"Royal Heritage" took two years, a million pounds and the on- and off-camera cooperation of the Royal Family to make. The writer-narrator, Sir How Wheldon, feels that the amassing of such resources can make television "the equivalent of important books."

"Say Marx, Freud and Darwin were living today," said Sir Huw, on a recent visit in connection with the American showing of his series. "No, we wouldn't put them on a talk show together - thats what you would do in America. We would give them the time, the money and the freedom to go off and come back with a television series. At least one important book from one of the three would have become a series instead."

It was an idea which Wheldon first proposed in 1963, when he became program director of the British Broadcasting Company, from which he recently retired. It is - he says, "boasting, but that doesn't matter a tuppence" - the idea which made possible the British artistic and intellectual shows which became such hits in America as well.

"Take the 'Civilisation' series," he said. "Now that was more important than any of his [Sir Kenneth Clark's] books, and more original. Alistair Cooke, he wrote a book on Hiss, and other books, but nothing so good as his 'America.'"

His formula requires a commitment and restraint which seem unthinkable in terms of an American television network. How do you find corporate sponsors for Karl Marx? What would the censors say about Sigmund Freud? What would Bible-Belt reaction be to Charles Darwin?

"Americans are great disparagers of themselves," he said. "All it would require is an investment, trust, and a group of people who can work well together. Not every book could have been a series. you don't want words with visuals added - that's the way educational films are made, and that's why educational films are the way they are.

"But you could approach more things than people would think this way," he continued. "'Das Kapital' is overwhelmingly about industrialization; think how you could show that. Freud's 'Totem and Taboo' - isn't that a mane for a television series?"

In any case, "Royal Heritage" is also coming out as - a book.