Magazine article The Spectator

Telling Our Story

Magazine article The Spectator

Telling Our Story

Article excerpt

Back in the Sixties or Seventies it was TV that made the cultural running, showing off its photogenic qualities to make series that were supposed to change the way we thought about ourselves. Huge amounts of dosh were pumped into Kenneth Clark's Civilisation and Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man as Clark swanned around the Western world displaying gems of creativity, while Bronowski did the same for our intellectual development travelling from Easter Island to Auschwitz and back.

Now, though, TV is looking more and more like a blowsy old music-hall star, decked out with cheap glitter but unable to disguise its creaking lack of creativity. Where, for instance, on the TV schedules could you find a series with the same kind of ambition, yet the same value for money, as the huge new series on Radio Four that launches on Monday and runs every weekday morning throughout the year?

For A History of the World in 100 Objects the presenter Neil MacGregor has not moved beyond the four walls of the institution which he directs, the British Museum.

To the imaginative breadth of his own mind, plus the help of a few wise commentators such as the Indian philosopher-economist Amartya Sen, the poet Seamus Heaney and our own former editor Boris Johnson, all that needs to be added is a microphone, a digital recorder and of course an excellent production team (Anthony Denselow, Rebecca Stratford and Philip Sellars). Yet MacGregor's intention is to create a narrative not just of Western art, or Western thought, but also the whole story of human activity from the beginnings of time through a careful selection of just 100 items in the BM's collection.

You can imagine TV producers throwing up their hands in horror at such limitations of time, location and medium. How can you hope to draw the audience in with so little to attract them? …

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