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Civilisation: BFI TV Classic Civilisation: BFI TV Classic

Jonathan Conlin explores the BBC's breathtakingly ambitious series, which became a milestone in television history.

Jonathan Conlin explores the BBC's breathtakingly ambitious series, which became a milestone in television history.

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"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 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 13-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. More than 40 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 goes beyond the g(u)ilt-edged caricature to reveal 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.

"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 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 13-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. More than 40 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 goes beyond the g(u)ilt-edged caricature to reveal 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.

Additional Info

Additional Info

SKU 9781844572700
Author(s) Jonathan Conlin
Product 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 Civilisat

Publisher(s) BFI Publishing
Format Paperback
Original publication date 19/02/2009
Number of pages 144

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