A documentary looking at the life of Sir Kenneth Clark, who transformed the cultural landscape with his famous Civilisation series, one of the most ambitious arts series to date.
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It's not often that an exhibition at Tate Britain celebrates
the work of one man, who wasn't even an artist.
But Sir Kenneth Clark was no ordinary man.
His list of achievements was staggering,
with Clark seemingly occupying every key cultural post going.
It's dazzling, you know,
he was keeper of the Ashmolean in his 20s,
director of the National Gallery at 30,
head of home publicity at the Ministry of Information in the war,
chairman of the Arts Council, he was trustee of everything.
I mean, the amazing thing is he got anything done at all.
But it was arguably as a television presenter that Clark
made the greatest impact.
Fired by a deeply-held belief that art was for everyone,
he was one of the first to embrace the new medium,
making it his mission to bring art to the masses.
Good television deals with real life, and I think it's a very
serious matter that it should be said that anyone
interested in the arts shouldn't concern themselves with television.
Today, he's best remembered for his epic 13-part BBC series
Civilisation, which was televised in 1969.
Tackling over 1,000 years of history, it was the most
ambitious series ever made, and hailed by many as a masterpiece.
I'm standing in the Sistine Chapel.
Above my head is one of the greatest works of man -
But by the early '70s,
his take on art history was already being challenged
by a new generation for being elitist
and out of step with the changing times.
In the clash between traditionalism
and radicalism that erupted in the late '60s and early '70s,
it would always be clear which corner Clark was defending.
And yet Clark was never a man who could be easily boxed in.
One of the fascinating things about Clark is
he is completely contradictory.
He seems to be condescending, rather grand, rather formal,
and yet he is genuinely a populariser driven by a belief
in democratising art and culture, making it available to everybody.
He was very much of his class, that is to say upper-class, English,
well-bred, but at the same time, beneath that,
there were all kinds of passions.
He adored the arts, they were his life,
and he wanted other people to see why they were so important.
Spanning most of the 20th century,
Clark's story reflects the wider issues in Britain
at the time, taking in our attitudes to class, gender and society,
as well as the shifting values placed on high and low culture.
In 1953, Kenneth Clark bought this castle in Kent,
which would become his home for the next 30 years.
Filled with the art he collected over a lifetime,
Saltwood Castle remains a rich archival reserve, a gift
for any biographer attempting to capture Clark's elusive character.
'To be appointed the authorised biographer of Kenneth Clark
'is a daunting, massive task, and one I don't underestimate at all.'
Because the first thing you realise about Clark is that he doesn't want
to be caught. He has this genius for disengagement.
He disengages from people,
from organisations, from ideas.
He doesn't want to belong to any tribe.
I spent a year in the Tate Britain archive,
and even at the end of all that,
I'm not entirely sure I understood the figure I am writing about.
I think here, he's much easier to understand,
because you feel him everywhere.
-How lovely to see you.
Looking lovely here.
-The daffodils are really good this year, aren't they?
'The person who has kept Saltwood up and going
'and has done an amazing job is Jane Clark, his daughter-in-law.'
Oh, look, isn't that wonderful?
'And she was the one who appointed me
'and she's been marvellous, and she, on her own, single-handedly, keeps
'the whole place going, and keeps this temple of Clark alive.'
This is my father-in-law's study,
where he came every day to do his work.
But he never actually sat at the desk. He was very keen everyone
should know that he always sat, as you see, at that window.
It's very important to keep it... keep it as a sort of...
not quite a shrine, but just in memory of him.
Really, everything is more or less as he left it.
In fairness, there's a bit of clutter,
and actually, wonderfully, in this are still his chocolates -
long past their sell-by date, but the chocolates have remained.
Sir Kenneth Clark, in an essay that you wrote about your childhood,
you said that you were brought up in a rich,
sporting and philistine atmosphere.
It's not the sort of background that one imagines you would have had.
What was it like?
Well, I found it - as I said in that essay - I found it very agreeable.
I was an only child - only children are supposed to be lonely
and unhappy - I was extremely happy.
I was very largely neglected by my parents. I didn't mind that at all.
I was looked after by a divine Scottish governess.
And that's all I asked.
Well, we were brought up by my mother,
told that he had a terribly miserable childhood,
and was very lonely and wasn't really happy at all.
His later thing that it was all fine, I think, perhaps, was an invention.
But he didn't suffer from self-pity or self-analysis.
All these things are new things. He hated self-analysis.
I think that he probably was periodically very unhappy,
and lonely. I think "lonely" is the word.
He didn't have enough children to play with.
I think this was the problem,
he didn't have siblings or friends of his parents' children -
there was just nobody for him to relate to. And I think
this explains why he spent the rest of his life with what Henry Moore
called "the glass shield". There was always this sense of him
being slightly aloof,
and I'm sure that's to do with his solitary childhood.
