Sir Richard, former artistic director of the National Theatre, follows in the footsteps of Neil MacGregor, the director of the National Gallery, who recently presented the Making Masterpieces series on painting for the BBC.
The use of art world professionals rather than photogenic television presenters reflects a commitment to "serious TV" made by the BBC2 controller Mark Thompson in a speech to the television industry last week.
The Sir Richard Eyre series, Changing Stages, will be based on his personal view of the trends, major events and senior figures in the British theatre during this century. The programme will be made next year and will be broadcast in 1999. The producer, Andrea Miller, plans to make extensive use of film and sound archives to bring to life stage plays from throughout the century.
Sir Richard plans to look at how social and political trends of different eras were reflected in the theatre, from the Edwardian heyday of George Bernard Shaw and Lilian Bayliss, through the kitchen-sink drama period of John Osborne, to the present.
Mr Thompson is known to believe that a new approach is needed to arts programmes in the Nineties to move the genre on from shows like The Late Show.
He believes such programmes, which were based on a structuralist approach to art, had a limited shelf life because "once you deconstruct something, it stays deconstructed", he said. Structuralist arts programmes presented by bright young things were, he believes, a one-trick game which too often sneered at art. Now he is looking for presenters with enthusiasm for their subjects.
Further proof of Mr Thompson's desire for heavyweight programmes regardless of their ratings potential is the commission of a series on existentialist intellectuals. The documentary strand, Human All Too Human, will cover Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre.
More accessible is Watching the Detectives, a series of tributes to great crime writers and their fictional creations. It is to be presented by Nigel Williams and will feature programmes presented in the style of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Philip Marlowe and Inspector Maigret.Reuse content