David Attenborough

David Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough

David Attenborough, May 2003
Born 8 May 1926 (1926-05-08) (age 85)
Isleworth, London, England
Residence Richmond, London
Nationality British
Alma mater
Spouse Jane Elizabeth Ebsworth Oriel (m. 1950–1997, her death)
  • Robert Attenborough
  • Susan Attenborough

Sir David Frederick Attenborough (play /ˈætənbərə/) OM, CH, CVO, CBE, FRS, FZS, FSA (born 8 May 1926 in London, England) is a British broadcaster and naturalist. His career as the face and voice of natural history programmes has endured for more than 50 years. He is best known for writing and presenting the nine Life series, in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit, which collectively form a comprehensive survey of all life on the planet. He is also a former senior manager at the BBC, having served as controller of BBC Two and director of programming for BBC Television in the 1960s and 1970s. He is widely considered a national treasure, although he himself doesn't care for the term.[1][2][3]

He is a younger brother of director, producer and actor Richard Attenborough.[4]


Early life and family

Attenborough grew up in College House on the campus of the University of Leicester, where his father, Frederick, was principal.[5] He is the middle of three sons (his elder brother, Richard, became an actor/film director and his younger brother, John Michael Attenborough, an executive at Alfa Romeo).[6] During World War II his parents also adopted two Jewish refugee girls from Europe.[7] [8]

Attenborough spent his childhood collecting fossils, stones and other natural specimens. He received encouragement in this pursuit at age seven, when a young Jacquetta Hawkes admired his "museum". A few years later, one of his adoptive sisters gave him a piece of amber filled with prehistoric creatures; some 50 years later, it would be the focus of his programme The Amber Time Machine.

Attenborough was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Leicester and then won a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge in 1945, where he studied geology and zoology and obtained a degree in Natural Sciences.[9] In 1947, he was called up for National Service in the Royal Navy and spent two years stationed in North Wales and the Firth of Forth.

In 1950, Attenborough married Jane Elizabeth Ebsworth Oriel; the marriage lasted until her death in 1997. The couple had two children, Robert and Susan.[10]

His son, Robert Attenborough, is a senior lecturer in Bioanthropology for the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University in Canberra.[11]

First years at BBC

After leaving the Navy, Attenborough took a position editing children's science textbooks for a publishing company. He soon became disillusioned with the work, however, and in 1950, he applied for a job as a radio talks producer with the BBC. Although he was rejected for this job, his CV later attracted the interest of Mary Adams, head of the Talks (factual broadcasting) department of the BBC's fledgling television service. Attenborough, like most Britons at that time, did not own a television, and he had seen only one programme in his life.[12] However, he accepted Adams' offer of a three-month training course, and in 1952, he joined the BBC full time. Initially discouraged from appearing on camera because Adams thought his teeth were too big,[13] he became a producer for the Talks Department, which handled all non-fiction broadcasts. His early projects included the quiz show Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? and Song Hunter, a series about folk music presented by Alan Lomax.

Attenborough's association with natural history programmes began when he produced and presented the three-part series The Pattern of Animals. The studio-bound programme featured animals from London Zoo, with the naturalist Sir Julian Huxley discussing their use of camouflage, aposematism and courtship displays. Through this programme, Attenborough met Jack Lester, the curator of the zoo's reptile house, and they decided to make a series about an animal-collecting expedition. The result was Zoo Quest, first broadcast in 1954, which Attenborough presented at short notice, due to Lester being taken ill.

In 1957, the BBC Natural History Unit was formally established in Bristol. Attenborough was asked to join it, but declined, not wishing to move from London where he and his young family were settled. Instead he formed his own department, the Travel and Exploration Unit,[14] which allowed him to continue to front the Zoo Quest programmes as well as produce other documentaries, notably the Travellers’ Tales and Adventure series.

In the early 1960s, Attenborough resigned from the permanent staff of the BBC to study for a postgraduate degree in social anthropology at the London School of Economics, interweaving his study with further filming.[15] However, he accepted an invitation to return to the BBC as Controller of BBC Two before he could finish the degree.

BBC administration

Attenborough became the Controller of BBC Two in March 1965, but had a clause inserted in his contract that would allow him to continue making programmes on an occasional basis. Later the same year, he filmed elephants in Tanzania, and in 1969, he made a three-part series on the cultural history of Bali. For the 1971 film A Blank on the Map, he joined the first Western expedition to a remote highland valley in New Guinea to seek out an uncontacted tribe.

BBC Two was launched in 1964, but had struggled to capture the public's imagination. When Attenborough arrived as Controller, he quickly abolished the channel's quirky kangaroo mascot and shook up the schedule. With a mission to make BBC Two's output diverse and different from that offered by other networks, he began to establish a portfolio of programmes that defined the channel's identity for decades to come. Under his tenure, music, the arts, entertainment, archaeology, experimental comedy, travel, drama, sport, business, science and natural history all found a place in the weekly schedules. Often, an eclectic mix was offered within a single evening's viewing. Programmes he commissioned included Man Alive, Call My Bluff, Chronicle, Life, One Pair of Eyes, The Old Grey Whistle Test, Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Money Programme. When BBC Two became the first British channel to broadcast in colour in 1967, Attenborough took advantage by introducing televised snooker, as well as bringing rugby league to British television on a regular basis via the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy.