His was a pretty peculiar background.
I mean, his father, very rich and drank too much,
and lived for sporting things, but he did buy pictures.
His mother, he described her as rather Quakerish and prim,
and frightened of emotion.
So he would have to evolve something from those two
amazingly contrasting personalities,
and he did it partly by his emotional outlet through the arts.
I started to enjoy works of art at a very early age.
It was what is called, I believe, a freak aptitude.
My grandmother gave me a book on the Louvre when I was seven years old.
I have it, still. And from then on I went on loving works of art.
I think, in this rather solitary childhood, I think
art was an awakening for him.
He lived, breathed, slept, thought art.
Art was a complete obsession for him.
The other great love of Clark's life was his wife, Jane,
whom he'd met whilst reading history at Oxford University in 1925.
This series of photos of my mother-in-law show her,
and she was wonderfully elegant,
she had the most beautiful clothes by Schiaparelli.
In fact, I was very lucky, because when I was first married,
I was slim enough to get into a wonderful evening gown
she had with a terrific brocaded bodice.
She had an amazing eye.
And he relied on Jane's judgment of works of art.
Bonded by a mutual love of art, Jane would become Clark's soul mate.
But their 50-year marriage would not be without its problems.
I think what's very important to say is that Jane, his wife,
was the love of his life.
She was central to everything.
But there's a point in their marriage where I think
she starts to be unhappy.
I think she's prescribed these drugs which we now know contained cocaine,
and she starts drinking.
At this point, I think the girlfriends come in,
and I think they start giving him this uncritical love
and support that Jane is not giving him at that point.
In public, though, their problems were set aside,
with Jane stepping up to her role as the beautiful and dutiful
wife of her young, charismatic and very successful husband.
By the early 1930s,
Clark had become a hugely respected art historian,
keeper of both the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the King's Pictures.
And Jane would prove vital to the success of what Clark would
later dub "The Great Clark Boom" years.
I think people liked her very much. She was much easier than K.
People found K Olympian, aloof, they were terrified of him,
whereas they found her easy and charming,
and I think that she was the glue.
People came for dinner because it was always Jane and K.
This elegant Georgian town house was where the Clarks
entertained their guests, surrounded by Clark's impressive
and rapidly growing art collection.
You see the wonderful photographs of it that show
the great paintings from his collection and drawings.
Every surface has a carefully arranged group of objects.
One of the unique things about Clark is that he is doing this as
a great expert, he's one of the few art historians of his generation,
so he brings this immense specialist knowledge to his collecting,
but he wants to have a way of life in which these beautiful things
are a part of it and he clearly sees that as everybody's right.
In 1934, the perfect opportunity for Clark to share his love of art
with the general public presented itself when, aged just 30,
he was appointed the youngest ever director of the National Gallery.
The National Gallery gives him
this extraordinary bit of national kit to play for,
and he begins to reinvigorate it,
because he brings a real love of pictures,
a real love of art, and a love of communicating about it.
It's the first step in the creation of this public figure
that's going to emerge later.
Even when the outbreak of war in 1939 threatened a total
cultural blackout, Clark managed to make the National Gallery
a shining beacon of hope for the nation.
As a top civil servant, Clark was exempt from National Service,
but he proved to be invaluable on the Home Front.
When the war came, there was a real sense
that the cultural treasures of the nation were profoundly threatened
by the bombings of the Luftwaffe...
..and Clark arranged for the collection to be taken
to a huge cave in Wales.
In a covert, complicated operation, Clark oversaw
the evacuation of all the National Gallery's treasures, which were
stored in specially air-conditioned shelters deep under the ground.
And then, rather brilliantly,
he arranged for one painting a month to be brought back to London
and presented in the gallery as a kind of little symbol of resistance.
The Second World War turns him
from a rarefied social butterfly with a beautiful wife
and a beautiful house into something much more robust
and strong and interesting. It gives him a sense of a wider purpose.
Putting culture at the heart
of what is a national struggle for survival.
Soon after war broke out, Clark was invited by the government
to head up the Ministry of Information's Film Division.
This is an incendiary bomb that burns very
violently for the first minute, but after that, it can be tackled.
During the war, he's at the Ministry of Information,
and he's in charge of how to think about home publicity.
What are we fighting for?
And he marshals the arts into battle.
He tries to think that we were fighting for certain values
that are best expressed through the arts,
and he does it absolutely brilliantly.
Never one to follow rank, Clark was nevertheless quick to spot the
potential of film to get his message across, and made sure an initiative
he'd set up - the War Artists Advisory Committee - was the focus
of a key propaganda film of the time, Jill Craigie's Out Of Chaos.
