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