Immortal Egypt with Joann Fletcher, BBC2 - TV review: Plenty of passion from the red-haired prof

Fletcher's accessible presenting style made it easy to share her enthusiasm - even without Egyptology's most eye-catching artifacts 

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The Independent Culture

The Ancient Egyptians was the topic in primary school that got me hooked on history. King Tut; mummies; pyramids and writing in hieroglyphics on homemade “papyrus” fashioned from printer paper, a tea bag and a candle, were all opium for my young imagination. Alas, the first episode of Immortal Egypt focused on the period that led up to all that stuff, a fascinating story, but one with not quite the same visual impact as the likes of Tutankhamun's gleaming gold and blue death mask and the Rosetta Stone, which have stuck in my mind since year three. 

Egyptologist Joann Fletcher of red hair fame, which I suspect the BBC thinks alone qualifies her as a trendy prof, took viewers back 19,000 years to see the first rock art – cattle featured heavily – and galloped along to show us evidence of early societies by way of some ceramic shards. The early example of mummification (Fletcher's specialist subject), a bloke curled in the foetal position surrounded by a few pots, had nothing on the gold-filled tombs I remembered from my childhood, but they had to start somewhere, I suppose. 

You couldn't fault Fletcher's passion or knowledge, which, like in her previous outing in Life and Death in the Valley of the Kings, was always accessible. She described one official whose tomb she visited as looking “a bit like Clark Gable”, an archaeologist's claustrophobic pit as “lovely, actually” and she wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty. 

At the site of the building of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, we heard there was a whole city erected for the workers, with shops and sleeping quarters. In the absence of artefacts, we got Fletcher, in her usual garb dressed all in black and carrying an umbrella throughout like a goth Mary Poppins, lying down in the sand where the bed might or might not have been. Somehow, I can't imagine Starkey or Schama doing that.