ARCHIVE: Sir Kenneth Clark, director of the National Gallery,
suggested that artists should be employed to record the war
and the government backed up his proposal.
They set up a committee to choose artists who could make
a record of the war.
Not simply a record of the facts,
but a record of what the war felt like.
Let's begin with Paul Nash.
He wanted his pictures to make images on the popular mind,
images encouraging to ourselves, but depressing to the enemy.
For Clark, Out Of Chaos was much more than just a morale-booster.
It was a manifesto, a chance to express all his most
deep-seated beliefs about the role and function of art.
In 1935, he writes an article
called The Future Of Painting,
where he criticises on the one hand the Surrealists...
..and on the other, abstract artists, for claiming
to be the future. He is saying neither of them will represent
the future of painting because they are too elitist and specialised.
Good art, for him, is accessible to everybody,
and so needs to be rooted in the observable world.
-Here is the quarry and here is the artist.
He wants to get the feel of the place.
In Clark's view, the three contemporary artists
who best connected with the common experience were Graham Sutherland,
John Piper and Henry Moore.
-One of the most moving scenes of the Blitz
was the sight of the tube shelters. On almost any night during a raid,
this figure might have been seen wandering about.
Henry Moore, the sculptor.
Moore tells this typical story of how he stumbled across the subject.
He was in London during a raid and goes down into the tube
and comes across the people who are sheltering there.
But I think there is some evidence it wasn't this accidental discovery.
The minutes of the War Artists Advisory Committee show them
discussing the people in the underground as a subject
that should be recorded.
And the very next meeting, a month later, Clark comes along and says,
"I saw Henry Moore the other day and he's started doing the pictures."
That may be a happy coincidence.
But there is the sense, possibly, that Clark maybe encouraged
Moore to think about the subject.
It perfectly fits Clark's idea of patronage, that he knows Moore
is an artist interested in tight, claustrophobic spaces
and the human figure, so it would be a typical Clarkian
move to encourage him to look at the people in the underground.
-This is the National Gallery on a Saturday afternoon.
It's amazing to find it so crowded.
It used not to look like this in the old days of peace.
The work of Moore, Sutherland
and Piper provided the centrepieces of the War Artists Advisory
Committee exhibitions that Clark staged at the National Gallery.
The fact that those works are shown in the National Gallery means
that by the end of the war, those artists are household names.
Oh, yes, John Piper, of course.
What interesting tone value, don't you think?
Moore, Sutherland, Piper. The triumvirate, if you like,
whom he really does kind of make.
He clearly has in his mind a kind of hierarchy,
and he knows that these three are head and shoulders above the rest.
Clark's influence grew enormously during the war.
He became a beneficent figure.
As a young artist, if you could get Clark's blessing on your work,
that would hugely advance your career.
So he was like an unofficial Pope of the art world.
The other side of that is that if you are making art
he doesn't favour or support, then it can be disadvantageous.
Certainly in the war, artists like Ben Nicholson,
who in the 1930s was probably the best-known avant-garde artist
in Britain, was completely ignored and left out of all the war artist
schemes recording Britain, and that caused great financial hardship.
Ladies and gentlemen.
I am very proud to be able to congratulate Harlow,
on behalf of all those who believe in civilisation,
on maintaining the great tradition of urban civilisation
by their decision to make, in the centre of their new town...
Make a work of art the centre of their new town.
It was perhaps Henry Moore out of all Clark's favoured artists
who would benefit most from Clark's patronage through the years.
But the relationship was not all one-sided.
I think that K probably felt that my father was his best friend.
But they were very different characters.
K was stiff, and formal and distant, incredibly polite,
whereas my father was a complete extrovert and naturally
gregarious, loved people, had a real curiosity in people.
I don't know if K actually liked people.
My father was able to get in touch very easily
with his subconscious.
The way he was able to talk about things
and express things in a very physical way
possibly complemented K's extreme intellectuality.
When the war ended, Clark retreated from the front line,
giving up his directorship of the National Gallery to take up
the top academic post of Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford,
where he gave a series of famous lectures.
I had been to one Slade lecture, and that was the first time
I ever saw him in the flesh. He was the most marvellous lecturer.
He was the greatest lecturer, people thought, of the age.
Lecturing was what he did, he was like a magician lecturing.
But for Clark, preaching to the already-converted from Oxford's
elitist spires was never going to be challenging enough.
He recognises that being a scholar buried in the archives
for his life isn't what he was born to do, that too much of him
enjoys being a public figure and that too much of him
knows he can be very effective as a public figure.
-This is the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Throughout the 1940s, Clark was repeatedly invited to give
talks on BBC Radio, where he became a star guest.
The BBC, as it did with all members of the great and good,
pursued him relentlessly to give interesting talks
for three guineas, and that is because it is always looking
for people who know stuff and can communicate.
