadcasters introduced Sir Simon Rattle and his London Symphony Orchestra to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, we all thought we were in for a world-class performance of VangelisChariots of Fire.

But that night, an unusual British pairing came together.

Homing in on the pianist, the camera revealed comedy giant Rowan Atkinson, under the guise of his most famous character Mr Bean.

Immediately, a global audience began snickering as Atkinson was tasked with carrying the steady, electronic pulse in the Greek composer’s great movie theme.

Bean, wearied by his responsibilities and Vangelis’ interminable ostinato, huffs and puffs, taking over with his other finger, and then his umbrella – an essential ingredient for any outdoor performance in Britain – to maintain the synthesiser pulse.

Read more: Rowan Atkinson ‘forgets’ Ode to Joy lyrics in hilarious skit

Mr Bean's Orchestral Experience and Hilarious Sketch at the London Olympics Opening Ceremony

Six years later, Atkinson came to Classic FM and told More Music Breakfast’s Tim Lihoreau that, as many astute at-home viewers might have already guessed, the whole performance that evening was pre-recorded.

And it was all to save the London Symphony Orchestra’s precious instruments from the unpredictable English weather.

“The only thing we could do was to prerecord the whole thing, so Simon Rattle was waving his arms about just as I was, miming to the music,” Atkinson said.

Mr. Bean Live Performance at the London 2012 Olympic Games

As Bean dozes off during the sketch, it cuts to the famous running scene from Chariots of Fire… with Bean at the back.

At a ceremony celebrating the world’s great athletes, all representing the pinnacle of human physical achievement, it could only have been Rowan Atkinson representing the pinnacle of English comedy.

“Well, that is English humour at its best,” the broadcaster said. “Rowan Atkinson, Mr Bean. Famous surely all around the world, and I hope you laughed.”

Rowan Atkinson and that Olympic opening ceremony sketch

Speaking to Lihoreau, Atkinson added: “Music and comedy sit extremely well together, but they have to blend. They can’t fight each other – it is a dance.

“Music is many ways in the straight man to the comedy, that essential support mechanism against which you can play.”

The balance of both, that evening, was just right. It was enjoyed by over 60,000 in the stadium, and an estimated global television audience of one billion.