The Weekend's Television: The Incredible Human Journey, Sun, BBC2
The Birth of British Music, Sat, BBC2

Bone collector trips up

For those of us of a certain age, the phrase the Brotherhood of Man immediately brings to mind the Abba-esque British group who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976 with their song "Save Your Kisses for Me".

Indeed, that jolly number, which stayed at No 1 for six weeks and went platinum, usually overstays its welcome in the mind. There, I've done it for you now, haven't I? For others the Brotherhood of Man refers to a Christian or socialist ideal. However, for Dr Alice Roberts, presenting the first part of her anthropological history of mankind, The Incredible Human Journey, it is, in fact, perfectly credible and a literal truth.

We are all related, which perhaps we knew, but, more specifically, everyone who is not from Africa may well be descended from a small tribe of a few hundred souls who legged it out of Africa about 100,000 years ago. The global village is an even more incestuous place than it seems. Maybe that's why we're interested in the personal trivia that fills so much of the media. So, your curiosity about Sir Paul McCartney, Jordan, Rolf Harris, Sir Alan Sugar, Madonna, Paul Daniels, whoever, is motivated by familial loyalty rather than prurience. Which is comforting.

Dr Alice is one of those presenters who makes her way through her shows by asking questions, which makes things a bit irritating. I also wondered from time to time why I ought to be taking any notice of what she had to say. After all, when the art historian Lord Clark made his monumental series on Western civilisation in 1969, his credentials were well established.

Dr Robert Winstone's shows gain authority because of his well known pioneering work. Dr David Starkey knows what he's on about when he's talking Tudor. But Dr Alice Roberts? Never heard of her. She told us at the start of her show that she was a doctor and anthropologist, to which I thought, "So what?" From her Wikipedia entry I see she is an academic at the University of Bristol. I think the main reason we're supposed to pay attention to her is that she's pretty. Pretty audacious, I should say.

So perhaps, following her technique, I might ask how she went about finding out where we came from. Well, it looked like someone spent a vast amount of cash getting her round the world, though I notice it was some sort of co-production with French TV, which may have kept the costs down for the licence payer.

She did get about quite a bit. Her account of how our distant antecedents managed to get out of sub-Sahara Africa, effectively an island bounded by ocean and desert, was admittedly a fascinating one. Adding together the latest pieces of evidence from climate-change experts, archaeologists and geneticists, it seems that there were brief windows of opportunity when the Sahara turned lush and the Arabian peninsula was tantalisingly close to Africa, its freshwater streams and oases almost visible from the coast. Thus, our ancestors might have made the journey using primitive boats and by foot.

In Alice's case, the return journey back to the cradle of mankind was made by jumbo jet, small propeller plane, Toyota Land Cruiser and even a Mini Convertible. For me, archaeologists ought to be roughing things in the mud and sand, not driving round having fun, which is what Alice seemed to be doing for far too much of time.

Some of it looked a bit unnecessary. As she herself said, discovery of the oldest human remains, 200,000 years old, in the Great Rift Valley was made 40 years ago. She didn't have to go back there with a copy of the skull they found then, as if she'd just dug it up. There were things I learned form Dr Alice during her show, but not enough to keep me alert for a whole hour. It may not be long in geological time, but it felt like an eternity in front of the screen. Sorry, sis.

Unlike Dr Alice, Charles Hazelwood put his qualifications as a pundit-presenter on screen. The first show in his series on The Birth of British Music, on Henry Purcell, saw him conducting his very own orchestra through various classical pieces by the earliest truly British musician. I was surprised to see that a programme of this quality was being screened on BBC2 rather than one of the arts-ghetto channels, because that was traditionally what BBC2 is for: to educate philistines like me.

I'm ashamed to say the only Purcell piece I recognised immediately will always for me be John Major's 1992 general election theme tune, but I discovered it was incidental music composed for the restoration play Abdelazar. I also had no idea, or had forgotten, that some of the immensely moving music played during the Cenotaph ceremony is by Purcell. Most refreshingly, Purcell was also responsible for some bawdy drinking songs.

By the end of Hazlewood's elegantly scripted portrait of Purcell, I felt quite proud to be related, at least in the Dr Alice sense, to the pair of them.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us