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19 Feb 2009
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£14.99
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9781844572700
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A breathtakingly ambitious series that tackled over a thousand years of history, Kenneth Clark's Civilisation (1969) was the first colour documentary series broadcast in the UK. Eager to show off its new second channel, the BBC had sent its finest directors and crew on an 80,000-mile odyssey in search of the finest examples of human creativity. The resulting thirteen-episode series became a milestone in television history, pioneering the 'presenter as hero' model of authored documentary. For its fans the series gave hope for the future at a time of civil and political unrest; for its critics the series elicited only despair at its supposedly elitist values. Meanwhile in the United States the series had an even deeper impact: a flagship for a new public broadcasting service, and the start of a new transatlantic partnership between the BBC and PBS.

Forty years on Civilisation has become synonymous with the golden age of the BBC documentary series, even as many television professionals have come to deride it as patronising and slow. Drawing on interviews with members of the original crew and extensive archival research, Jonathan Conlin reveals a series that combined healthy scepticism towards traditional ideas of progress with a genuinely inclusive approach to its audience. Special chapters contrast the British and American response to Civilisation, and consider its legacy to all those interested in putting art and history on the small screen.


Description


A breathtakingly ambitious series that tackled over a thousand years of history, Kenneth Clark's Civilisation (1969) was the first colour documentary series broadcast in the UK. Eager to show off its new second channel, the BBC had sent its finest directors and crew on an 80,000-mile odyssey in search of the finest examples of human creativity. The resulting thirteen-episode series became a milestone in television history, pioneering the 'presenter as hero' model of authored documentary. For its fans the series gave hope for the future at a time of civil and political unrest; for its critics the series elicited only despair at its supposedly elitist values. Meanwhile in the United States the series had an even deeper impact: a flagship for a new public broadcasting service, and the start of a new transatlantic partnership between the BBC and PBS.

Forty years on Civilisation has become synonymous with the golden age of the BBC documentary series, even as many television professionals have come to deride it as patronising and slow. Drawing on interviews with members of the original crew and extensive archival research, Jonathan Conlin reveals a series that combined healthy scepticism towards traditional ideas of progress with a genuinely inclusive approach to its audience. Special chapters contrast the British and American response to Civilisation, and consider its legacy to all those interested in putting art and history on the small screen.


Reviews


'The first of a new genre - a fascinating assessment of a television series made soon enough to record the intentions and experiences of its makers yet distant enough to assess its place in cultural history.' - Sir David Attenborough
 
'Jonathan Conlin's succinct and elegant monograph describes the phenomenon in both width and depth...a fascinating account of the series' intellectual background.' - Rupert Christiansen, The Spectator


Contents

A Personal View
Mating Pandas
Trahison de Clark
Indulgent Mandarins
The Glory and the Grandeur
Sad and Polished
Close Enough To Touch
A Sense of Place
Confronting The Infinite
A Television Milestone
The Art of Travel
Trying Not To Get Screwed
Civilisation in America
Playing to the Gallery
God Bless Xerox
Viewers Like Him
Waiting for the Barbarians
Patronize Me
Rebels Without Cause
Being Human
Bibliography
Notes


Authors

JONATHAN CONLIN is Lecturer in History at the University of Southampton, UK. He is the author of The Nation's Mantelpiece: A History of the National Gallery (Pallas Athene, 2006).