Five seconds. Stand by two.
Superimpose. Mix through. Cue on two!
When the BBC began its television broadcasting in earnest
in the early 1950s, everyone assumed Clark would return
to Auntie to continue his art education for the masses.
But in 1954, he surprised everyone by becoming the first
chairman of the new Independent Television Authority.
My lords, ladies and gentlemen,
on behalf of the Independent Television Authority,
it is my privilege to welcome you all tonight,
and my welcome extends beyond the 500 guests
that we are delighted to see here to the million and more who can see us.
We thought Ken Clark was a BBC man.
For him to go to what was then,
to some of the more engrained public service broadcasters,
the commercial television,
was a surprise.
I think there was a sense that he'd gone over to the dark side,
and that he was going to devalue in some way or reject
all of the sort of high art
and values that he seems to have stood for before.
It is very difficult for people who have grown up with it to realise
that the only commercial television anybody here knew about
was American television.
I know I have benefitted from using Antizyme toothpaste.
..bursts into luxuriantly rich lathers...
There's nothing like Saran-Wrap!
All the people who had been brought up with the BBC here were appalled by it.
It was vulgar, it was trashy, it was inaccurate -
it was rubbish, actually.
And it's non-habit-forming!
So the establishment here thought it would all be like that
and it was partly down to K that it wasn't.
One of the reasons why he takes it, I think, is that he was
always against monopolies of all kinds.
He thought monopolies were simply a bad thing, and at that point
the BBC had a monopoly of TV, and he wanted to see that challenged.
We neglected to notice that he also had a very strong social
conscience, that he thought that pictures and architecture
enriched everyone, not just an educated elite.
Sir Kenneth Clark, let's be frank about this,
you as one of the experts on the arts in this
country are in some quarters considered to have sold
the past by encouraging, by your work, the development of television.
Now, what is your reply to this charge, which is fairly widespread?
Well, it makes me very angry, really.
I think it shows a complete lack of imagination.
And it suggests, which is the most infuriating part,
that people who have an interest in the arts are a kind of
segregated part of the population, a kind of Indian preserve who
have no connection with the mass of people and with ordinary life.
And I think it's a very serious matter that it should be said
that anyone with any interest in the arts shouldn't concern
themselves with television.
If Clark had shocked the BBC mandarins by becoming
the first ITA chairman, then he also surprised the Tory government
who'd appointed him by not conforming to type.
Quite what the Tory's expected from him, nobody knows,
but they very rapidly realised that Clark was actually
not going to toe the party line,
he wasn't going to toe any line, and was going to be his own man.
He wasn't a right wing person at all,
and there was a time very early on, when he was at the Arts Council -
apparently someone in Kent had asked Lady Clark for a subscription
to the local Conservative Party,
and she'd said, "No, my husband
"is a quasi-civil service establishment, and he can't be shown
"to have political preferences."
And K said to me, "So, the word has gone round that the castle is red.
"Not so far from the truth after all!"
So that was quite revealing,
although he had plenty of friends on both sides of the House.
He wasn't a toff, although he was friends with a lot of toffs
and conservatives, politicians. He said the greatest thing
the English ever did was elect a Labour government after the war.
He was always Labour. Always.
In the summer of 1957,
Clark's chairmanship of the ITA came to an end,
and he immediately signed a contract to act as consultant
and presenter for Lew Grade's new ATV company.
It was an unlikely pairing, but one that worked.
I think he loved people like Lew Grade a great deal
because he was so different to him. Because he was so repressed,
in a sense, I think he loved these people who had, if you like,
the confidence of being outrageous. So Lew and he got on very well.
Lew adored the way he talked about art.
He would say, "Tell me about art, Kenneth."
-ATV presents "Is Art Necessary?"
The leader of our exploration is Sir Kenneth Clark,
who might really be called
one of the world's greatest experts on art.
Under the provocative title "Is Art Necessary?",
Clark devised a series of wide-ranging programmes,
targeted at a broad audience, but tackling complex
ideas on aesthetics.
The first one, he decides, will take on the idea of beauty.
Because beauty is pretty abstract and a slightly difficult concept,
he has what he thinks is rather a good idea - to begin with,
his son Alan's Great Dane, and with people saying, "Isn't he beautiful?"
and trying to break that down and understand what
they mean by saying that.
-ARCHIVE: Isn't he beautiful?
-Isn't he beautiful?
-Isn't he beautiful?
Beautiful. Beautiful. It's a good old word, you know?
Not much used by modern critics of art,
but they all seem to know what they meant by it, didn't they?
It was an ambitious start to his presenting career,
but one that, as Clark himself readily admitted,
turned out to be a spectacular failure.