One of his most significant decisions was to order a 13-part series on the history of Western art, to show off the quality of the new UHF colour television service that BBC Two offered. Broadcast to universal acclaim in 1969, Civilisation set the blueprint for landmark authored documentaries, which were informally known as "tombstone" or "sledgehammer" projects. Others followed, including Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man (also commissioned by Attenborough), and Alistair Cooke's America. Attenborough thought that the story of evolution would be a natural subject for such a series. He shared his idea with Chris Parsons, a producer at the Natural History Unit, who came up with the title Life on Earth and returned to Bristol to start planning the series. Attenborough harboured a strong desire to present the series himself, but this would not be possible so long as he remained in a management post.

In 1969, Attenborough was promoted to Director of Programmes, making him responsible for the output of both BBC channels. His tasks, which included agreeing budgets, attending board meetings and firing staff, were now far removed from the business of filming programmes. When Attenborough's name was being suggested as a candidate for the position of Director General of the BBC in 1972, he phoned his brother Richard to confess that he had no appetite for the job. Early the following year, he left his post to return to full-time programme making, leaving him free to write and present the planned natural history epic.

Return to broadcasting

After his resignation, Attenborough became a freelance broadcaster and immediately started work on his next project, a pre-arranged trip to Indonesia with a crew from the Natural History Unit. It resulted in the 1973 series Eastwards with Attenborough, which was similar in tone to the earlier Zoo Quests but without the animal-collecting element.

On his return, he began to work on the scripts for Life on Earth. Due to the scale of his ambition, the BBC decided to partner with an American network to secure the necessary funding. While the negotiations were proceeding he worked on a number of other television projects. He presented a series on tribal art (The Tribal Eye, 1975) and another on the voyages of discovery (The Explorers, 1975). He also presented a BBC children's series about cryptozoology entitled Fabulous Animals (1975), which featured mythical creatures such as the griffin and kraken.[16] Eventually, the BBC signed a co-production deal with Turner Broadcasting and Life on Earth moved into production in 1976.

"Life" series

Beginning with Life on Earth in 1979, Attenborough set about creating a body of work which became a benchmark of quality in wildlife film-making and influenced a generation of documentary film-makers. The series also established many of the hallmarks of the BBC's natural history output. By treating his subject seriously and researching the latest discoveries, Attenborough and his production team gained the trust of the scientific community, who responded by allowing him to feature their subjects in his programmes. In Rwanda, for example, Attenborough and his crew were granted privileged access to film Dian Fossey's research group of mountain gorillas. Innovation was another factor in Life on Earth's success: new film-making techniques were devised to get the shots Attenborough wanted, with a focus on events and animals that were hitherto unfilmed. Computerised airline schedules, which had only recently been introduced, enabled the series to be elaborately devised so that Attenborough visited several locations around the globe in each episode, sometimes even changing continents mid-sentence. Although appearing as the on-screen presenter, he consciously restricted his pieces to camera to give his subjects top billing.

The success of Life on Earth prompted the BBC to consider a follow-up, and five years later, The Living Planet was screened. This time, Attenborough built his series around the theme of ecology, the adaptations of living things to their environment. It was another critical and commercial success, generating huge international sales for the BBC. In 1990, The Trials of Life completed the original "Life" trilogy, looking at animal behaviour through the different stages of life. The series drew strong reactions from the viewing public for its sequences of killer whales hunting sea lions on a Patagonian beach and chimpanzees hunting and violently killing a colobus monkey.

In the 1990s, Attenborough continued to use the "Life" moniker for a succession of authored documentaries. In 1993, he presented Life in the Freezer, the first television series to survey the natural history of Antarctica. Although past normal retirement age, he then embarked on a number of more specialised surveys of the natural world, beginning with plants. They proved a difficult subject for his producers, who had to deliver five hours of television featuring what are essentially immobile objects. The result, The Private Life of Plants (1995), showed plants as dynamic organisms by using time-lapse photography to speed up their growth.

Prompted by an enthusiastic ornithologist at the BBC Natural History Unit, Attenborough then turned his attention to the animal kingdom and in particular, birds. As he was neither an obsessive twitcher, nor a bird expert, he decided he was better qualified to make The Life of Birds (1998) on the theme of behaviour. The order of the remaining "Life" series was dictated by developments in camera technology. For The Life of Mammals (2002), low-light and infrared cameras were deployed to reveal the behaviour of nocturnal mammals. The series contains a number of memorable two shots of Attenborough and his subjects, which included chimpanzees, a blue whale and a grizzly bear. Advances in macro photography made it possible to capture natural behaviour of very small creatures for the first time, and in 2005, Life in the Undergrowth introduced audiences to the world of invertebrates.

At this point, Attenborough realised that he had spent 20 years unconsciously assembling a collection of programmes on all the major groups of terrestrial animals and plants — only reptiles and amphibians were missing. When Life in Cold Blood was broadcast in 2008, he had the satisfaction of completing the set, brought together in a DVD encyclopaedia called Life on Land. In an interview that year, Attenborough was asked to sum up his achievement, and responded:

The evolutionary history is finished. The endeavour is complete. If you'd asked me 20 years ago whether we'd be attempting such a mammoth task, I'd have said "Don't be ridiculous!" These programmes tell a particular story and I'm sure others will come along and tell it much better than I did, but I do hope that if people watch it in 50 years' time, it will still have something to say about the world we live in.[17]

However, in 2010 Attenborough asserted that his forthcoming First Life — dealing with evolutionary history before Life on Earth — should also be included within the "Life" series. In the documentary Attenborough's Journey he stated, "This series, to a degree which I really didn't fully appreciate until I started working on it, really completes the set."[18]

Other documentaries

Alongside the "Life" series, Attenborough has continued to work on other television documentaries, mainly in the natural history genre. He wrote and presented a series on man's influence on the natural history of the Mediterranean basin, The First Eden, in 1987. Two years later, he demonstrated his passion for fossils in Lost Worlds Vanished Lives.

