The BBC is using YouTube for a high-minded complement to one of its radio programs. Actors Harry Shearer and Gillian Anderson are two of the narrators who present philosophical topics in a web companion for A History Of Ideas.

The web series (which doesn’t seem to have a name of its own) is an animated accompaniment to A History Of Ideas, a BBC Radio 4 program hosted by Melvyn Bragg. Each week, Bragg invites guests to join him to analyze an open-ended question (such as “how do I live a good life?”) by sharing the wisdom of famous philosophers.

The web series explains a some of the philosophical topics discussed on the radio show by drawing them out in an engaging black-and-white style. The first episode features narration from Shearer as he explains Diotima’s Ladder, a concept from Plato’s Symposium. In the 90-second video, viewers get a brief overview of Plato’s thoughts on love and beauty.

Shearer (who recently released his web series Nixon’s The One on My Damn Channel) will narrate 12 episodes of the History Of Ideas web series, and Anderson will narrate 12 more. In total, 48 webisodes are planned; the other 24 will be narrated by two more people who have not yet been announced.

“Research shows that we can understand things more clearly if there are visual accompaniments,” said BBC Radio 4 commissioning executive Mohit Bakaya. “We want to explore ways in which Radio 4 can supplement what we do on air and not just putting a camera in a studio, as some of the other networks have done.”

This isn’t the first time animation has been used to explore complex academic topics, but it might be the headiest. New episodes of the web series will be posted to BBC Radio 4’s YouTube channel.

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