Heroes of Environment: Sir David Attenborough

The godfather of broadcasting has had an incredible career so far, bringing the natural world to our living rooms for over seven decades.

It really isn’t a nature documentary if it’s not accompanied by those dulcet tones is it? Sir David Attenborough is an undisputed national treasure for his pioneering work in film and the natural world. Born in London the same year as the Queen and raised in Leicester, Sir David attended Clare College at the University of Cambridge to study natural sciences, graduating in 1947. After a spell in the Royal Navy after university, Attenborough joined the BBC in 1952 as a trainee producer. Zoo Quest was Sir David’s first animal-based programme, which launched in 1954. He wrote, presented and produced this landmark series that ran until 1963. In 1965 he was promoted to the role of controller for the new channel BBC2, where he oversaw the introduction of Europe’s first all-colour television network, and in 1969 he assumed the title of BBC director of programmes. These roles involved the commissioning of all kinds of new content, and it was Sir David who brought still-beloved programmes such as Match Of The Day, live snooker and Monty Python to our screens.

The documentaries were to become Attenborough’s great passion, and in 1973 he resigned from his position in favour of concentrating on producing these natural world features. Sir David never classed himself as an ‘animal lover’, he is just hugely fascinated by them. He has also admitted in the past that the only animals he dislikes are rats!

His first endeavour was called Eastwards With Attenborough. Production began in 1973, starting a tradition of excellence in filming the natural world. With a series of groundbreaking documentaries under his belt, such as Life On Earth (one of the BBC’s most ambitious filming projects at the time) and The Living Planet, Sir David was knighted by the Queen in 1985 for services to factual broadcasting. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Sir David developed a huge wealth of programming that delved into topics such as animal behaviour and environmental issues, all the while striving to use the very latest in filming technology to bring

the wonders of the animal kingdom to television. Series such as Planet Earth, Life In The Freezer, The Blue Planet and Life In Cold Blood (to name just a few) helped to inspire millions across the country to learn more about the natural world.With 32 honorary degrees – more than any other person – along with a fellowship to the Royal Society as well as many other academic institutions, Sir David Attenborough’s life’s work to date has entertained and educated in equal measure. His enthusiasm and appreciation for nature spills out of every sentence he narrates to his captivated audience.

Filming Technology 

Across his exceptional career, Sir David has always pioneered the advancements in wildlife filming. From his work introducing Europe’s first colour television service in July 1967 to using time-lapse filming for the Private Life Of Plants (1995) to show incredible images of plant growth never before seen on TV, he has consistently led the way. Among his many landmarks Sir David narrated the BBC’s first nature series in both HD (Planet Earth) and 4K (Life Story), as well as the UK’s first 3D documentary, Flying Monsters 3D, which aired on Sky 3D in 2010. In 2015 Sir David also launched attenboroughsreef.com, an interactive platform documenting the amazing life and perilous ecological situation of the Great Barrier Reef. While filming for this he also broke a record for the deepest submersible dive on the Reef at 305 metres.



Gorilla encounter
One of the most famous moments of Sir David’s career is his close experience with mountain gorillas while filming Life On Earth, which ended up with baby gorillas climbing on him in 1978.

Talented family
Sir David’s elder brother was Lord Richard Attenborough (1923-2014), an Oscar-winning actor and director who starred in films such as Jurassic Park.

To film Life Of Birds, Attenborough travelled over 411,900 kilometres! He also visited the North Pole in 2010 at the age of 83 as part of filming for Frozen Planet.

Big name
To honour Sir David there is a very varied group of species named after him, including fossils, beetles, moths and the long-beaked echidna, Zaglossus attenborough.


Unforeseen potential

In 1952, when Sir David accepted his first job at the BBC, he had only ever seen one TV programme! He was initially deemed undesirable as an ‘on-air’ talent due to his teeth

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