Changing Stages. BBC2 Sunday, November 5, 8-9pm. Sir Richard Eyre describes the theatre as "the most human of art forms", in a world where everything and everyone is numbered, marked down and recorded. Theatre, by contrast, "exists only in the present"; it is like a sculpture in snow: "You can't record it, you can't show it on television." As an opening for a six-part television history of the stage, this suggests a presenter forgetting what he is up to.
It can only get better. Eyre's subject, in this first programme, is Shakespeare, a great deal of whose work has been recorded and can be shown on television. The first filmed Shakespeare dates from 1899 and tells us a lot about Victorian conventions in staging; real leaves and live rabbits were used for A Midsummer Night's Dream (compare Peter Brook's version, which takes place in a white box). Between these Dreams, we have a British Shakespearean theatre transformed by Harley Granville-Barker and dominated by the contrasting figures of Gielgud and Olivier, the one ethereal, the other earthy. We learn about the establishment of the Old Vic, the Stratford Shakespeare industry and the benefits of playing Macbeth on a small, intimate stage.
Of course, Eyre is right: the experience of being in the theatre is not one that can be fully conveyed on film. But what is remarkable about the theatre of the 20th century is that so much of its history has been preserved. So we can still listen to Olivier giving us his views on Gielgud and Gielgud talking about working with Granville-Barker. Both are here, in what promises to be a series well worth recording.
Omnibus: William Blake. BBC1 Monday, November 6, 10.35-11.25pm. The Blake exhibition at the Tate Gallery (now known as Tate Britain) gives the BBC an opportunity to celebrate the work of this most English of eccentrics.
BBC Knowledge has a William Blake Night coming up on November 10 (with a drama, a documenary and a preview of the exhibition), and this week's Omnibus is a film in which poets, painters, pundits and a punk have their say, against a background of Blake's paintings and a history of his life. Non-conformist, anti-rationalist, visionary and a born enthusiast, Blake has something for almost everyone, including not only the socially excluded and the clearly deranged, but even the sort of logical, rationalist person he most disliked: the scientist Jacob Bronowski wrote one of the most perceptive studies of Blake.
What the Romans Did for Us. BBC2 Monday, November 6, 8.30-9pm. We seem to have heard a lot recently from Simon Schama and others about our debt to the Romans.
Here, Adam Hart-Davis weighs in with his own assessment, beginning with the Romans' enjoyment of such comforts as baths, lavatories and wine. Grapes were not the only foodstuffs we owe to the invaders: apples, pears, turnips, asparagus and carrots all came over with them. It all makes you wonder how the Britons survived before they arrived. In characteristic fashion, Hart-Davis goes for a dip in a Roman bath on Hadrian's Wall and demonstrates how a pre-fabricated mosaic floor was laid.
SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT. Zig Zag Snapshots: Children in the Second World War BBC2 Wednesday, November 8, 1.10-1.30pm and Thursday November 16, 12.10-12.30pm. Designed for seven to nine-year-olds, these two 20-minute films recall children's experience of the war. The commentary gives an outline of the conflict and, in view of the target age range, there is little direct reference to death and destruction, but enough to suggest the hardships of the time: the disruption of family life, rationing, evacuation and so on, evoked through the testimony of survivors and archive material. Though the series focuses on Britain during the Blitz, the programmes and the accompanying resource pack include evidence from Germany and other countries.