Television choices: How we came to this from lowly origins is Marr-vellous


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TV pick of the week

Andrew Marr's History of the World

Sunday 9pm BBC1

It may sound like one of those cod-portentous titles, like Monty Python's Meaning of Life, but then fair play to the big-eared fella for having the ambition to go 68,000 years better than Kenneth Clark's Civilisation – the 1969 series that took in a mere 2,000 years of human history. This co-production with Discovery intercuts Marr with reconstructions of early Homo sapiens, Ancient Egyptians and so on, as he begins with humanity's great journey out of Africa, and the startling fact that most of us are descended from one woman from one tribe. Marr's sub-Churchillian delivery does have its moments, as when he discusses man's destruction of the Neaderthals. "It is also probable, I regret to report," he growls, "that we liked to eat them."

The Thick of It

Saturday 9.55pm BBC2

It does sometimes seem like just one-long exchange of well-crafted insults, but Armando Iannucci's comedy of political (bad) manners is one of the most purely enjoyable things on television. This week a reluctant Peter Mannion (Roger Allam) has been dragooned into a "thought camp" in a rural hotel with no mobile signal. And then the proverbial hits the fan.


Monday 8.30pm BBC2

Television's campest chef – morphing, it seems, into Nanette Newman – returns, as Nigella Lawson "brings the spirit of Italy into the kitchen using ingredients available in any English supermarket". Has she been in Costcutter recently? The link to Italy is Lawson's gap year in Florence, while her Tuscan fries, heated from cold oil, look intriguing.

Later Live with Jools Holland

Tuesday 10pm BBC2

A return to probably the world's greatest television music show, as the Beach Boys play songs from their latest album That's Why God Made the Radio, as well as hits from the back catalogue. John Lydon's Public Image Ltd sample their first new album in 20 years, and The xx showcase songs from their follow-up to their Mercury Prize-winning debut album xx.

JK Rowling – Writing for Grown-Ups: a Culture Show Special

Wednesday 10pm BBC2

The Hogwarts scribe talks about the creation of The Casual Vacancy, her hotly anticipated "adult novel" (because, of course, Harry Potter is not for adults), which is published tomorrow. She reveals the inspiration for the story, set in a small English town, and discusses the challenges of new literary territory.


Thursday 9pm ITV1

The lives and loves of four women related to soldiers serving in Afghanistan – starting, in time-honoured fashion, with a death. Claire Skinner (Outnumbered), Antonia Thomas (Misfits) and Nicola Stephenson (Brookside lesbian snogger) lead the cast, while Greg Wise plays the type of officer who would command his wife to "pull yourself together" at a funeral.

Servants: the True Story of Life Below Stairs

Friday 9pm BBC2

The historian Pamela Cox, whose grandparents were in service, dispels the nostalgia about life below stairs in this timely new series. Downton Abbey isn't mentioned by name, although the ITV drama gets one thing right – the strict hierarchy among the servants. Otherwise anonymity and invisibility was order of their 17-hour days.