Attenborough narrated every episode of Wildlife on One, a BBC One wildlife series which ran for 253 episodes between 1977 and 2005. At its peak, it drew a weekly audience of eight to ten million, and the 1987 episode "Meerkats United" was voted the best wildlife documentary of all time by BBC viewers.[19] He has also narrated over 50 episodes of Natural World, BBC Two's flagship wildlife series. (Its forerunner, The World About Us, was created by Attenborough in 1969, as a vehicle for colour television.[20]) In 1997, he narrated the BBC Wildlife Specials, each focussing on a charismatic species, and screened to mark the Natural History Unit's 40th anniversary.

As a writer and narrator, he continued to collaborate with the BBC Natural History Unit in the new millennium. Alastair Fothergill, a senior producer with whom Attenborough had worked on The Trials of Life and Life in the Freezer, was making The Blue Planet (2001), the Unit's first comprehensive series on marine life. He decided not to use an on-screen presenter due to difficulties in speaking to camera through diving apparatus, but asked Attenborough to narrate the films. The same team reunited for Planet Earth (2006), the biggest nature documentary ever made for television, and the first BBC wildlife series to be shot in high definition. In 2009, Attenborough wrote and narrated Life, a ten-part series focussing on extraordinary animal behaviour,[21] and narrated Nature's Great Events, which showed how seasonal changes trigger major natural spectacles.[22]

By the turn of the millennium, Attenborough's authored documentaries were adopting a more overtly environmentalist stance. In State of the Planet (2000), he used the latest scientific evidence and interviews with leading scientists and conservationists to assess the impact of man's activities on the natural world. He later turned to the issues of global warming (The Truth about Climate Change, 2006) and human population growth (How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?, 2009). He also contributed a programme which highlighted the plight of endangered species to the BBC's Saving Planet Earth project in 2007, the 50th anniversary of the Natural History Unit.

Interestingly, although Attenborough's documentaries have attained immense popularity in the United States, several have never been made available on DVD in NTSC format, most notably those that cast doubt upon conservative religious or political positions. These include:

  • Life on Earth, which examines the evidence for evolution.
  • State of the Planet
  • The Truth About Climate Change
  • First Life, which examines the origin of life.

Current projects

Attenborough continues to work into his ninth decade, and is currently involved in a number of projects for the BBC and for Sky.

He is writing and presenting Frozen Planet, a major new series for BBC One which examines the impact of a warming climate on the people and wildlife of the polar regions. He has also recently completed two projects for BBC Two. Madagascar (which first aired weekly between the 9 to 23 February 2011) a three-part series giving an overview of Madagascar's unique wildlife. The accompanying documentary Attenborough and the Giant Egg (which first aired on the 2nd of March 2011) features the elephant bird egg which Attenborough discovered on his first filming expedition to the island in the 1960s.[23]

Attenborough is also forging a new partnership with Sky, working on documentaries for the broadcaster's new 3D network, Sky 3D. Their first collaboration is Flying Monsters 3D, a film about pterosaurs which debuted on Christmas Day 2010.[24] A second film, Penguin Island 3D, has also been announced. Both are produced by Atlantic Productions, the company behind Attenborough's 2010 series First Life. On October 26 2011, he began the first of a new series of "Frozen Planet", which began at 9 p.m. on that date on BBC One. This programme looks at the animals and plants in the Arctic Circle. The first episode of this seven-part series mentioned how research is going on into the flora and fauna on both land and in sea in this part of the world. The programme also mentioned snowflakes, mentioning how although all snowflakes have a six-fold symmetry, no two snowflakes are identical. The first episode of the new series was called "To the Ends of the Earth". The programme broadcast on November 2 2011 included references to polar bears and narwhals.

Other work

From 1983, Attenborough worked on two environmentally themed musicals with the WWF and writers Peter Rose and Anne Conlon. Yanomamo was the first, about the Amazon rainforest, and the second, Ocean World, premiered at the Royal Festival Hall in 1991. They were both narrated by Attenborough on their national tour, and recorded on to audio cassette. Ocean World was also filmed for Channel 4 and later released.

In 1990, he highlighted the case of Mahjoub Sharif as part of the BBC's Prisoners of Conscience series.[25]

In January 2009, the BBC commissioned Attenborough to provide a series of 20 ten-minute monologues covering the history of nature. Entitled David Attenborough's Life Stories, they are broadcast on Radio 4 in the Friday night slot vacated by Alistair Cooke's Letter from America.[26] Part of Radio 4's A Point of View strand, the talks are also available as podcasts.[27]

He appeared in the 2009 Children's Prom at the BBC Promenade Concerts and in the Last Night of the Proms on 12 September 2009, playing a floor polisher in Sir Malcolm Arnold's "A Grand, Grand Overture" (after which he was "shot" by Rory Bremner, who was playing the gun).

