History lessons have come a long way from when the teacher was old enough to have been talking from experience as the Blake Theatre’s latest superstar evening brought the last 900,000 years to life.

Professor Alice Roberts, the TV presenter for Historic Towns, Digging for Britain and Time Team, gave a brief British history from the first evidence of man in the UK up to the Norman Invasion.

But she first admitted to being a qualified junior doctor, not an historian. She graduated in 1997 and worked with the NHS in South Wales for 18 months.

She was inspired as a youngster when she was given a book on anatomy by Jonathan Miller and decided when she was 11 she wanted to be a doctor. “I perceived that ambition all the way through medical school and out the other side,” she said.

She said she “particularly loved surgery because it was anatomy” and used to do her ward rounds on rollerskates.

She decided to teach anatomy to medical students at Bristol University. “It was going to be spending lots of time dissecting bodies: what’s not to like!” she said.

But she felt she had missed her gap year. Wondering what to do, her boyfriend was working at King Arthur’s Cave in the Wye Valley: “We were digging this Paleolithic site, we camped nearby, it was idyllic.”

She spent 11 years at Bristol working towards becoming a professor of anatomy, going off every summer on digs with her boyfriend.

Her break came when her boyfriend was in a pub when the Time Team were there.

“The producer was lamenting the fact they had a massive backlog of writing to do, as they had to produce proper archaeological reports on pottery, coins and bones they had found,” she said. “He said to them, ‘I know a friendly biological anthropologist’ and told them to send their finds to Bristol uni.

“Finds came in from all over the country, my students were really excited and then one of the producers asked me to go along on one of their digs where there would be a lot of bones as it was a cemetery. That was my first Time Team which was broadcast from a field in Hampshire and went out live.”

She went on to feature in Digging for Britain and most recently ‘Britain’s most Historic Towns’.

She gave a brief history of Britain going back 900,000 years. She explained that the coast of Norfolk has the first traces of human activity: eight metres below the sand dunes is evidence of a peat bog and a forest bed. The discovery was made by a man walking his dog on the beach who stumbled across an ancient hand axe on the surface!

She is currently recording a third series on historic towns and is due to start on another Digging for Britain.