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Civilization

"4-disc set"

"epic piece of television"

"a fascinating watershed in the history of mass communication"

"an ironic statement about civilisation itself"

'Civilisation' is an epic piece of television and cultural history and a lesson in the art of communication.

Civilization by Kenneth Clark

Kenneth Clark (1903-83) was a distinguished English art historian, and very much a member of the old school. Patrician, cultured, privileged, he saw art as somehow pure, as untouched by the corruption of politics and materialism. 'Civilisation' is not so much a television series as a lecture series, one which represents a fascinating watershed in the history of mass communication ... and an ironic statement about civilisation itself.

'Civilisation' took three years to make, and was released in 1969, only two years after the BBC had ventured into colour broadcasting. Itself made in colour, the series was seen as a taking a huge risk. The BBC had - still has - a responsibility to produce educational and informative work, to stimulate and uplift, but the 1960's was a transitional era. On the one hand there was the tradition of high art, of Oxbridge dons delivering lectures on arcane subjects or broadcasting intellectual debates, on the other hand, the universities were being occupied, popular culture had suddenly become fashionable, and America's Vietnam war was throwing into question the very nature of culture, civilisation, and the power of any one class or country to impose its will and its definitions on others.

Each episode hangs upon the shoulders of one of the great men of the age - Michelangelo, Beethoven. Clark explores Western civilisation ... and selectively. The overall theme is optimistic - the barbarism of the 20th century did not destroy civilisation or crush the spirit of man. Art gives us hope, gives us reassurance, says Clark.

But the lasting strength of 'Civilisation' is in its own contribution to civilisation. A vast undertaking, a huge gamble, the series set the tone for television broadcasting.

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