Attenborough also serves on the advisory board of BBC Wildlife magazine.

Achievements, awards and recognition

Styles and honours
  • Mr David Attenborough (1926–1974)
  • Mr David Attenborough CBE (1974–1983)
  • Mr David Attenborough CBE FRS (1983–1985)
  • Sir David Attenborough CBE FRS (1985–1991)
  • Sir David Attenborough CVO CBE FRS (1991–1996)
  • Sir David Attenborough CH CVO CBE FRS (1996–2005)
  • Sir David Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE FRS (2005–)

Attenborough's contribution to broadcasting and wildlife film-making has brought him international recognition. He has been called "the great communicator, the peerless educator"[28] and "the greatest broadcaster of our time".[29] His programmes are often cited as an example of what public service broadcasting should be, even by critics of the BBC, and have influenced a generation of wildlife film-makers.[30]

Honorary titles

In 2010 it was reported that Attenborough has been given 29 honorary degrees by British universities, more than any other person.[31] In 1980, he was honoured by the Open University, with whom he has had a close association throughout his career. He also has honorary Doctor of Science awards from the University of Cambridge (1984) and the University of Oxford (1988).[32] In 2006, the two eldest Attenborough brothers returned to their home city to receive the title of Distinguished Honorary Fellows of the University of Leicester, "in recognition of a record of continuing distinguished service to the University."[33] David Attenborough was previously awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the university in 1970, and was made an honorary Freeman of the City of Leicester in 1990.

Attenborough has received the title Honorary Fellow from Clare College, Cambridge (1980), the Zoological Society of London (1998), the Linnean Society (1999), the Institute of Biology (2000) and the Society of Antiquaries (2007).


Attenborough has featured as the subject of a number of BBC television programmes. Life on Air (2002) examined the legacy of his work and Attenborough the Controller (2002) focused on his time in charge of BBC Two. He also featured prominently in The Way We Went Wild (2004), a series about natural history television presenters, and 100 Years of Wildlife Films (2007), a special programme marking the centenary of the nature documentary. In 2006, British television viewers were asked to vote for their Favourite Attenborough Moments for a UKTV poll to coincide with the broadcaster's 80th birthday. The winning clip showed Attenborough observing the mimicry skills of the superb lyrebird.

Attenborough was named as the most trusted celebrity in Britain in a 2006 Reader's Digest poll,.[34] and the following year he won The Culture Show's Living Icon Award.[35] He has also been named among the 100 Greatest Britons in a 2002 BBC poll and is one of the top ten "Heroes of Our Time" according to New Statesman magazine.[36]

He has the distinction of having a number of newly-discovered species and fossils being named in his honour. In 1993, after discovering that the Mesozoic reptile Plesiosaurus conybeari had not, in fact, been a true plesiosaur, the paleontologist Robert Bakker renamed the species Attenborosaurus conybeari.[37] A fossilised armoured fish discovered at the Gogo Formation, Western Australia in 2008 was given the name Materpiscis attenboroughi, after Attenborough had filmed at the site and highlighted its scientific importance in Life on Earth.[38] The Materpiscis fossil is believed to be the earliest organism capable of internal fertilisation.

He has also lent his name to a species of Ecuadorian flowering tree, Blakea attenboroughi, one of the world's largest carnivorous plants, Nepenthes attenboroughii,[39] and one of only four species of long-beaked echidna, the critically endangered Zaglossus attenboroughi, discovered by explorer and zoologist Tim Flannery in the Cyclops Mountains of New Guinea in 1998.

In September 2009, London's Natural History Museum opened the Attenborough Studio, part of its Darwin Centre development.[40]


Views and advocacy

Environmental causes

Attenborough's programmes have often included references to the impact of human society on the natural world. The last episode of The Living Planet, for example, focuses almost entirely on humans' destruction of the environment and ways that it could be stopped or reversed. Despite this, he has been criticised for not giving enough prominence to environmental messages. Some environmentalists feel that programmes like Attenborough's give a false picture of idyllic wilderness and do not do enough to acknowledge that such areas are increasingly encroached upon by humans.[50]

However, his closing message from State of the Planet was forthright:

The future of life on earth depends on our ability to take action. Many individuals are doing what they can, but real success can only come if there's a change in our societies and our economics and in our politics. I've been lucky in my lifetime to see some of the greatest spectacles that the natural world has to offer. Surely we have a responsibility to leave for future generations a planet that is healthy, inhabitable by all species.

Attenborough has subsequently become more vocal in his support of environmental causes. In 2005 and 2006, he backed a BirdLife International project to stop the killing of albatross by longline fishing boats.[51] He gave public support to WWF's campaign to have 220,000 square kilometres of Borneo's rainforest designated a protected area.[52] He also serves as a vice-president of BTCV, vice-president of Fauna and Flora International, president of Butterfly Conservation and president of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust. In 2003 he launched an appeal to create a rainforest reserve in Ecuador in memory of Christopher Parsons, the producer of Life on Earth and a personal friend, who had died the previous year. The same year, he helped to launch ARKive,[53] a global project instigated by Parsons to gather together natural history media into a digital library. ARKive is an initiative of Wildscreen, of which Attenborough is a patron.[54] He later became patron of the World Land Trust, and an active supporter. He supported Glyndebourne in their successful application to obtain planning permission for a wind turbine in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and gave evidence at the planning inquiry arguing in favour of the proposal.

