Media & broadcast

Simon Schama, David Olusoga and Mary Beard will front follow-up to influential 1960s BBC Civilisation series

Trio of presenters to tell the story of art on a global scale from Antiquity to today 

The BBC has announced its long-awaited follow-up to Civilisation, the 13-part series aired in 1969, which traced the history of Western art and philosophy. Kenneth Clark, the former director of the National Gallery in London, wrote and presented the documentary, which is now credited with bringing art to the masses. 

The new ten-part series, entitled Civilisations, will be presented by three scholars: Simon Schama, university professor of art history and history at Columbia University; Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge; and the historian David Olusoga, who wrote The World’s War (published by Head of Zeus, 2014).

The new series promises an ambitious sweep, “telling the story of art from the dawn of human history to the present day, for the first time on a global scale”. Beard says she will tackle “big questions” in her two programmes, including: “What was early art for? How and why did early people choose to represent their gods, or themselves?"

Schama, who will present six shows, says in a statement: “In the half century since Clark made his great television series Civilisation [A Personal View by Kenneth Clark], the necessity of art to the human condition has only grown even more emphatic; even more central to the way the world lives.”

“A ‘new Civilisation’ has been on the cards for years now, thanks to continuing uncertainty over the presenter,” says a London-based art historian, who preferred to remain anonymous. The former director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, was rumoured to be in the running. “But evidently the BBC couldn’t persuade him to take on the role,” adds the anonymous scholar. MacGregor could not be reached for comment at the time of publication. 

Civilisations will be produced by the BBC and the London-based production company Nutopia, in association with the US broadcaster PBS and the Open University. Filming begins next year, and the series is due to air on BBC Two late 2017.