Schama's £3m BBC deal makes him a higher earner than Starkey

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The television historian Simon Schama is being offered a £3m exclusive deal to produce two new series and accompanying books, the BBC confirmed yesterday.

The package, which ties Schama to the BBC for four years, makes him a higher earner than his fellow television historian David Starkey, who has an exclusive package with Channel 4 and Granada worth £2m.

Schama's deal works out at £250,000 for each hour of programming, not including the time spent on writing the accompanying books. One series will be on art masterpieces, and the other, called Rough Crossings, will be on links between American and British history.

When rumours of the Schama deal emerged in August last year, the BBC denied them. Yesterday Jane Root, the BBC2 controller, confirmed the deal. She said Schama had an "ability to bring audiences to political and social history" and was also "a most distinguished art historian".

She promised that he would "provide for the BBC an engaging and definitive account of some of the world's greatest works of art and their origins".

Schama is best-known for his 15-part BBC documentary series The History of Britain, which attracted more than three million viewers. In a BBC statement, Schama said: "I am delighted and excited to be working again with BBC2 on two projects, both of which happen to be personal passions." Schama, a professor of art history and history at Columbia University in New York, said: "The story of great masterpieces produced at moments of high historical drama, and the often surprising stories which link British and American history, are both subjects which matter deeply to me. "Now I want to persuade millions of BBC2 viewers that they should care too." Schama's deal includes an advance from publishers Harper Collins, thought to be the biggest for a history title.

Schama, who moved to the US in 1980, had said in an earlier interview that his work linking British and American history would include a piece on slavery and the story of the time spent in London by the Native American Pocohontas.

Between them, Schama and Starkey have been credited with popularising history on television. Starkey attracted more than four million viewers to Elizabeth 1 and The Six Wives of Henry VIII as part of an 18-hour, 25-programme series on the British monarchy.

When Starkey was signed to Channel 4, the station described him as "one of the most exciting on-screen talents working today".

The academics are better paid than some of the best-known presenters on British television, including Cilla Black and Des Lynam. They have also paved the way for other media historians include Tristram Hunt, 28, who presented a popular account of the English Civil War, Niall Ferguson, who examined the legacy of the British Empire, and Bettany Hughes, who was described as the Nigella Lawson of history for her series on the Spartans.

Head to Head Television's History Makers


Grew up in north London and attended Haberdashers' Aske's school and later Christ's College, Cambridge. He is the son of a clothes wholesaler, and was a Sixties mod before he carved out his career in academia.

After becoming a fellow in modern history at Brasenose college, Oxford, he moved to America in 1980 and spent 13 years at Harvard. He is now professor of art history at Columbia University, New York.

With his smooth, velvety presenting style he has been described as the Val Doonican of television historians. He is best known for his series The History of Britain, which attracted audiences of 4.4 million.

He has now become the best-paid historian in the world after signing a £3m deal with the BBC and Harper Collins for two new series and accompanying books.


Had a strict Quaker upbringing in Cumbria, where he attended Kendal Grammar School, before going to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. At Fitzwilliam, his tutor was Sir Geoffrey Elton, uncle of comedian Ben. Lectured in international history at the London School of Economics before returning to Cambridge as a fellow.

When Starkey signed a £2m deal with Channel 4 and Granada to make 25 hours of programmes over four years he became, hour-for-hour, the station's highest paid presenter. He charges £12,000 for after-dinner speeches. Starkey's style is more "in-your-face" than Schama's and he has been accused of being smug although he is hugely popular.

Best known for his series Elizabeth I andThe Six Wives of Henry VIII, which both attracted more than four million viewers.