Attenborough has repeatedly said that he considers human overpopulation to be the root cause of many environmental problems. In The Life of Mammals, he made a plea for humans to curb population growth so that other species will not be crowded out. In 2009, he became a patron of Population Matters, (formerly known as the Optimum Population Trust), a UK charity advocating sustainable human populations.

He has written and spoken publicly about the fact that, despite past scepticism, he believes the Earth's climate is warming in a way that is cause for concern, and that this can likely be attributed to human activity.[55] He summed up his thoughts at the end of his 2006 documentary "Can We Save Planet Earth?" as follows:

In the past, we didn't understand the effect of our actions. Unknowingly, we sowed the wind and now, literally, we are reaping the whirlwind. But we no longer have that excuse: now we do recognise the consequences of our behaviour. Now surely, we must act to reform it — individually and collectively, nationally and internationally — or we doom future generations to catastrophe.

In a 2005 interview with BBC Wildlife magazine, Attenborough said he considered George W. Bush to be the era's top "environmental villain". In 2007, he further elaborated on the USA's consumption of energy in relation to its population. When asked if he thought America to be "the villain of the piece", he responded:

I don't think whole populations are villainous, but Americans are just extraordinarily unaware of all kinds of things. If you live in the middle of that vast continent, with apparently everything your heart could wish for just because you were born there, then why worry? [...] If people lose knowledge, sympathy and understanding of the natural world, they're going to mistreat it and will not ask their politicians to care for it.[56]

Religion and creationism

In a December 2005 interview with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio Five Live, Attenborough stated that he considers himself an agnostic.[57] When asked whether his observation of the natural world has given him faith in a creator, he generally responds with some version of this story, making reference to the Loa loa parasitic worm:

My response is that when Creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that's going to make him blind. And [I ask them], 'Are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child's eyeball? Because that doesn't seem to me to coincide with a God who's full of mercy'.[58]

He has explained that he feels the evidence all over the planet clearly shows evolution to be the best way to explain the diversity of life, and that "as far as [he's] concerned, if there is a supreme being then he chose organic evolution as a way of bringing into existence the natural world."

In a BBC Four interview with Mark Lawson, Attenborough was asked if he at any time had any religious faith. He replied simply, "No."[59] He has also said "It never really occurred to me to believe in God".[60]

In 2002, Attenborough joined an effort by leading clerics and scientists to oppose the inclusion of creationism in the curriculum of UK state-funded independent schools which receive private sponsorship, such as the Emmanuel Schools Foundation.[61] In 2009, Attenborough stated that the Book of Genesis, by saying that the world was there for people to dominate, had taught generations that they can "dominate" the environment, and that this has resulted in the devastation of vast areas of the environment.[62] Attenborough further explained to the science journal Nature, "That's why Darwinism, and the fact of evolution, is of great importance, because it is that attitude which has led to the devastation of so much, and we are in the situation that we are in."[63][64]

Also in early 2009, the BBC broadcast an Attenborough one-hour special, Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life. In reference to the programme, Attenborough stated that "People write to me that evolution is only a theory. Well, it is not a theory. Evolution is as solid a historical fact as you could conceive. Evidence from every quarter. What is a theory is whether natural selection is the mechanism and the only mechanism. That is a theory. But the historical reality that dinosaurs led to birds and mammals produced whales, that's not theory."[65] He strongly opposes creationism and its offshoot "intelligent design", saying that a survey that found a quarter of science teachers in state schools believe that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in science lessons was "really terrible".[65]

In March 2009, Attenborough appeared on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Attenborough stated that he felt evolution did not rule out the existence of a God and accepted the title of agnostic saying, "My view is: I don't know one way or the other but I don't think that evolution is against a belief in God."[66]

Attenborough has joined evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and other top scientists in signing a campaign statement coordinated by the British Humanist Association (BHA.) The statement calls for "creationism to be banned from the school science curriculum and for evolution to be taught more widely in schools."[67]

BBC and public service broadcasting

Attenborough is a lifelong supporter of the BBC, public broadcasting and the television licence. He has said:

PSB, to me, is not about selecting individual programme strands here or there, financing them from some outside source and then foisting them upon commercial networks. Public Service Broadcasting, watched by a healthy number of viewers, with programmes financed in proportion to their intrinsic needs and not the size of the audience, can only effectively operate as a network — a network whose aim is to cater for the broadest possible range of interests, popular as well as less popular, a network that measures its success not only by its audience size but by the range of its schedule.[68]

Public service broadcasting is one of the things that distinguishes this country and makes me want to live here. I have spent all my life in it. I would be very distressed if public service broadcasting was weakened. I have been at the BBC since 1952, and know the BBC is constantly being battered. It is today.[69]

If you could demonstrate that the BBC was grossly extravagant there might be a case for saying OK take it away. But in fact the BBC per minute in almost every category is as cheap as you can find anywhere in the world and produces the best quality. If you take the money away, which part of the BBC will you remove? The BBC has gone through swingeing staff cuts. It has been cut to the bone, if you divert licence fee money elsewhere, you cut quality and services. There is always that threat from politicians who will say your licence fee is up for grabs. We will take it. There is a lot of people who want to see the BBC weakened. They talk of this terrible tax of the licence fee. Yet it is the best bargain that is going. Four radio channels and god knows how many TV channels. It is piffling.[69]

