Once upon a time Britain was truly Great. Nowadays if you want to use the phrase ‘Great Britain’ you have to do so with a quintessentially British note of irony.

A few months ago I saw American musician and artist Laurie Anderson speak at Record Store Day in Rough Trade. There she commented on our peculiar British need to include a positive adjective in our country’s name - GREAT Britain. ‘You don’t have Maximum France’ she joked. Although, for the record, an American telling you you’re being too nationalistic is like the guy from Pineapple Dance Studio telling you you’re being too camp.

Nonetheless, Laurie makes a good point. The moniker Great Britain conjures up memories of when most of the world map was coloured in pink, slavery was OK and our economy still had a primary sector. These days us Brits have learnt to welcome disappointment and underachievement into our hearts and homes. But that’s OK, the rest of the world loves us for our self-deprecating humour and patented stiff upper lip, they think it’s charming. Although thinking ahead, as we enter this Lib/Con age of austerity with a national deficit of £156.1 billion and climbing, we might want to start the R&D on upper lip Viagra because, in a deliciously ironic reversal of the 97′ Labour election song,  Things Can Only Get Shitter.

But recession aside, I do worry about our county’s ability to rise to the challenge and perform when it’s needed. You might not agree with me now, but just wait until we get knocked out the the World Cup in the group stage by USA - Yanks are mega-organised and the only thing they hate more than losing is dieting and world geography examinations. What really troubles me however, is when we suck at the things that we are supposed to be good at; art, graphic design, architecture and other creative stuff for instance.

Remember the Millennium Dome? That was supposed to be how our country - GREAT Britain - celebrated a thousand years of history. It was supposed to be a monument that would echo through the ages. In 1996 The Millennium Dome Commission boasted that it would be ‘London’s answer to the Eiffel Tower’. I wonder if at the time they realised what an apt comparison that was to make, seeing as when it was first built most Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower. There’s even that well known story of the novelist Guy de Maupassant who hated the tower so much that he allegedly ate lunch there every day because it was the only place in Paris where he couldn’t see the tower itself. While a Brit would probably have turned, not only the other cheek, but their chair through 180 degrees and quietly had another sip of tea, this willfully provocative gesture is wholly appropriate for a French intellectual.

Somehow I don’t think our £700 million Marque will have the same resurgence in popularity that the Eiffel Tower now enjoys -  I don’t even think you can get lunch there. You can see an Oasis gig, but that really is the worst of both worlds.

Saying this, everything we did wrong with The Dome pales into insignificance when compared to our most recent national disaster - the 2012 Olympic mascots. You must have seen them by now, but if not, here they are:

It would be very easy to spend the next 500 words ranting furiously about how terrible these things are. However, to do so would be to let the designers off the hook too easily. Anger is temporary. So to really impress upon you how terrible these designs are I’m going to look at other Olympic mascots over time and see if there is a gold medal winning formula for success. Then I will pass judgment on Wenlock and Mandeville once all the evidence is gathered. 

Dove of Peace - Mexico, 1968
The dove of peace was Olympic mascot genesis. Designed as the unofficial mascot of the Mexico City games it was supposed to represent, you guessed it, peace and tie in with the games’ slogan - Los juegos de la Paz or Games of Peace. But despite the best intentions of the organisers’, the designer’s decision to represent the dove of peace with an indistinguishable splodge may have undermined their harmonious message somewhat, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right?

Waldi - Munich, 1972
Although the Munich Olympics are destined to be remembered for the Munich Massacre, it was also the year when Olympic mascots really hit their stride. The ever design-conscious Germans hired graphic design demi-god Otl Aicher to produce all the branding of the games. In his infinite wisdom Otl came up with this styilised Dachshund named Waldi, who was based on a real long-haired Dachshund named Cherie von Birkenhof - Yeah, the dog had a surname. And what?

The Germans also successfully integrated the design into their whole Olympic programme. There was merch such as Waldi toys, buttons, posters, pins and naturally a cuddly toy, but also the aesthetics of Waldi’s design were replicated in all the literature of the games; they even shaped the marathon course into the outline of this handsome pooch. Now that’s German efficiency.

Amik - Montreal, 1976
If Germany could have a Sausage Dog then Canada were sure going to have a beaver. But on this occasion the Canadian’s beat the Germans at their own game, coming up with a mascot that was even more minimalist in design. You can always count on a former colony to stick it to the Krauts - 2 World Wars and 1 World Cup!

Misha - Moscow, 1980
Following the now obviously well established trend of having your national animal as your mascot, it would appear that Russia really phoned it in with this one. But you can’t argue with results and this cuddly fur ball sure got them. Misha was the first commercially successful Olympic mascot, which means basically that he/she sold out harder than Ice Cube.

Misha’s image was printed onto every available surface in Moscow, even onto the backs of sleeping vagrants, and all across the USSR unit after unit of Mischa toys, t-shirts and teddys rolled off the Soviet production line as loyal comrades stood arm-in-arm singing the party song.

Sam The Olympic Eagle - Los Angeles, 1984
Remember what I said about American nationalism earlier. I stand by that.

