Episode five of Civilisations, “The Triumph of Art”, will air on BBC Two tonight but I’ll be 5,000km away, at home in the Hudson Valley, multitudes of tiny emergent frogs piping down in the hollows, the last grimy mounds of slush surrendering to spring, and “Play ball” at last being shouted in baseball grounds all over the country.
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.”