Professor Beard, who appears alongside British historians Simon Schama and David Olusoga in the series, has been replaced onscreen with a voiceover by American actor Liev Schrieber. The show following in the footsteps of Kenneth Clarke’s landmark series of the same name in 1969.
Mary Beard’s career began with a piece of cake. On a trip to the British Museum with her mother, a curator noticed her struggling to see one of the exhibits, a 3,000-year-old piece of carbonised cake from Ancient Egypt.
“He got his keys out, he opened the case, he got the bit of cake out and he showed it to me.” It was a “light-bulb moment” for the then five-year-old, and a lesson in the joy of sharing. “People will see you wanting to know something and they’ll get their keys and unlock the case.”
It’s a rare that two thoroughgoing BBC men are seen smiling, let alone laughing, inside the precincts of the House of Commons. When senior BBC people visit Parliament, they are invariably greeted by sceptical MPs, keen to give them a rough time.
The atmosphere could not have been more different when, last month, the RTS invited Andrew Marr and Sir David Attenborough to hold a conversation at the Commons.
Art historian Simon Schama will lead Civilisations, presenting six episodes of the ten part BBC Two series, while classicist Mary Beard will present two programmes putting the art and culture of ancient Greece and Rome into a global context, looking at early material from Iran, China and Mexico. RTS Programme Award nominee David Olusoga will present two episodes examining the relationships between Empire, military history and global cultures.
When Kim Shillinglaw became Controller of BBC Two last year, one of her predecessors took her for a drink. Roly Keating had launched BBC Four, moved on to BBC Two and filled in as temporary boss of BBC One. In a meeting room in New Broadcasting House, Shillinglaw recalls with terrible clarity what he told her.
“He said, ‘You will find BBC Two is the toughest. Let me tell you that now. BBC Four has a lot of individual commissions but not very much money, so there’s a limit to how many things it can commission.
Michael Jackson's stellar career encapsulates much of the creative history of TV during the past 30 years. He was an innovative independent producer back in the 1980s, reinvented BBC Two in the 1990s, and went on to run Channel 4. There, he launched Queer as Folk, Ali G and Big Brother, before crossing the Atlantic to work for the legendary mogul Barry Diller.
Today, still based in New York, his career has swung full circle. Jackson is once again working as a producer.