So you really can control the proportions of a bull terrier.
That's, of course, what people through the Renaissance always wanted
to do with the human figure, and what Leonardo da Vinci tried to do
with horses, and got into great trouble, had to go down to the 900th
part of a horse in order to get his proportions right.
I'm glad that the bull terrier was more accommodating!
'It is pretty much a disaster.
'It is shapeless, it doesn't know what it is trying to do.'
-Let's have a look, if we can, at those horses.
-There they are, yes.
You can see him in his chair, leaning back,
and sort of talking "de haut en bas" to the audience.
It is a very, very uncomfortable programme.
-I don't expect many of our viewers have a warthog on the hearth.
And in his autobiography he says he thought
he was going to be fired after this first programme.
But Lew Grade wasn't going to give up on Clark that easily,
and backed his new presenter as he continued to tackle ever more
complex and contentious issues.
Many people think it involves a room something like this.
Very light colour,
furniture perched on rather thin legs.
All very straight and simple.
One has the feeling that if a large, heavy man came in
and sat down suddenly, the furniture would collapse.
Or if one opened a bottle of stout, or as they would say in the BBC,
a bottle of Guinness, he'd make a terrible mess.
When you look at a programme like "What Is Good Taste?" now,
there's a sense in which it looks rather ridiculous to us today, and
speaks of a set of values that feels completely alien to where we are.
Should that be understood as condescending?
I don't really think it should.
I think it should be understood as an uneasy
and far from successful attempt to visualise quite a complicated idea
for a broad audience.
What is bad taste?
Well, many people would suppose
it's something like the room that I'm in now.
I must honestly say that in some ways
I find it rather cosier than the other room. I can relax in it.
I can open a bottle of stout in this room without trepidation.
And as a matter of fact,
more people I like live in a room like this than in the other room.
I think what he's saying there is that it's more humane.
He recognises that bad taste often has a humanity about it,
and good taste can be terribly visceral and cold
and you know, he was trying to say
that ducks up the wall show humanity and heart and soul.
That programme caused quite a lot of umbrage
but it would cause more now
because you mustn't be judgmental about anything
and he certainly was. "Oh, frightful," he'd say.
That clock is supposed to be a piece of beautifully carved
and chaste ormolu, in the French Louis XV style.
When in fact, it's moulded and all the ornament is dull
and meaningless and stupid.
But he certainly wasn't a social snob.
He really enjoyed people from every walk of life.
Papa was adorable to everybody. Everybody adored him,
and from the highest to the lowest, he was totally non-snobbish
about people. He was just as adorable to the charlady to whom he
would give wonderful lectures on art, as he was to the grandest person.
Having introduced complex abstract ideas into people's living rooms,
Clark then set about testing the nation's views
on abstract art itself.
Art may be all right to some people, but I don't know very much about it, I'm afraid.
I don't understand abstract art as well as I do the theatre.
Well, I'm not a lover of it. I'm not a lover of it at all.
In his attempts to educate the viewing public about the value
of modern art, Clark clearly faced an uphill struggle.
But when the Tate staged a retrospective of Picasso's work
in 1960, he was brave enough to venture away
from his area of expertise and take up the challenge
of explaining Picasso to a broadly sceptical audience.
Picasso, although one of the most compelling of artists,
is also one of the most incomprehensible.
He is quoted as saying, "Why should people try to understand me?
"They don't try to understand the song of a bird."
Well, that sounds all right but actually,
it won't do because Picasso isn't a bird.
He's a human being.
What is extraordinary about it and it really struck me as forcibly
was that his mode of address to the audience is
so refreshingly humane and direct.
When we go round the exhibition, we can't help asking questions.
Now, I ought to confess that I'm not the ideal person to answer them,
because I very often don't understand Picasso myself.
He starts from a very extraordinary premise,
"You may not like all of this".
But he makes it clear you can get a lot out of paintings that
were neither pretty, and sometimes were neither pretty nor good,
actually, and that is a very sophisticated lesson.
In his attack on the human body,
he isn't content merely to make graphic simplifications
as a whole, he takes the individual bits
and simplifies them and models them and put them together in new ways.
They are monstrous, but they are very impressive in the way
the shapes are related to one another.
Although filmed against the clock, it was a tour de force on Clark's
part, who had finally mastered the art of television presenting.
We had from 6 o'clock in the morning till 1 o'clock lunchtime.
And that was how the programme was done.
We couldn't rehearse it, or anything like that,
but K was marvellous, he really was.
Of course in a way, it's an abstract picture
and it is on the way to Cubism. And so are we.
By the time he's doing the Picasso at the Tate he's learnt the trade.
There's this perfect choreography
between his body, the words, and the art.
This is very important - he can do 30 minutes of live TV without any
break and that's extraordinary. And no hesitation and no repetitions.
