Monday, 30 November -0001


Michael Moran on TV’s – and our – addiction to the same, familiar faces

Written by Michael Moran
Michael-Moran1It's the same people on television every week, isn't it? Despite the monstrous regiment of would-be actors and television presenters working in bars and restaurants until they get that big break, TV producers keep serving up the same dozen or so faces.

There are a couple of reasons for that, but at root, it's because we viewers like it that way. If we're inviting people into our living rooms we like them to look at least slightly familiar. No-one wants a complete stranger goggling at them while they eat supper. Those well-known faces are comfort eating for the eyes.

So it is that current affairs 'superhunk' Andrew Marr has been commissioned to regale us with his History Of The World (Sunday at 9pm, BBC One).

And of course it's not just faces that are familiar, but formats too. The accepted method of presenting history for a mass television audience is to dispatch an authoritative voice on a series of rather agreeable holidays and film them looking at stuff. And that's what you get here.

The broad sweep of history thing has been done, and done well, on television before. So what's Marr's angle? This history of mankind attempts to get away from the traditional catalogue of kings and battles and focus more on ordinary people. And especially, and perhaps appropriately given Andrew Marr's status as an unlikely ladies' man, on women.

The story starts around 70,000 years ago with a woman who we may as well call Eve, who began our entire line somewhere in Africa. Marr then goes on to show us a 17,000-year-old embroidery kit and makes a reasonable case for tailoring being as important if not more important than hunting. We are shown women, too, at the forefront of early agriculture. It's not all needlework and gardening. The dramatic reconstructions can be quite brutal. Then again, history often is.

It's a good mixture of things you already knew and interesting nuggets that your history teacher missed. You'll learn about the nine years of rain that proved as much a challenge to Chinese civil engineers as it did to Middle- Eastern ark builders. There are memorable anecdotes too from Pharaonic Egypt: a trial that sounds for all the world like a modern edition of The Jeremy Kyle Show and some 3,000-yearold 'text messages' written on limestone tablets.

Although this history is by and large apolitical, Marr can't quite resist making a wry point about an anarcho-syndicalist commune that endured for over a millennium in Anatolia.

Another familiar face returning to give us some televisual comfort eating is Nigella Lawson. Extraordinarily, she has never made a series about Italian food before. That oversight is remedied in Nigellisima (Monday at 8.30pm on BBC Two).

Nigella is the chef that even the most undomesticated men love to watch. This series, which begins with a sumptuously continental take on steak and chips, is likely to be no exception.

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