There have always been politicians or business people who have wanted to cut the BBC back or stop it saying the sort of things it says. There's always been trouble about the licence and if you dropped your guard you could bet our bottom dollar there'd be plenty of people who'd want to take it away. The licence fee is the basis on which the BBC is based and if you destroy it, broadcasting... becomes a wasteland.[70]

Attenborough expressed regret at some of the changes made to the BBC in the 1990s by Director-General John Birt, who introduced an internal market at the corporation, slimmed and even closed some departments and outsourced much of the corporation’s output to private production companies, in line with the Broadcasting Act 1990. He has said:

There is no question but that Birtism . . . has had some terrible results. On the other hand, the BBC had to change. Now it has to produce programmes no one else can do. Otherwise, forget the licence fee.[71]

The Bristol Unit has suffered along with the rest of the BBC from recent staff cuts. Yet it remains confident in the belief that the BBC will maintain it, in spite of the vagaries of fashion, because the Corporation believes that such programmes deserve a place in the schedules of any broadcaster with pretensions of providing a Public Service. In due course, similar specialist Units were also established in London, in order to produce programmes on archaeology and history, on the arts, on music and on science. They too, at one time, had their successes. But they have not survived as well as the Unit in Bristol. The statutory requirement that a certain percentage of programmes must come from independent producers has reduced in-house production and the Units necessarily shrank proportionately in size. As they dwindled, so the critical mass of their production expertise has diminished. The continuity of their archives has been broken, they have lost the close touch they once had worldwide with their subjects and they are no longer regarded internationally as the centres of innovation and expertise that they once were.[72]

When Birt gets up and says the whole of the BBC was a creative mess and it was wasteful, I never saw any evidence of that. I absolutely know it wasn’t so in my time. Producers now spend all their time worrying about money, and the thing has suffered for it.[73]

In 2008, he criticised the BBC’s television schedules:

I have to say that there are moments when I wonder — moments when its two senior networks, first set up as a partnership, schedule simultaneously programmes of identical character, thereby contradicting the very reason that the BBC was given a second network. Then there are times when both BBC One and BBC Two, intoxicated by the sudden popularity of a programme genre, allow that genre to proliferate and run rampant through the schedules. The result is that other kinds of programmes are not placed, simply because of a lack of space. Do we really require so many gardening programmes, make-over programmes or celebrity chefs? Is it not a scandal in this day and age, that there seems to be no place for continuing series of programmes about science or serious music or thoughtful in-depth interviews with people other than politicians?[68]

In 2009, Attenborough commented on the general state of British television, describing the newly introduced product placement on commercial television as something he considered an "appalling" idea 20 years earlier:

I think it's in great trouble. The whole system on which it was built — a limited number of networks, with adequate funding — is under threat. That funding is no longer there. As stations proliferate, so audiences are reduced. The struggle for audiences becomes ever greater, while money diminishes. I think that's a fair recipe for trouble. Inevitably, this has an impact on the BBC … Fortunately, the BBC doesn't think natural history programmes must compete with Strictly Come Dancing in terms of audience. The BBC says, 'Make proper, responsible natural history programmes.'[74]

Other causes

In May 2005, Attenborough was appointed as patron of the UK's Blood Pressure Association, which provides information and support to people with hypertension.[75]

Attenborough is also an honorary member of BSES Expeditions, a youth development charity that operates challenging scientific research expeditions to remote wilderness environments.

Parodies and artistic portrayals

Attenborough's accent and hushed, excited delivery have been the subject of frequent parodies by comedians, most notably Spike Milligan, Marty Feldman and The Goodies. Attenborough is portrayed by Michael Palin in the final episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, where he searches the African jungle for the legendary Walking Tree of Dahomey (Quercus Nicholas Parsonus), sweating excessively and accompanied by native guides wearing saxophones. David Attenborough has also been parodied in a series of GEICO insurance commercials, showing a nature show host, clearly patterned on Attenborough.

"Time Flies", a sketch by David Ives, features a pair of anthropomorphic mayflies engaging in a courtship ritual, while watching themselves on television in a documentary narrated by David Attenborough.[76]

The character of Nigel Thornberry, a nature documentarian on Nickelodeon's The Wild Thornberrys is strongly influenced by Attenborough.

He has also been parodied by the Australia 1980s sketch show The Comedy Company where Ian McFadyen portrays a character called David Rabbitborough, who goes about examining the "wildlife" of various Australian urban stereotypes.

The video game Discworld, based on the series of books by Terry Pratchett, parodies his unique delivery to explain different aspects of the Discworld Universe, such as L-Space.

Mythbusters host Adam Savage often imitates Attenborough when speaking about his co-host Jamie Hyneman, which Jamie verified in the YouTube Special Episode.