A lot of that was because he loved working with Michael Reddington.
We got on very well indeed.
I was an actor when I was very young
and I used to draw on the acting experience to help him
and to encourage him really.
You feel he wants to tear everything apart,
twist it and jam it on upside down.
He talked marvellously and so clearly, that Peter Black,
who was the TV critic of the Daily Mail, phoned me up one day and said,
Michael, "I've never heard such language on television,
"it's absolutely wonderful."
He went to compare those programmes to Churchill's speeches in the war.
K laughed at that but nevertheless, it was a wonderful comment to make.
In 1966, Clark took one step closer to returning to the BBC
to make his greatest television enterprise that would finally
turn him into a household name.
But before that, he had an appointment with the Queen.
Broadcast on Christmas Day, The Royal Palaces Of Britain,
was one of the first co-productions between the BBC and ITV and
the first time the Royal family had let the cameras in, thanks to Clark.
Right the way through his life
he has had a close relationship with the British Royal family.
He was a surveyor of the King's pictures in the 1930s.
And he's got on very well with the whole family, right the way through.
He is able to secure access to these buildings
and these places, with the understanding he will show
a cut of this film to the Queen and Prince Philip before it is completed.
And here we are in the state dining room, one of a series of vast rooms
in which the official entertaining at Buckingham Palace takes place.
Let's walk through them.
Shot in sumptuous 35mm colour film,
the programme was hailed as a technical triumph.
But it cast a shadow over Clark's previously unblemished friendship
with the royal family.
I think he realised that to make a programme on royal palaces
the problem was not to perjure yourself and sit there saying
unctuous things about royalty for an hour and he was far too much his
own man and an accurate historian not to see that much of the history was
less than interesting or less than perfect. So he made the programme
and there was a rather impish quality about part of some of his remarks.
It's sad that lovers of art don't make more acceptable kings,
well kings of England anyway.
But after all, it was less as a connoisseur of painting,
than as a patron of the decorative arts,
that George IV left his stamp on the royal palaces.
He wasn't in the least put off the purchase of French furniture.
The very beginning of what one might call the Ritz Hotel style.
Clearly the royal family don't like it, it's not clear in detail
what they react to, but they feel Clark hasn't got the tone right,
perhaps he hasn't been sufficiently respectful.
It looks pretty respectful to us today, but he has a sly wit
about some of the earlier royals and clearly, it doesn't go down well.
Nonetheless, what this film does is introduce him
to a number of the key technical team and the technology of 35mm filming,
in colour which will be so crucial in the making of Civilisation.
The Royal Palaces Of Britain would be Clark's last venture with ATV.
And when his contract with Lew Grade expired a few days after the
programme was broadcast, the BBC was poised to reel their man back in.
In 1966, David Attenborough, then controller of BBC Two,
had been charged with introducing colour television to his new channel
and was looking for an ambitious series to launch it.
My idea was a history,
where you saw all the great things man had created,
whether that was pictures or architecture, or whatever,
and accompanying with the right contemporary music,
and put that for 13 hours.
The question is, who would do it?
When I asked myself that question it was a no-brainer,
K Clark was head and shoulders above anybody else.
Attenborough invited Clark for a lavish lunch at Television Centre
and pitched him his idea.
I sketched the idea as to what I had,
and he said, though I don't recall it myself,
he said, I used the word "Civilisation".
And then, according to his account, he went off into a reverie and
was already scribbling titles on the paper napkins as to how it could go.
But though Clark was clearly taken with Attenborough's proposal,
he had some stringent conditions he wanted the BBC to sign up to
before he signed any contract.
This is one of his notebooks.
He says, "Warn BBC. Not Marxist.
"Not a history of economics, nor of political ideas.
"Of ethics, only in a rather specialised sense.
"Religion will play a bigger part than economics."
Well, well. Pretty accurate. I mean...
Did he expect it to be Marxist, I wonder?
He's basically trying to warn them
because up to that point, the BBC arts
has been very much what he called very much
a New Statesman view and he's very worried that he can't provide this.
Things like Monitor, are very, very avant-garde and he's basically
trying to warn them he's not going to do something very avant-garde.
But for Clark, by then 64-years-old, the prospect of presenting
a 13 part series on everything he had immersed himself in
over the previous 50 years proved too tempting to pass up.
And on the 22 of May 1967,
Clark and his film crew embarked on their epic, whirlwind tour.
Over the course of two years, they travelled 80,000 miles,
visited 11 countries,
and filmed in 117 locations.
200,000 ft of colour 35mm film was shot -
enough to make six feature films.
With a budget of £130,000, the equivalent of £2 million today,
it was the most expensive series the BBC had ever made.
