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Olympic torch, by Ralph Lavers, 1947

Olympic Torch, Ralph Lavers, 1947, aluminium torch holder, steel burner

Olympic Torch, Ralph Lavers, 1947, aluminium torch holder, steel burner

The lighting of the flame at the opening ceremony marks the start of the Olympic Games. The torches are carried by amateur athletes who each complete a leg bearing the flame on its journey from Olympia in Greece to the Olympic site. The bearers are usually allowed to keep them as a souvenir.

The V&A has recently acquired this torch from the 1948 London Olympics, which is thought to have been used on the Belgium leg of its trip across Europe.
The British Olympic Committee wanted the torch to be 'a good example of British craftsmanship' and chose architect Ralph Lavers to design it. Lavers was interested in classical architecture and archaeology and his design was successful enough to be used again for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

The government's Fuel Research Station oversaw practical considerations, such as the cost, materials and fuel. The torches had to be lightweight, as each runner carried them for about one kilometre. They weighed just less than a kilogram and were made from aluminium. The fuel was supplied in tablet form and inserted into a steel burner perforated with holes to protect the flame from strong winds. Each torch had to burn for at least fifteen minutes.

The 1948 London games were the first to follow the Second World War. Much of London was still in ruins, and rationing was still in place. Known as 'the austere games', the Olympics that year were a low key affair compared to the preparations which will precede 2012. Athletes brought their own sandwiches to eat and the British team were instructed to make their own uniforms.

The torch will be a central exhibit in the proposed V&A touring show of Olympic Games posters, which will also feature a special focus on the London 1948 Games.

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