Civilisations

I went to the launch of Civilisations, a new nine-part series by the BBC, which was held in the lecture theatre of the National Gallery and so haunted by the ghost of Kenneth Clark, patrician and tweed suited and with his terrible teeth, standing in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame and pronouncing in thirteen programmes about the qualities and characteristics of western European culture.   The odd thing was that all the sophistication of current tv technology – the global range, thoughtfulness and intelligence of the forthcoming programmes – was trumped by David Attenborough appearing on stage afterwards, greeted like a rock star, and describing how the original programmes were commissioned in 1965 in order to demonstrate the virtues of colour television to a sceptical British public, thereby creating an accidental masterpiece.

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6 thoughts on “Civilisations

  1. CIVILISATIONS, plural, will consider the many civilisations that Kenneth Clark ignored. The last episode/chapter of his (brilliant) work made the extraordinary remark that Spain had contributed nothing of value – ignoring Goya, Velasquez, El Greco, Gaudi etc.

    Clark’s programmes were focused exclusively on Western European culture, and Christianity – the art of the Grand Tour (France, Germany, Italy) with no consideration for the Middle or Far East, Scandinavia, Africa, North or South America etc,

    Even with four presenters, of the excellence of Simon Sharma and Mary Beard, they have a mammoth task to give the Culture, Art and Architecture of the World the same scrutiny and intelligence that Clark brought to Western Europe. or the same scrutiny that Attenborough has brought to the natural world in Blue Planet and its sister series. But it should make for hours, even years, of great television.

  2. Scandinavia and Russia certainly ought to feature – yet more countries that are woefully underrepresented in UK public collections.

    We watched the original Kenneth Clark programmes over Christmas, and they stand up remarkably well.

    • Yes, I actually thought they were better than I had remembered – surprisingly broad in their scope, and unexpectedly good on the eighteenth century which he elsewhere described – I think in Landscape into Art – as a winter of the imagination. Charles

  3. Thomas Ponsonby says:

    Amused that you, too, are disturbed by his terrible teeth. How could a man so elegant in other ways have such awful teeth – not a question of not being able to afford a good dentist. Just a sign of the times I suppose.

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