In a way, you have to admire the unashamed laziness and lack of ambition demonstrated by the designer who came up with this mascot. It wasn’t so much a thought process but one thought - ‘Hey, what if I draw Uncle Sam as a bald eagle. Say, that ain’t half bad. Now I can spend the rest the assigned 12 month development time jerking off in my studio and watching sports’.

Hodori - Seoul, 1988
Mascot design was all getting a little too predictable by 1988. But looking on the bright side it must have been a golden age for animal cartoonists.

Cobi - Barcelona, 1992
1992 saw a raising of the bar in the world of Olympic mascot design. Always a city to push things forward, Barcelona recognised the success of the child-friendly and cartoonish qualities of previous mascots and blended it with their own unique cultural identity. The result was this cheeky little chap called Cobi, a cubist interpretation of a Catalaan Sheepdog inspired by the work of Picasso. Not only was Cobi a commerical smash hit like Misha, but the Barcelona natives adopted him as a symbol of the city’s progression and development.

Izzy - Atlanta, 1996
Everything that rises must converge, and after things were looking so good with Cobi the Americans set the discipline of Olympic mascot design back years with this horrendous effort. Upon reflection it was brave to break away form the animal typecast, but Izzy was surely a hop-step-and-a-jump in the wrong direction.

As a side note, Izzy was the first “computer generated” mascot in Olympic history and even had it’s own video game, Izzy’s Quest for the Olympic Rings, which actually looked pretty awesome.

But if this and the Super Mario Brothers film have taught us nothing it’s that no art should be based on a video game.

Olly, Syd and Millie - Sydney 2000
While the Sydney games were widely regarded as the best ever in terms of competition these have to be some of the worst mascots ever produced. They look like characters for a rip-off Auzzie Pokémon. I find it hard to believe they were produced in 2000. I think the designs music have fallen through a temporal wormhole from 1980. Say what you will about our much maligned 2012 logo, but at least it looks modern and dynamic.

What the Sydney example hopefully points to is a correlation between the quality of the games and the shitness of the mascot. If my calculations are correct I predict a massive medal haul for GB, Usain Bolt to run the 100m in less than 5 seconds and Jonathan Edwards to make a surprise comeback from retirement to break his own triple jump World Record.

Athena & Phevos - Athens, 2004
Happily continuing the trend of becoming incrementally more rubbish over time, the Greek Olympic team managed not only to offend their own people but the eyes of the rest of the world with these swollen-footed oafs. Supposedly based on the Ancient Greek Gods Athena and Apollo the designs were described as “savagely insulting” to Greek culture. I guess that’s what happens when you portray your culture’s ancient Gods as walking Laughing Cow slices. Nice one.

Fuwa - Beijing, 2008
Remember how amazing the Beijing games were? Remember the Bird Cage stadium? The Water Cube? The opening ceremony? The International Olympic Committee might as well have held their hands up and said, ‘right chaps, no one’s going to top that. Let’s just close up shop and go and work for FIFA’.

Did you seriously think the Beijing mascots were going to be a disappointment after all that? Like similar success stories before them these 5 typically Chinese characters appealed to kids and adults alike, combing playful imagery with touches of Chinese cultural heritage.

Cleverly the first syllable of each of their names – Beibei the Fish, Jingjing the Panda, Huanhuan the Olympic Flame, Yingying the Tibetan Antelope and Nini the Swallow – came together to form a sentence, ‘Beijing huanying ni’ which means ‘Beijing welcomes you’. With smarts like that it’s no wonder they’ve become the World’s largest economy.

Wenlock & Mandeville, London 2012
So where does this leave us and how do these shiny bell ends compare?

First some background. The Guardian tells us that “the pair are based on a short story by children’s author Michael Morpurgo that tells how they were fashioned from droplets of the steel used to build the Olympic stadium… Wenlock [is] named after the Shropshire town of Much Wenlock that helped inspire Pierre de Coubertin to launch the modern Olympics, and Mandeville, inspired by the Buckinghamshire town of Stoke Mandeville, where the Paralympics were founded”.

This is all very commendable - although I’m not too sure what sort of message it sends out having mascots whose mythology is based around an industrial accident - but what does it mean to me? Naff all, that’s what! Successful mascots of the past like Waldi, Cobi and Misha were representative of the host nation in the literal sense of the word and they had it’s identity encoded in their very DNA. Contrast that to these two tinfoil twerps and you soon see they say nothing relevant or insightful about modern Britain, Great or otherwise. What impression of our country do you think these two droplets of molten jism will give the thousands of visiting spectators and millions of viewers overseas? If you were to deconstruct our national identity using these brushed-aluminium retard Teletubbies, you’d probably come to the conclusion that we were a nation of stoned simpletons who spend the day staring at shiny objects and trying to figure out how mirrors work. Maybe that does sum up Britain in 2012. Who knows?

Despite all that, what confuses and astounds me the most is how after 18 months of planning, 40 focus groups and lord knows how much money, not one single person involved in the process has stood up and said ‘hang on a minute guys. Just wait a minute. Don’t these things look a little bit like metallic cocks? They look like dildos for kids’ What the hell are we doing?!?’

Not for the first time Great Britain has produced a Great Disappointment. Rule Britannia.