They’re Not “Creepy”: The Creator of the London Olympics Mascots Defends His Creations

Scenes from the Olympics.
July 27 2012 11:34 AM

They’re Not Creepy

The creator of the London Olympics mascots Wenlock and Mandeville defends his creations against their online critics.

Wenlock and Mandeville
Wenlock and Mandeville are not creepy.

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Seth Stevenson wrote in Slate that the London Olympics mascots Wenlock and Mandeville are creepy and terrifying. He also added that their names “conjure thoughts of scuffed wingtips, soup-stained tailcoats, and crotchety bile.” The mascots’ designer, Grant Hunter, does not agree with Stevenson’s criticism. His response is below.

Firstly, let me set the record straight. I am NOT a member of the Illuminati. I’m the creative lead of the team at Iris Worldwide who created the mascots for a certain sporting event going on in the United Kingdom. And like a proud parent who has dropped off their loved ones at the school gates for the first time, I worry about the bullies. In the blogosphere those who shout loudest get heard the most. Being negative is always easier than seeing the positive. After all, at school it’s “cool” not to like anything. But that all said and done, I’m loving the debate online. Wenlock and Mandeville will be the most talked about mascots in the history of the games. Bring on the naysayers who say they are creepy. Bring on the conspiracy theories that claim dark forces are at play. They are all entitled to their opinions but they all miss the point. The characters were designed to inspire young people to get involved with sport. And the simple fact is—kids love them.

Wenlock
A model of Wenlock.

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

I believe that Britain is best represented by those who dare to think different. Those who aren’t afraid to fail. From the logo to the Olympic Park to the mascots themselves, the organizing committee could have played it safe but they didn’t. Those decisions, in my opinion, reflect a dynamic, forward-looking nation. With the mascots we wanted to celebrate the diversity and richness of modern Britain. So we asked ourselves why have one or two mascots when we could have hundreds of thousands or even millions?

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The worst possible outcome from our point of view would have been for the characters to have been ignored. In what will be the most social games ever, the characters had to be fit for the digital age. They needed to be able to live in many places and spaces. They already have significant followings on Twitter, their website has more than 830,000 likes as of Friday and more than 110,000 customized mascots have been created. And as the games play out, you’ll also see them animated on your TV screens on a daily basis as they explore the various sports.

Their singular eyes have become the main focus, as some adults have called them “creepy.” There have been rumblings about CCTV and an Orwellian Britain. Yes, cameras are everywhere in the UK and across the world. They are in your pockets (or bags) and incorporated into your smartphone. Having a camera on you at all times has become the norm. But since when has that become a negative? Cameras allow us to capture precious moments and that’s exactly how Wenlock and Mandeville use theirs. There’s no sinister subplot.

You only need to look at the growth of Instagram and Pinterest to see how important the sharing of those visual moments can be. Over the next few weeks countless people will have posed for photographs with the various customized Wenlocks and Mandevilles across London. Instagram is full of pictures of them already. USA Swimming world champions have posed with them. Mascot pictures of the day are popping up by the minute as people are on a mission to discover all 84 life-sized statues spread across London.

Grant Hunter
Grant Hunter, designer of the London Olympics Mascots.

Courtesy Iris Worldwide.

Sure, we could have created a bulldog or a pigeon. We could have given them two eyes and a mouth, but you know what? That didn’t work. It didn’t feel right. The one eye conveys “focus” and as a camera lens it gave the characters a way to capture the great moments on their journey to the games. But more importantly it made them iconic and young kids love their quirkiness. (And isn’t quirkiness a very British trait?)

The chatter and banter will continue online as the games progress. I don’t expect everyone to love them but I do ask that you accept the two for the innocents that they are. Go and bounce around in front of your webcam with them. Customize your version of them online and rediscover your inner child. But don’t take it from me, listen to some of the people who really matter. (Quotes taken from this article.)

“I LOVE these mascots. They’re really funny and I wish they could come to my school.”
—Jack, 8, Devon, England

"I think the mascots are really cool because they look like amazing robots."
—Sunil, 9, France

“It was strangely random but we thought they were really funny. They are different from other mascots and that is why we like them."
—Class 3/4, 7-9, Leeds, England

"I love them! I think they're really different and kind of cute!"
—Holly, 10, County Durham, England

"The new mascots are mad and colourful. I like the way they move and they are funny."
—Lewis, 11, London, England

"Weird but wonderful!"
—Emma, 12, Sussex, England

"COOL and CUTE."
—Bob, 10, Texas, USA

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the London Olympics.

Grant Hunter is the regional creative director at Iris Worldwide.