London 2012 design icons – the Olympic mascots

When Olympics Mascots Wenlock and Mandeville, designed by ad agency Iris, were unveiled in 2010, it’s perhaps no surprise there was a fair bit of criticism aimed at the shiny, monocular pair.


Source: London 2012

However, like the much-maligned branding, only the test of time can reveal the adaptability and fluidity of the mascots, which can be customised for different situations.

Grant Hunter, regional creative director for Asia at Iris Worldwide, says, ‘The main brief from Locog was “how do you inspire young people to get involved in sport”. We felt we had to do something for the digital age to connect with kids. The customisation is something we hadn’t heard of being done before – it’s always been an animal relating to the country.

‘[It reflects] the diversity of the UK and of London’s skyline, where you’ve got Temple next to the Gherkin.’


However, while Mark at Creative Review concluded that the mascots ‘have just the right balance of digital zeitgeist and cheeky playfulness about them’, comments on his article were less kind. ‘Just awful. They have about as much charm as Peter Mandelson’; ‘pretty disappointing & kinda creepy’; ‘A whole lot of nothing’ and, rather creatively, ‘Jedward for the digital age’ were among the more disparaging comments.

According to Iris, the mascots’ yellow head lights are inspired by London black cabs; Wenlock’s bangles use the Olympic rings colours and Mandeville wears a timing device to track his ‘personal best’.  Their single eye is a camera, which will ‘capture the people they meet, the places they go and the sports they try on their journey to 2012’.

In a piece for Computer Arts, tellingly entitled Why I Hate Wenlock and Mandeville, Pentagram partner Angus Hyland branded them ‘thoroughly dehumanised’, deciding they ‘reek of committee decisions and that terrible need for political correctness that seems to destroy all trace of charm or idiosyncrasy.’


Hunter denies that the mascots were overtly informed by ‘political correctness’ or stringent guidelines. ‘The hardest thing was choosing a name that wasn’t already trademarked’, he says. ‘The rest is refinement to make sure the two characters are unique in their own right. The designs are very true to what we first came up with.

‘It’s possible through animation to give them human qualities. We looked at how to engage with kids and get them excited – the negative stuff has been from older people, and it’s been quite cool as the kids are who we created it for.’

The characters arrive with their own comprehensive fictional backstory, written by children’s author Michael Morpurgo. The narrative, brought to life in an animated film (see part one below),describes how two drops fell from the molten steel used to create the last girder for the Olympic stadium at a steelworks in Bolton, which then formed Wenlock and Mandeville.


Wenlock and Mandeville

Their names are derived from Much Wenlock in Shropshire, where the Wenlock Olympian Society held its first Olympian Games in 1850; and Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, which organised the competition for injured soldiers in 1948 that inspired the Paralympics.

But are these stories reaching the children they’re aimed at? We spoke to eight-year old Lewis McEneany, a primary-school pupil and Olympics fan who lives in Guernsey.

‘My teacher has told us the story behind them and that their names are from where the Olympics originated’, says McEneany. ‘My teacher said that their eyes are like London taxi headlights and the three prongs on their heads represent the medals that you get at the Olympics.’


He adds, however, ‘Erm, I didn’t really like the story but I like the mascots.’

As well as the animated films, the mascots have a huge online presence, with a website that allows children to design their own mascots, themed school learning materials, a one-off strip in the Beano comic and now a series of sculptures around London. According to Iris, more than 100 000 designs have been submitted through the site.

Andy Thomas, science coordinator at Queensbridge Primary School in Olympic Borough Hackney, teaches six and seven year olds. He says that the characters have largely gone down well with this age group. ‘They’re very aware of them’, he says. ‘There’s been a lot of Olympic-linked education resources and of course they’re all associated with the mascots, things like science and PE resources, especially on the web.’


Source: London 2012

So it is the cute Morpurgo backstory that captures kids’ imaginations? Apparently not. ‘The kids I teach don’t know the story – and I think that goes for everyone up to Year Six’, says Thomas. ‘I just think they think they’re quite fun characters. I think the lower the age group the more popular they are – Year Six are a bit more cynical about cartoon characters in general.’

He adds, ‘I think they have a lot of similarities to other stuff kids are into. It’s that highly processed, shiny, colourful look. They look like something you might get on a lot of the iPhone apps they play on their parents’ phones. It’s got an Angry Birds feel to it with the big, bold colours.’

