Seven Ages Of Britain

Written and presented by David Dimbleby

The story of our nation told through its treasures on BBC One

David Dimbleby charts a landmark history of Britain’s greatest art and artefacts over 2,000 years, in Seven Ages Of Britain.

The seven-part series of 60-minute programmes, shot in HD, begins at 9.00pm on Sunday 31 January 2010.

An arts commission in partnership with The Open University, Seven Ages Of Britain looks at our extraordinary past through the arts – both as treasures, that have often played a decisive part in events, and as marvels of their age.

From painted images and monuments of stone and gold to religious relics, weapons of war, instruments of science and works of art; often they are artefacts of great beauty and craftsmanship, but sometimes they are simple, everyday things, which have a powerful story to tell.

Over the seven programmes, David Dimbleby roams far and wide – including Italy, Germany, Turkey, India and America – tracking down astonishing artefacts that both encapsulate events or originate from the UK, and yet ended up leaving our shores.

Jay Hunt, Controller of BBC One, said: “The Seven Ages Of Britain is a hugely ambitious arts series for BBC One.

“David brings the subject matter alive with journalistic endeavour and a twinkle in his eye.”

In Britain or abroad, The Seven Ages Of Britain is a journey revealing treasures of great beauty and craftsmanship that tell us who we were and are, and that pay testament to the great events that formed our nation.

David Dimbleby said: “Seven Ages Of Britain has proved an exhilarating quest.

“The television camera offers a spectacular view of some of our most precious national treasures. It allows us to see them in ways beyond the reach of the human eye as we tell the story of our country’s history over 2,000 years through the art we have created in good times and bad.”

Dr Rachel Gibbons, Academic Consultant for The Open University, commented: “Seven Ages Of Britain is our social and cultural history, telling the story of the nation and its peoples through art and artefacts, through the precious treasures and the everyday objects created in Britain.

“Each of these objects and artefacts is evidence of the society in which it was produced. They all have value to historians for what they can tell us about our ancestors and how we, as a society, have become who we are now.”

Programme 1: Age Of Conquest (AD 43-1066)
For a thousand years, from Emperor Claudius to William the Conqueror, the British Isles were defined by invasion, each successive wave bringing something new to the mix. The Romans brought figurative art, the Anglo-Saxons epic poetry, the Normans monumental architecture. David Dimbleby travels throughout Britain and beyond – to France, Italy and Turkey – in search of the greatest creations of the age.

Programme includes: bronze bust of Hadrian (British Museum); fragment of triumphal arch commemorating Claudius’ conquest of Britain (Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome); Roman coin of Britannia (Pantheon, Rome); frieze of Britannia under the heel of Emperor Claudius (Aphrodisias, Turkey); Roman gold brooch (Dolaucothi Gold Mine, Wales); Oceanus Dish (British Museum); Roman mosaic work (Bignor Roman Villa); Beowulf; Sutton Hoo treasure (Sutton Hoo and British Museum); Celtic Cross (Iona); Jarrow Monastery; Codex Amiatinus (Laurentian Library, Florence); Alfred Jewel (Ashmolean Museum); Alfred’s translation of Pastoral Care (Bodleian Library); Caen Castle and the Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Normandy); Bayeux Tapestry (Normandy); the Tower of London.

Programme 2: Age Of Worship (1170-1400)
In the Middle Ages, Britain was caught in a power struggle between the Crown and the Church. The two were reconciled in the code of chivalry which ordered devotion to one’s king as well as God: a story revealed in the fabulous objects left in Britain’s cathedrals and castles, or safeguarded in museums. David Dimbleby also re-assesses the reign of Richard II, arguing that under his rule England experienced a superb cultural renaissance, and travels to Munich in search of Britain’s only preserved medieval crown.

Programme includes: Mappa Mundi (Hereford Cathedral); Thomas Becket pilgrim badges (Museum of London); Becket Miracle Windows (Canterbury Cathedral); the Coventry Doom (Holy Trinity, Coventry); the Bury Bible (Parker Library, Cambridge); Arthur’s Round Table (Winchester Great Hall); effigies of Templar Knights (Temple Church); Eleanor Cross (Geddington); Edward III sword (Windsor Castle); Garter stall plates (St George’s Chapel, Windsor); tomb of Black Prince (Canterbury Cathedral); Anne of Bohemia’s Crown (the Schatzkammer, Munich); Westminster Hall; Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; frontispiece of Chaucer’s Troilus And Cressida (Parker Library, Cambridge); the Wilton Diptych (National Gallery).

Programme 3: Age Of Power (1509-1609)
The 100 years from the accession of Henry VIII to the first performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII saw the creation of an enduring myth: England as God’s chosen nation. It was led from the top by the Tudors and the artists they brought to their court. First, Henry VIII, who, as patron of Torrigiano and Holbein, but also instigator of the Reformation, was a force of creativity and destruction. Then Elizabeth I, who inspired an art of devotion and in whose name explorers set off to the far corners of the Earth.

