Civilisation TV Series

2019 is the 50th anniversary of the TV documentary series Civilisation. Our main interest here is in momentousness. Civilisation is in a class of its own. All but one of the world's top 20 mainstream documentary series use the format pioneered by Civilisation.

Civilisation was created to promote the adoption of colour TV in the UK. BBC2, Europe's first colour TV station, used the PAL encoding system which was incompatible with the NTSC encoding of American TV programmes and with every existing television in Britain. Thus, American TV shows could not be broadcast in colour on BBC2, and popular programmes like soap operas and sporting events had to remain with the mass audiences on BBC1 and ITV. To make matters worse, a basic PAL colour television cost about the same as a small car.

The BBC were stuck in a Catch 22: Hardly anyone could justify buying a PAL colour television because they were expensive and had nothing worth watching in colour; BBC2 could not justify commissioning mass entertainment colour content for such a small market. They needed to create inexpensive yet compelling colour content to encourage more people to buy colour televisions. They gave the challenge to their youthful Head of BBC2, David Attenborough. Yes, that David Attenborough, the world famous naturalist.

Attenborough's solution was the monumental documentary series. He defined the format: 13 fifty minutes shows. He selected the Arts as the first theme, because paintings are colourful. He chose Kenneth Clark to write and present. The result was Civilisation. It was a huge global success. Attenborough chose the same format for Alastair Cooke's America. Another huge success. Then he devised the Ascent of Man about the history of science, selecting Jacob Bronoski to write and present. Finally, he resigned from his office job to write and present Life on Earth, the basis for virtually every major nature documentary series since.

This Quest is to follow Kenneth Clark around the 21 publicly accessible UK filming locations used in Civilisation. Your reward for visiting all 21 locations is the fabulous title Totally Civilised.

Artwork and filming locations

While building the list of Quest Points, we tried to identify the location of every work of art seen on the program. You can check them out through the links below.

Episode 1: The Skin of Our Teeth

Episode 2: The Great Thaw

Episode 3: Romance and Reality

Episode 4: The Man - The Measure of All Things

Episode 5: The Hero as Artist

Episode 6: Protest and Communication

Episode 7: Grandeur and Obedience

Episode 8: The Light of Experience

Episode 9: The Pursuit of Happiness

Episode 10: The Smile of Reason

Episode 11: The Worship of Nature

Episode 12: The Fallacies of Hope

Episode 13: Heroic Materialism

Kenneth Clark at each of the UK Quest Points

Iona Abbey, Iona

Canterbury Cathedral, Kent

Magdalen College, Oxford

Ely Cathedral, Ely, Cambridgeshire

Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire

Royal Observatory Greenwich

Maritime Greenwich (former Royal Naval Hospital)

Norfolk House (V&A)

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

Chiswick House, West London

King Arthur's Hill Edinburgh - Quest Point The Georgian House, Edinburgh

Fountains Abbey, Ripon

Tintern Abbey, Chepstow, Wales

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Osterley Park, West London

Wilberforce House Museum, Hull

Cromford Mill, Derbyshire

Cliften Suspension Bridge, Avon

The National Gallery, London

Joderell Bank, Macclesfield

University of East Anglia, Norwich, Norfolk