McEneany seems to agree. ‘I think they are very nice’, he says. ‘[They’re] cute but they look kinda like aliens’.

Hide Comments (21)Show Comments (21)
  • Andy November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    So we’re aiming the Olympics at four year olds? Suddenly everything makes sense. Not sure the two giant anthropomorphised penises are particularly appropriate though.

  • Ren November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I still remember my first initial reaction to the mascots, “REALLY?”

  • sulei November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Sorry I am not buying it those MASCOTS are dreadful.. period!!

  • Mark Ingham November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    W&M = Mutant Ninja Turtles + Darleks + Taxis ==> Cool!

  • Mickey November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    “So we’re aiming the Olympics at four year olds?”

    Why not? It’s all about inclusivity (supposedly) so why not aim it at such an age group. Today’s four-year olds will be the gold medal winners of the 2032 Olympics after all, so what’s wrong with trying to engage this audience at an early age?

    My own four year old is excited by the olympics and much of that can be put down to his enjoyment of the mascots.

    As the saying goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

  • Pat Green November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    They are so cringe-worthy that it makes me ashamed to think that the rest of the world will think “is that really the best they can do?”

    As someone else said above “Those Mascots are just dreadful.. period!!

  • Martyn McDermott November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    As it clearly says at the start of this article, only time will tell how successful these mascots will prove. I salute creative agencies breaking norms and pushing peoples perceptions of what is good, right and relevant. Kids are the perfect market to aim these mascots at, my kids absolutely adore them and they will grow up and talk about London 2012 long after we’re all gone and hopefully they’ll be reminiscing how forward thinking and creative they were. Especially in a games that has been hijacked by commercialism and dictated too by fast food brands. Change doesn’t happen by following formulas and trends as most designers do. I think if many of the people commenting here on this forum had had a chance at creating the mascots they’d of ended up with something with three lions in or on it!!

  • Android1987 November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    For me as I observed the concept of the designs of the mascot and the gymnasium is “Illuminati” inspired.

  • Alexis November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    “This bit represents X, and this bit represents Y” pretty much undermines the denial that it was design by committee.

    I’ve no problem with them picking one thing – the Sheffield steel industry or whatever it is – and basing it around that and that alone.

    There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with a funky quicksilver style mascot. It just seems clumsily executed. Having two of them and that they appear in different colours each time doesn’t help.

  • david November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    “So we’re aiming the Olympics at four year olds?”

    I think it’s fair to say that the MASCOTS of the London Olympics are intentionally aimed at children. I don’t think this is any different to any games mascot that has preceeded them.

  • Gese Color November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I think that bad reputation is very sticky, if someone says it one, then it is hard to throw it away, clean it back. I think they are done quite right according to the British style:

  • Gese Color November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Bad reputation is sticky, if someone commented it so or wrote an article about the theme, then it is hard to get it back, clean it out:

  • gese November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I think mascots are created in a quite right British style as they should be if games are hosted in the UK this time. Bad reputation is just very sticky, once someone reviewed some topic, issue or creation badly, then it is hard to clear it back:

  • gese November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I think mascots are created in a quite right British style as they should be if games are hosted in the UK this time. Bad reputation is just very sticky, once someone reviewed some topic, issue or creation badly, then it is hard to clear it back.

  • Paul Barratt November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    If they were mascots for a second tier brand of mouthwash or toothpaste, the London 2012 mascots might have stood up to the scrutiny of the design industry. They look completely demented as they bob around behind the winning athletes, trying to get on the telly trackside.

  • Amy November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    my 2 cents…2 eyes…thats all I think it would take to make it look likable. Has anyone liked a one eyed character…ever? Perhaps the one eyed monster in monsters inc… but, its still a monster…

  • Basscake November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    “The main brief from Locog was “how do you inspire young people to get involved in sport”‘

    I have three kids aged between 2 and 9, they all went mental for wenlock and mandeville. I have a cuddly mascot sized hole in my wallet to prove it.

    Brief met, job done I would say.

  • golam rabbani November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

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  • max nally November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    ive always wonderd how the design of a olympic fatty like you fuck off you

  • Barney November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    My 7 year old absolutely loved them, bought the soft toys, searched for them on Google and found loads of games he could play.

    And as HE is the target audience I have to accept that they worked. Any fully grown adult who gets upset that they weren’t how THEY wanted them to be should perhaps worry themselves with something else!

  • maisie November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    This websitte is a load of junk

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