Attenborough is known foremost for writing and presenting the ten Life series, which are presented in chronological order below:

His voice is synonymous with wildlife documentaries for British audiences, and the principal series with which his narration is associated include:



  • Zoo Quest to Guyana (Lutterworth Press, 1956)
  • Zoo Quest for a Dragon (Lutterworth Press, 1957)
    • (book club edition with 85 extra pages, Quest for the Paradise Birds, 1959)
  • Zoo Quest in Paraguay (Lutterworth Press, 1959)
  • Quest in Paradise (1960)
  • People of Paradise (Harper & Brothers, 1960)
  • Zoo Quest to Madagascar (1961)
  • Quest Under Capricorn (1963)
  • Fabulous Animals (BBC, 1975) ISBN 0-563-17006-9
  • The Tribal Eye (1976)
  • Life on Earth (1979)
  • Discovering Life on Earth (1981)
  • Journeys to the past: Travels in New Guinea, Madagascar, and the northern territory of Australia (1983) Penguin Books ISBN 0-14-00.64133
  • The Living Planet (1984)
  • The First Eden: The Mediterranean World and Man (1987)(Little Brown & Co (T); 1st American ed edition (March 1990))
  • The Atlas of the Living World (1989)
  • The Trials of Life (Collins, 1990) ISBN 0-00-219912-2
  • The Private Life of Plants (BBC Books, 1994) ISBN 0-563-37023-8
  • The Life of Birds (BBC Books, 1998) ISBN 0-563-38792-0
  • The Life of Mammals (BBC Books, 2002) ISBN 0-563-53423-0
  • Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster (autobiography; 2002) ISBN 0-563-53461-3
  • Life in the Undergrowth (BBC Books, 2005) ISBN 0-563-52208-9
  • Amazing Rare Things - The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery with Susan Owens, Martin Clayton and Rea Alexandratos (The Royal Collection, 2007) Hardback - ISBN 978-1-902163-46-8; Softback - ISBN 978-1-902163-99-4
  • Life in Cold Blood (BBC Books, 2007) ISBN 9780563539223
  • Life Stories, (HarperCollins Publishers, 2009) ISBN 9780007338832
  • New Life Stories, (Collins, 2011) ISBN 9780007425129


Attenborough has written the introduction or foreword for a number of books, including:

  • Buxton, Cindy; Annie Price (1983). Survival South Atlantic. London :: Granada,. pp. xiii,237p.,[64]p. of plates : ill(some col.), maps,col.ports. ; 26cm.. ISBN 0246120878. 
  • African Jigsaw: A Musical Entertainment, Peter Rose and Anne Conlon (published: 1986, Weinberger)
  • Tomorrow Is Too Late, Various (The Macmillan Press, 1990)
  • Life in the Freezer: Natural History of the Antarctic, Alastair Fothergill (BBC Books, 1993), ISBN 0-563-36431-9
  • Birds of Paradise: Paradisaeidae (Bird Families of the World series) Clifford B. Frith, Bruce M. Beehler, William T. Cooper (Illustrator) (Oxford University Press, 1998) ISBN 0-19-854853-2
  • The Blue Planet, Andrew Byatt, Alastair Fothergill, Martha Holmes (BBC Books, 2001) ISBN 0-563-38498-0.
  • Light on the Earth (BBC Books, 2005), two decades of winning images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, ISBN 0-563-52260-7
  • Planet Earth, Alastair Fothergill (BBC Books, 2006), ISBN 0-563-52212-7

Audio recordings

In addition, Attenborough has recorded some of his own works in audiobook form, including Life on Earth, Zoo Quest for a Dragon and his autobiography Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster.


