Big Ben chimes in to launch Games

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BIG Ben chimed non-stop for three minutes to ring in the Olympic Games as anticipation built up across the country.

The London landmark was joined by hundreds of churches and other organisations across the nation as bell ringers greeted the official start of London 2012.

As the countdown to the games continued thousands of spectators from across the country and beyond began filtering into the Olympic Park yesterday evening ahead of the opening ceremony.

There was an international feel to the crowd as flags of countries including Brazil, China and various African nations dotted a sea of people carrying red, white and blue outside the park.

Security appeared to be coping well with the huge numbers as the queues flowed quickly through the main gate which opened at 5pm.

The day had begun with the ringing of bells at 8.12am

Special permission had to be gained for the hour bell at the Palace of Westminster to be allowed to toll out of its regular sequence.

It is believed to be the first time that the strike of Big Ben has been rung outside its normal schedule since February 15 1952, when it tolled every minute for 56 strokes for the funeral of King George VI.

The bells at the National Assembly for Wales, Stormont in Northern Ireland and the Scottish Parliament also rang so that all four Parliaments chimed in unison at 8.12am.

The cacophony of sound is for the All The Bells event, the brainchild of Turner Prize-winning artist and musician Martin Creed, who encouraged everyone in the UK to ring a bell. His piece of “conceptual art” was devised as part of the London 2012 Festival.

The ringing of Big Ben was attended by the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, Lord Tony Hall, chair of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Board and bell ringers from a variety of organisations.

The bell on board the royal barge Gloriana also pealed for three minutes as it processed down the Thames, carrying the Olympic flame in a ceremonial cauldron and HMS Belfast fired its canons in a countdown to 8.12am as 300 children, sea cadets, brownies and Town Criers gathered on board to ring an assortment of bells.

Others taking part included The Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the British Army, the RAF, the National Trust, the National Theatre, the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers, the Royal British Legion and the Women’s Institute.

Tower Hamlets, one of six Olympics host boroughs, rang in the changes as one of its councillors joined a Pearly Queen of Bow for a ding-dong at the historic Bow Church.

The traditional Cockney welcome with Councillor Rania Khan was witnessed by the Rev Debbie Frazer, who is new at the church.

The full three-minute chime was broadcast on BBC Breakfast, BBC Radio 2 and every BBC local radio station across the UK.

Bells rang everywhere from Britain’s northernmost inhabited house in Skaw in the Shetland Isles, to the UK’s most westerly church in Tresco in the Scilly Isles.

It aimed to set a world record for the largest number of bells to be rung simultaneously and included children with handbells, through to people ringing bicycle bells and doorbells, to experienced change ringing experts of tower bells and church bells. Beverley, near Hull, and York were among the areas in Yorkshire joining in the attempt.

Nelson’s flagship HMS Nelson and warships HMS Illustrious and HMS Edinburgh joined in the nationwide event by ringing their ship’s bell at Portsmouth Naval Base.

Captain Martin Connell, HMS Illustrious’ commanding officer, said: “All of us on board, along with the rest of the nation, have been looking forward to welcoming this great sporting event to Britain.”

Commander Tim Ash, base executive officer, said: “The naval base was delighted to take part in such a momentous occasion.”