Utopia: In Search of the Dream 

BBC Arts

This series asks why, ever since Thomas More coined the term, the idea of ‘utopia’ has captivated us. Utopian visions have broadened the horizons of the human imagination, inspiring extraordinary architecture, whole new genres of fiction and radical experimental communities. The series ranges across high art and popular culture to explore why we strive towards the ‘good place’ of utopia – and what it is that so often frustrates us getting there.

3 x 60 for BBC Arts 

Episode One: 

Art historian Richard Clay explores how utopian visions begin as blueprints for fairer worlds, and asks whether they can inspire real change.  

Charting five hundred years of utopian visions and making bold connections between exploration and science fiction, radical 18th Century politics and online communities like Wikipedia, Richard Clay delves into colourful stories of some of the world’s greatest utopian dreamers, including Thomas More, who coined the term ‘utopia’, Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, and Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek.   

Episode Two: 

Utopia has been imagined in a thousand different ways.  Yet when people try to build utopia, they struggle and very often fail.   Art historian Richard Clay ask whether utopian visions for living can ever reconcile the tension between the group and the individual, the rules and the desire to break free.  

Travelling to America, he encounters experimental communities, searching for greater meaning in life.  Richard visits a former Shaker village in New Hampshire and immerses himself for a day at the Twin Oaks eco-commune in Virginia, where residents share everything, even clothes.   He looks back at the grand urban plans for the masses of the 20th Century utopian ideologies, from New Deal housing projects of downtown Chicago to the concrete sprawl of a Soviet-era housing estate in Vilnius, Lithuania.  He also meets utopian architects with a continuing faith that humanity’s lot can be improved by better design. Interviewees include the world-renowned architect Norman Foster and designer Shoji Sadao, a long-term collaborator of Richard Buckminster Fuller, the visionary engineer behind the revolutionary geodesic dome.

Episode Three: 

Art historian Richard Clay asks whether utopia is, ultimately, a state of mind.  Can we find utopia within?  He explores the many ways we’ve created to immerse ourselves in a perfect moment, of epiphany or transcendence, pushing the boundaries of artistic expression and pleasure.  

Seeking answers in a broad range of arts, Richard meets digital games pioneer Sid Meier, RADA improvisation teacher Chris Heimann and opera impresario Martin Graham.  He tries to compose a haiku and uncovers traces of the hedonistic medieval Carnival tradition in the churches and pubs of his native Lancashire. Richard also compares and contrasts different musical escapes, interviewing Acid House legend A Guy Called Gerald and the celebrated minimalist composer Steve Reich. 

This is not about the utopia of the future but about the utopia of the immediate world that we can experience now.

Director & Executive Producer: Russell Barnes

AP: Alex Brisland

EP for BBC: Emma Cahusac