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  2. ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/4413130/Sir-David-Attenborough-Man-was-given-permission-to-exploit-the-natural-world-by-the-Bible.html
  3. ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2982907/Margaret-Thatcher-Richard-Branson-and-Judi-Dench-picked-as-National-Treasures.html
  4. ^ "Richard Attenborough's official website: Biography". Richardattenborough.com. http://www.richardattenborough.com/Biography/. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  5. ^ History of College House[dead link]
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  7. ^ Mentioned as an aside at the 90 second mark on The Amber Time Machine, part of the Attenborough in Paradise and Other Personal Voyages collection of documentaries.
  8. ^ Sir David Attenborough - Naturalist
  9. ^ "Cover.Qxd" (PDF). http://www.clarealumni.com/s/845/file_lib/1/1/clarenews11_633540413018489651.pdf. Retrieved 4 November 2009. 
  10. ^ Sir David Attenborough - Naturalist
  11. ^ "Dr Robert Attenborough - School of Archaeology & Anthropology - ANU". Arts.anu.edu.au. 9 July 2009. http://archanth.anu.edu.au/staff/dr-robert-attenborough. Retrieved 4 November 2009. 
  12. ^ Attenborough, David (2002). Life on Air. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-53461-3.  pp. 10-11.
  13. ^ Life on Air, p.13.
  14. ^ Life on Air, pp.60-61.
  15. ^ "Transcript of interview with David Attenborough" (PDF). http://www.wildfilmhistory.org/helpers/force-download.php?file=pdf/David_Attenborough.pdf. Retrieved 4 November 2009. 
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  17. ^ Radio Times 26 Jan–1 February 2008: "The Last Word", interview with Jeremy Paxman
  18. ^ Attenborough's Journey, BBC Two, 24 October 2010
  19. ^ "Meerkats United". WildFilmistory.org. http://www.wildfilmhistory.org/film/151/Meerkats+United.html. Retrieved 20 January 2010. 
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  22. ^ "Nature's Great Events Press Pack". BBC Press Office. 11 February 2009. http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2009/01_january/05/nature.shtml. 
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  25. ^ "Solidarity and Return to Sender". Amnesty Magazine (London: Amnesty Intrernational) 0264-3278 (151): 24. September/October 2008. 
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  27. ^ "BBC Podcasts: A Point of View". Bbc.co.uk. http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/pov/. Retrieved 4 November 2009. 
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  31. ^ "Sir David Attenborough heads lists of most honoured by Britain's universities". London: The Sunday Telegraph. 1 August 2010. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/7920613/Sir-David-Attenborough-heads-lists-of-most-honoured-by-Britains-universities.html. 
  32. ^ "WWF Council of Ambassadors - Sir David Attenborough". WWF-UK. http://www.wwf.org.uk/what_we_do/about_us/all_about_wwf/wwf_uk_council_of_ambassadors/sir_david_attenborough.cfm. Retrieved 2011-03-16. 
  33. ^ "British Icons Pick Up Uni Honours". Sky News. 13 July 2011. http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/Sky-News-Archive/Article/200806413532577. 
  34. ^ Hoggart, Simon (28 January 2006). "In David we trust ... but not Peter". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,5673,1696927,00.html. 
  35. ^ culture show. "Living Icons - David Attenborough". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/livingicons/bio01.shtml. Retrieved 31 October 2009. 
  36. ^ "New Statesman". New Statesman. http://www.newstatesman.com/200605220016. Retrieved 4 November 2009. 
  37. ^ "Plesiosauria Translation and Pronunciation Guide". Dinosauria.com. http://www.dinosauria.com/dml/names/ples.html. Retrieved 4 November 2009. 
  38. ^ "Oldest Live-Birth Fossil Found; Fish Had Umbilical Cord". National Geographic News. 28 May 2008. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/05/080528-mother-fossil.html. 
  39. ^ Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 159, 195–20
  40. ^ "Prince opens £78m Darwin Centre". BBC News. 14 September 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8254804.stm. 
  41. ^ London Gazette: no. 50221. p. 10816. 6 August 1985.
  42. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. http://www.amacad.org/publications/BookofMembers/ChapterA.pdf. Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  43. ^ "ATTENBOROUGH, Sir David (Frederick)". Who's Who (2010 ed.). Oxford, England: A and C Black. December 2009. 
  44. ^ "Welcome to IEEM". Ieem.net. http://www.ieem.net. Retrieved 31 October 2009. 
  45. ^ "Prince of Asturias Awards 2009". http://fundacionprincipedeasturias.org/en/awards/2009/david-attenborough-1/. Retrieved 4 July 2009. 
  46. ^ smartbahu.com. "David Attenborough to be honoured by Queensland Museum". Smartbahu.com. http://www.smartbahu.com/node/500347. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  47. ^ "Queensland Government". Science.qld.gov.au. http://www.science.qld.gov.au/dsdweb/v4/apps/web/content.cfm?id=15012. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  48. ^ "Independent journalist wins RSPB medal". Birdwatch. http://www.birdwatch.co.uk/channel/newsitem.asp?c=11&cate=__7806. Retrieved 10 October 2011. 
  49. ^ Reynolds, James (2007-08-23). "Gifted naturalist is awarded prestigious RSPB medal". RSPB. http://www.rspb.org.uk/media/releases/175798-gifted-naturalist-is-awarded-prestigious-rspb-medal. Retrieved 10 October 2011. 
  50. ^ James Fair, "Small Things Bright and Beautiful", BBC Wildlife Magazine, November 2005, pp. 25-26.
  51. ^ "Personal plea by David Attenborough". www.savethealbatross.net. 27 January 2006. http://www.savethealbatross.net/the_latest/the_latest_item.asp?newsid=24. 
  52. ^ "Sir David Attenborough: Heart of Borneo is a global heritage". WWF-UK press release. http://www.wwf.org.uk/core/about/ta_0000001801.asp. 
  53. ^ Davies, Ashley (20 May 2003). "Arkive sets sail on the web"]. London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/conservation/story/0,,969572,00.html. 
  54. ^ WildScreen Annual Review 2010. Wildscreen. http://www.wildscreen.org.uk/downloads/AnnualReview2010.pdf. Retrieved 2011-07-11. 
  55. ^ Attenborough, David (24 May 2006). "Climate change is the major challenge facing the world". London: The Independent. http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/article570935.ece. 
  56. ^ Interview in the Radio Times 23–29 June 2007
  57. ^ Interview with Simon Mayo, BBC Radio Five Live, 2 December 2005
  58. ^ David Attenborough, 2003. "Wild, wild life." Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March. Attenborough has also told this story in numerous other interviews.
  59. ^ BBC Today programme, 31 January 2009
  60. ^ Walker, Tim (26 January 2009). "Sir David Attenborough questioned on faith, naturally". The Daily Telegraph (London). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mandrake/4347954/Sir-David-Attenborough-questioned-on-faith-naturally.html. 
  61. ^ Butt, Riazat (27 January 2009). "Attenborough reveals creationist hate mail for not crediting God". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/27/david-attenborough-science. Retrieved 27 January 2009. 
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  64. ^ Rutherford, A. (2009). "Q&A: Building on paradise". Nature 457 (7232): 967–967. doi:10.1038/457967a. PMID 19225509.  edit
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  67. ^ "David Attenborough joins campaign against creationism in schools". The Telegraph. 19 September 2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8769353/David-Attenborough-joins-campaign-against-creationism-in-schools.html. Retrieved 2011-09-22. 
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  75. ^ Press release, Blood Pressure Association web site, 13 May 2005
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External links

Media offices
Preceded by
Michael Peacock
Controller of BBC Two
Succeeded by
Robin Scott
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
President of the Royal Society for Nature Conservation
Succeeded by

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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