Programme includes: Drake’s Drum (Buckland Abbey); Torrigiano’s tomb for Henry VII (Westminster Abbey); painting of Field of Cloth of Gold (Hampton Court); Anthony Roll (Pepys Library, Cambridge); the wreck of the Mary Rose (Portsmouth Royal Dockyard); Tudor coat-of-arms (St Mary’s, Norfolk); Henry’s Great Bible (Lambeth Palace); Holbein’s Ambassadors (National Gallery); copy of Holbein’s Henry VIII (Trinity College, Cambridge); Henry VIII armour (Tower of London); Rainbow portrait of Elizabeth (Hatfield House); Hilliard miniatures (the V&A); John White’s New World sketches; Molyneux Globes (Middle Temple); the Cheapside Hoard (Museum of London); Armada Portrait; Shakespeare’s History Plays (the Globe Theatre).

Programme 4: Age Of Revolution (1603-1708)
In the 17th century, the people of Britain learnt to question everything. The result was Civil War, in which everyone, including artists, had to take sides. But out of it came a re-invented monarchy, a scientific revolution and, ultimately, the great Cathedral of St Paul’s. Highlights include the courtly portraits of Rubens, Van Dyck and Peter Lely, and the fabulous creations of the Royal Society.

Programme includes: Charles I’s execution shirt and painting of Charles with his head sewn back on (Museum of London); Rubens’ Apotheosis of James I (Banqueting House); Van Dyck portraits (Tate Britain); Puritan tracts; Civil War re-enactment; Verney family tomb (Claydon House); Thomason Collection (British Library); portraits of Cromwell (National Portrait Gallery); Grinling Gibbons’ golden statue of Charles I (Royal Hospital Chelsea); Peter Lely’s Windsor Beauties (Hampton Court); Royal Observatory (Greenwich); Hooke’s microscope and Micrographia (Science Museum); Wren’s plan for London; St Paul’s Cathedral.

Programme 5: Age Of Money (1700-1805)
In the 18th century, the triumph of commerce led to the emergence of a new ‘middle’ class: a group of people who craved pleasure and novelty, and developed its own tastes in art. The result was a golden age in painting with Hogarth, Reynolds and Gainsborough re-inventing the British style. The story ends in 1805 with the burial of Horatio Nelson, a commoner, at the heart of St Paul’s: the supremacy of the middle class assured.

Programme includes: 18th century bank notes (Bank of England); portraits by Reynolds and Gainsborough (Kenwood House); Wedgwood pottery (Wedgwood Museum, Stoke-on-Trent); Chippendale furniture (Nostell Priory, Yorkshire); Dr Johnson’s Dictionary (Johnson’s House, Lichfield); Edinburgh New Town; Dr Hunter anatomical models and sketches (Hunterian Museum, Glasgow); Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress (Soane Museum, London); The Royal Academy; de Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon and Gainsborough’s Show Box (Victoria & Albert Museum); James Gillray satirical prints (British Museum); Nelson’s Tomb (St Paul’s Cathedral).

Programme 6: Age Of Empire (1770-1911)
From the mid-18th to 20th centuries, Britain grew from a small country to the largest empire the world has ever seen. David travels across the globe and finds, in objects and artworks produced under the British flag, the story of a growing shift in imperial attitudes: from the exploring spirit of Captain Cook and William Penn, to the self-aggrandising majesty of India’s governors; to the tyrannical and cold-blooded land-grabbing of Victoria’s African campaigns. David ends with the Victoria Monument outside Buckingham Palace – a fitting mausoleum to the Imperial experiment.

Programme includes: Spiridone Roma’s Britannia Receiving the Riches of the East (Foreign Office, Whitehall); George IV jigsaw puzzle of the world (Kew Palace); Thomas Hodges paintings of Cook’s Voyages (Queen’s House, Greenwich); Philadelphia Old Town; Benjamin West’s William Penn’s Treaty With The Indians (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts); Liberty Bell (Independence Hall, Philadelphia); Tipu’s Tiger (V&A); Government House (Calcutta); Howrah Station (Calcutta); Indian frescoes of British (Mandawa, Rajasthan); ABC For Baby Patriots; Charterhouse School; Henry Newbolt’s Vitae Lampada; Gordon’s Last Stand by GW Joy; Gordon relics (Royal Engineers, Kent); Maxim Gun; Richard Caton Woodville paintings; Benin Bronzes and Yoruba Carving of Victoria (British Museum); Victoria Monument (Buckingham Palace).

Programme 7: Age Of Ambition (1914-now)
The 20th century saw ordinary Britons upturning ancient power structures and class hierarchies. The catalyst was the First World War, which embroiled the whole nation and called traditional values into question. The result was an ever-growing democratisation of culture, with art coming off gallery walls, becoming an instrument of self-expression at the service of the individual. David Dimbleby looks at some of the great masterworks of modern British art, but also champions lesser appreciated art forms like broadcasting and domestic design.

Programme includes: war paintings of Paul Nash and Christopher Nevinson (Imperial War Museum), the Austin 7 car; Broadcasting House; Twenties radios (Science Museum); Mass Observation pictures (Bolton Museum); Henry Moore Underground sketches (Aldwych Station); Barbara Hepworth surgery sketches; Francis Bacon’s Crucifixion 1944 (Tate Gallery); Anish Kapoor; Gilbert & George; Tracey Emin; Damien Hirst.

The Seven Ages Of Britain (7 x 60-minutes) is produced by BBC Vision Productions in partnership with The Open University.

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