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
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'