It jolly well nearly bust my bank as it were, as a network controller,
but what a fantastic opportunity,
and how culpable it would have been if I had not taken advantage of it.
Clark opened his series with a simple
but daringly provocative question.
What is civilisation?
I don't know. I can't define it in abstract terms. Yet.
But I think I can recognise it when I see it,
and I am looking at it now.
It's, you know, a very famous sequence,
but it's a beautifully judged sequence.
He's opening himself up, suggesting a certain
kind of lack of knowledge, suggesting that in a way that he is on the side
of the viewer. This is not a man who is going to lecture us for 13 weeks.
This is a man who is going to explore ideas with us.
The historian can't help observing how the need for confession
has returned, even, or especially, in the land of the Pilgrim Fathers.
But the modern confessor must grope his way in the labyrinth of the
psyche with all its false turnings and dissolving perspectives.
A noble aim but a terrifying responsibility.
No wonder that psychoanalysts have the highest suicide rate
of any vocation.
You could give those scripts or indeed those postures or those
directions to somebody else and it would be terrible.
It was the fact that K meant every word that he said.
Every word he had thought about very carefully.
And that had a kind of...
What is the word I want, pungency. It had, it bit. It had bite to it.
You knew this man was not putting on an act.
The colossal palaces of the Pope's relatives were simply
expressions of private greed and vanity.
The sense of grandeur is no doubt a human instinct,
but carried too far it becomes inhuman.
I wonder if a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit
has ever been conceived or written down in an enormous room.
That capacity to come up with a sentence like that.
It's like spoken speech is drama.
I wonder if ever a thought was had in a large room,
it challenges you, it's provocative.
And then, by the time you are still
working out your reaction to it,
he is onto another one.
Civilisation is a fantastic procession of these wonderful
sentences wonderfully expressed in amazing places.
The programmes were genuinely a passport
to curiosity about the arts.
I had never been abroad.
My parents had never been abroad,
so we had no understanding of the foreign.
I had never heard of the Baroque.
But suddenly art and culture was pulled.
It was bigger, it was more interesting.
It was grand, it was important, and it was mine.
The evident pleasure Clark took in talking about the buildings
and art works he knew and loved best, albeit with a wry affection,
was matched by the happier times he was able to enjoy
with his wife Jane, who would occasionally join him on location.
I think it was an Indian summer, it was magical for both of them.
It was almost like a second honeymoon in a way.
Somehow when they were away on tour as it were,
I think some of her demons were left behind.
I dare say there were scenes and things, there never weren't,
but she certainly enjoyed it and made him happier.
But for Clark, filming was also a bittersweet experience,
because everywhere he looked there was a reminder
that the civilisation he cherished was under threat.
Looking at those great works of Western man,
and remembering all that he has achieved in philosophy,
poetry, science, lawmaking, it does seem hard to believe
that European civilisation can ever vanish.
And yet, you know, it has happened once,
when the Barbarians ran over the Roman Empire.
For two centuries,
the heart of European civilisation almost stopped beating.
We got through by the skin of our teeth.
In the last few years,
we developed an uneasy feeling that this could happen again.
And advanced thinkers have begun to question
if civilisation is worth preserving.
While filming in Paris, Clark
and his crew were caught up in the violent student riots of May '68.
And it was clear Clark felt these young radical left-wing protestors
were the new Barbarians.
You have to remember the world was in a lot of disarray at that time.
It was the time of Vietnam, you had race riots in America,
you had les evenements in Paris. The world wasn't exactly disintegrating,
but it was a place of definite disarray and turmoil.
Turmoil is the word, so K was anxious and worried,
and he thought this almost love of barbarism was a phase.
He thought people ought to understand what civilisation is
before they throw it out with the bath water.
Where once he'd prided himself on being a man of the people, Clark now
seemed hopelessly out of touch and out of step with the changing times.
At this point I reveal myself in my true colours as a stick in the mud.
I hold a number of beliefs that have been
repudiated by the liveliest intellects of our time.
I believe that order is better than chaos.
Creation better than destruction.
Above all, I believe in the God-given genius
of certain individuals.
And I value a society that makes their existence possible.
In the last sequence of Civilisation,
Clark very astutely summarises everything.
He gives his last credo, which ends on this somewhat pessimistic note.
I said at the beginning of the series that it's a lack
of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation.
We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion,
just as effectively as by bombs.
But the trouble is, there is still no centre.
The moral and intellectual failure of Marxism has left us
with no alternative to heroic materialism. And that isn't enough.
One may be optimistic,
but one can't exactly be joyful at the prospect before us.
And then you see him walking through his grand library
and this sort of embodiment of a tradition of knowledge
and erudition, I suppose.
