Simon Schama a “leading contender” to present BBC’s proposed remake of epic arts series Civilisation understands that the historian and art expert - who will be appearing at the Radio Times Festival later this week - is leading the race for the plum presenting gig

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Two years ago BBC director general Tony Hall said he wanted the BBC to reboot Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, the magisterial 1969 analysis of Western art and culture.


And understands that the Corporation is close to naming a presenter with Simon Schama believed to be one of the frontrunners to present the proposed BBC2 series.

“It is still early days but Simon is definitely one of the names at the top of the list,” said a BBC source.

Schama, who will be appearing at the Radio Times Festival on Saturday September 26th, did his chances no harm with a recent speech in front of BBC2 controller Kim Shillinglaw in which he affirmed his belief that the history of art and the world are inextricably linked – an idea which is central to the Civilisation project.

“There is no distinction between art and history, nations are the substance of their many stories and the literature of words and the eloquence of images and the spellbinding immediacy of properly produced and crafted television all belong in the same family of spirited communication which is simultaneously education, enlightenment and education,” he said at the recent launch of his new art series The Face of Britain.

The Face of Britain looks mainly at the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London to tell us about ourselves and our history through significant portraits and themes including power, love and fame.

However, Civilisation is expected to be a much grander project, following in the footsteps of Clark’s series (see clip below) which was a grand essay about Western art and history told over 13 episodes. It is considered a landmark in the history of factual television.

In this week’s Radio Times magazine Schama reveals he has a number of projects lined up. These include a second volume of his book and TV series Story of the Jews to finish, “with four biggies on the 20th century,” and two other projects he didn’t want to discuss. “One will surprise people. It will be a kind of biography, but you’ll never guess who,” he says.

However, when asked him recently whether the traditionally talkative presenter and academic if he was fronting the new Civilisation, he was uncharacteristically coy. “You better ask the BBC about it,” he said with a chortle.

Other names believed to be in the frame for the role of Civilisation presenter include artist Grayson Perry and former Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman.

There is also a campaign to ensure a female presenter wins the job, backed by civil liberties campaigner Shami Chakrabarti, journalist and writer Caitlin Moran, presenter Sandi Toksvig, and actress Haydn Gwynne. However it is understood that one of the suggested female candidates – historian Mary Beard – is not a candidate for the role.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “We will be announcing presenters for the series in due course.”

To book tickets to Simon Schama’s festival session on Saturday September 26 at 2.30pm, go to


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