Letter to the FT – We need Clark’s erudition today

Sir, The BBC may well have lost its risk appetite since the halcyon days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but Peter Aspden’s characterisation of Kenneth Clark as “western-centric” and as much a “relic as the subjects of his learned, but dated discourse” is rather unfair (“Civilisation has evolved – so too must the BBC”, December 28).

In the foreword to the book accompanying Civilisation, Clark expressed an acute awareness of the series’ shortcomings:

Obviously, I could not include the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome, because to have done so would have meant another 10 programmes, at least; and the same was true of China, Persia, India and the world of Islam. Heaven knows, I had taken on enough. Moreover, I have the feeling that one should not try to assess a culture without knowing its language … and unfortunately I do not know any oriental languages. Should I then have dropped the title Civilisation? I didn’t want to, because the word had triggered me off, and remained a kind of stimulus; and I didn’t suppose that anyone would be so obtuse as to think that I had forgotten about the great civilisations of the pre-Christian era and the East.

Far from being outdated, Clark’s erudition, empathy and sheer common sense are needed more than ever in our multicultural age.

Ian Pryde, Founder and Chief Executive, Eurasia Strategy & Communications, Moscow, Russia

Available at http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/305a5d46-716c-11e3-8f92-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=intl#axzz3QnIReq22

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