And then the last thing that he does is put his hand
on this beautiful wooden Henry Moore that he owns,
and he more than puts his hand on it, he sort of caresses it,
and there is a flick of a smile on his face which seems to
reflect a sense of reassurance, that however pessimistic
we might feel about the future, there is still in this carving
by Henry Moore, the embodiment of culture and civilisation.
When the first episode of Civilisation was transmitted
in 1969, it was an immediate critical success
and quickly became required family viewing.
Word went around, you know. There were very good things in the press
said about it and there were people
holding parties, buying television sets, and saying,
"Come and watch Civilisation this week."
He got thousands of letters after it
and they were absolutely incredibly touching, I must say.
Incredibly moving, from every sort of person all over the world.
They were wonderful.
Civilisation had clearly resonated with its audience,
and nowhere more so than in America.
America was going through a terrible trauma at the time.
It was the time of Vietnam and it was the first time America
had had to confront failure and not
just battle ground failure but moral failure.
And people who watched the programmes
had found they meant a huge amount to them
and given them, I suppose, hope.
When special screenings of the series were held
at the National Gallery in Washington,
Clark was invited to receive an honorary medal.
He was mobbed like a pop star,
like the Beatles or something. It took everybody by surprise.
These vast queues of tens of thousands of people.
Nobody had anticipated this.
As he walked, people were reaching out to touch him.
He said "I felt as if I was a bogus doctor in the time of plague,
"that somehow I had a magic touch, which of course I didn't.
"I was so devastated by this when I got to the end, instead of
"going to lunch, I went and locked myself in the lavatory and wept."
It really shook him,
because he realised he didn't have the answers they were looking for,
but I think in a way he did because a kind of universality of art,
which he felt very, very strongly,
IS a kind of way through for trouble.
But though Clark was feted by many as a visionary,
he was not everyone's taste.
By the early '70s, people were beginning to question
the establishment's views on everything, including art.
This is the time when the Marxist dialectic and when determinism
and a sociological view of art history is very, very fashionable.
And K was very aware of that.
He said it several times, "They are going to hate it, they hate me
"and they hate the idea of me."
A lot of what he presents in Civilisation
and what he stands for, are established values,
and so they would naturally be subject of critique from the left.
And I think he probably knew that was coming.
In 1972, John Berger's BBC series Ways Of Seeing loomed into view,
challenging all the values held by Clark in Civilisation.
This is the first four programmes in which I want to question some
of the assumptions usually made about the tradition of European painting.
Ways Of Seeing question the assumptions in which you
looked at your own civilisation,
and didn't take into consideration all sorts of value systems,
and circumstantial historical things, economic things,
sexually political things.
It said, hang on, let's question our tradition
and look at it against other arguments and see where it takes us.
A woman in the culture of privileged Europeans is first and foremost
a sight to be looked at.
What kind of sight is revealed in the average European oil painting.
John Berger's wonderful Ways Of Seeing, which is
very different in manner and a very different in proposition,
and is extraordinarily radical about feminism, very early on,
it picks up all sorts of issues, was actually a response to Civilisation.
You can see it as a criticism, and there was huge criticism,
because I suppose by the time of Civilisation, Clark is
at the end of his great intellectual arc and something new is coming up.
And that is how intellectual life grows.
It's television as so important,
that it produces the next stage of the argument.
Those two series become absolutely emblematic
of two ways of looking at the world, and Ways Of Seeing gets taken up
and embraced by people involved in culture in the broadest sense.
But I think it is only after quite a long period of time, that we can
begin to recognise that Civilisation has enormous value in and of itself.
It's profoundly intelligent.
It's profoundly humanist in the way in which it talks about
and presents the arts.
K had this ability to communicate beautifully about what
he loved and I think that is what's important and what is
left are these beautiful insights into the artists that he worshipped.
Whether it's on the printed page, or whether it's on television,
it's that communication which is his legacy, really.
What I really respect him for is that for better or worse, he pursued
his absolute passion, which was the belief in the importance of art and
the right of everybody to have access to art and have that in their lives.
And I hope this exhibition will remind people
about Kenneth Clarke, the extent of all the things he did and in
so many ways, I suppose, he's shaped our culture, our attitude to art.
Sir Kenneth Clark was arguably the most influential figure in 20th-century British art. Born into a world of privilege, his achievements were staggering. He keeper of the King's Pictures, director of the National Gallery, founder of the Arts Council and independent television, and best remembered as the presenter of the most ambitious arts series ever made - Civilisation. A staunch defender of Reithian values, Clark was attacked for being an elitist 'posh man in tweeds'. But he held a passionate belief that art was for everyone and made it his mission, through television, to share his love of art with the masses.
To coincide with Tate Britain's exhibition on Clark opening in May, this Culture Show special presents an intimate portrait of a contradictory and elusive character who transformed our cultural landscape.