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Sir David Frederick Attenborough ( ) OM, CH, CVO, CBE, FRS, FZS, FSA (born 8 May 1926 in London, England) is a broadcaster and naturalist. His career as the respected 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 the younger brother of director, producer and actor Richard Attenborough.

Early and family life

Attenborough grew up in College House on the campus of University College, Leicestermarker, where his father, Frederick, was principal. 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). During World War II his parents also adopted two Jewish refugee girls from Europe.

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 Boysmarker in Leicestermarker and then won a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridgemarker in 1945 where he studied geology and zoology and obtained a degree in Natural Sciences. In 1947, he was called up for National Service in the Royal Navy and spent two years stationed in North Walesmarker and the Firth of Forthmarker.

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

His son, Dr Robert Attenborough, is a senior lecturer in Bioanthropology for the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National Universitymarker in Canberramarker.

First years at the 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. 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, 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 Zoomarker, 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, 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 Economicsmarker, interleaving his study with further filming. However, he accepted an invitation to return to the BBC as Controller of BBC Two before he could finish the degree.

BBC administration

From 1965 to 1969 Attenborough was Controller of BBC Two. Among the programmes he commissioned during this time were Match of the Day, Civilisation, The Ascent of Man, The Likely Lads, Man Alive, Masterclass, Whicker's World, The Old Grey Whistle Test and The Money Programme. He also initiated televised snooker. This diversity of programme types reflects Attenborough's belief that BBC Two's output should be as varied as possible. In 1967, under his watch, BBC Two became the first television channel in the United Kingdom to broadcast in colour.

From 1969 to 1972 he was BBC Television's Director of Programmes (making him responsible overall for both BBC One and BBC Two), but ultimately turned down an offer of promotion that would have made him Director General of the BBC. In the year 1972 Attenborough resigned his post and returned to being a programme maker.

Major series

Foremost among Attenborough's TV documentary work as writer and presenter is the "Life" series, which begins with the trilogy: Life on Earth (1979), The Living Planet (1984) and The Trials of Life (1990). These examine the world's organisms from the viewpoints of taxonomy, ecology and stages of life respectively.

They were followed by more specialised surveys: Life in the Freezer (about Antarcticamarker; 1993), The Private Life of Plants (1995), The Life of Birds (1998), The Life of Mammals (2002), Life in the Undergrowth (2005) and Life in Cold Blood (2008). The "Life" series as a whole comprises 79 programmes.

Attenborough has also written and/or presented other shorter productions. One of the first after his return to programme-making was The Tribal Eye (1975), which enabled him to expand on his interest in tribal art. Others include The First Eden (1987), about man's relationship with the natural habitats of the Mediterraneanmarker, and Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives (1989), which demonstrated Attenborough's passion for discovering fossils. In 2000, State of the Planet examined the environmental crisis that threatens the ecology of the Earth. The naturalist also narrated two other significant series: The Blue Planet (2001) and Planet Earth (2006) (which in its American cable television edition was narrated by actress Sigourney Weaver). The latter is the first natural history series to be made entirely in high-definition.

In May–June 2006, the BBC broadcast a major two-part environmental documentary as part of its "Climate Chaos" season of programmes on global warming. In Are We Changing Planet Earth? and Can We Save Planet Earth?, Attenborough investigated the subject and put forward some potential solutions. He returned to the locations of some of his past productions and discovered the effect that climate change has had on them. These two programmes were released on DVD under the title The Truth About Climate Change on 23 June 2008.

In 2007, Attenborough presented "Sharing Planet Earth", the first programme in a series of documentaries entitled Saving Planet Earth. Again he used footage from his previous series to illustrate the impact that mankind has had on the planet. "Sharing Planet Earth" was broadcast on 24 June 2007.

Life in Cold Blood is Attenborough's last major series. In an interview to promote it, he stated:
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.

However, in subsequent interviews with Radio Times, Parkinson and on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, he said that he did not intend to retire completely and would probably continue to make occasional one-off programmes. His next documentary, Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life (examining the development of Darwin's theory of evolution), was broadcast on 1 February 2009. Attenborough's work as narrator also continued with Nature's Great Events, a six-part series transmitted from 11 February 2009, and the ten-part Life from 12 October 2009. Both were transmitted on BBC One and BBC HD. Attenborough also narrates the forthcoming The Frozen Planet, billed as a sequel to Planet Earth and made by the same production team.

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

Other work

In 1975, the naturalist presented a BBC children's series about cryptozoology entitled Fabulous Animals. This represented a diversion from Attenborough's usual fare, as it dealt with the creatures of myths and legends, such as the griffin and kraken. It was a studio-based production, with the presenter describing his subjects with the aid of large, ornately illustrated books.

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 Hallmarker 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.

Between 1977 and 2005, Attenborough also narrated over 250 editions of the half-hour BBC One nature series Wildlife on One (BBC Two repeats were retitled Wildlife on Two). Though his role was mainly to narrate other people's films, he did occasionally appear in front of the camera.

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

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 Alastair Cooke's Letter from America. Part of Radio 4's A Point of View strand, the talks are also available as podcasts.

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

On 13 July 2006, Attenborough, along with his brother Richard, were awarded the titles of Distinguished Honorary Fellows of the University of Leicester "in recognition of a record of continuing distinguished service to the University." David Attenborough was previously awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the university in 1970.

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 in Attenborough's honour.

Out of four extant species of echidna, one is named after him: Sir David's Long-beaked Echidna, Zaglossus attenboroughi, which inhabits the Cyclops mountains in the Papuamarker province of New Guineamarker.

In June 2004, Attenborough and Sir Peter Scott were jointly profiled in the second of a three-part BBC Two series, The Way We Went Wild, about television wildlife presenters. Part three also featured Attenborough extensively. The next month, another BBC Two programme, Attenborough the Controller, recalled his time as Director of Programmes for BBC Two.

In November 2005, London's Natural History Museummarker announced a fundraising campaign to build a communications centre in Attenborough's honour. The museum opened the Attenborough Studio, part of its Darwin Centre phase two development, in September 2009.

An opinion poll of 4,900 Britons conducted by Reader's Digest in 2006 showed Attenborough to be the most trusted celebrity in Britain. In a list compiled by the magazine New Statesman in 2006, he was voted tenth in the list of "Heroes of our time".

It is often suggested that David Attenborough's 50-year career at the BBC making natural history documentaries and travelling extensively throughout the world has probably made him the most travelled person on Earth.

His contribution to broadcasting was recognised by the 60-minute documentary Life on Air, transmitted in 2002 to tie in with the publication of Attenborough's similarly titled autobiography. For the programme, the naturalist was interviewed at his home by his friend Michael Palin. Attenborough's reminiscences are interspersed with memorable clips from his series, with contributions from his brother Richard as well as professional colleagues. Life on Air is available on DVD as part of Attenborough in Paradise and Other Personal Voyages.

In May 2008, the oldest known prehistoric mother — a fossilised fish giving live birth, was given the name Materpiscis attenboroughi. It honoured David Attenborough's role in highlighting the scientific importance of the ancient fossilised Gogo Reef, Western Australia, in his 1979 Life on Earth TV series.

Attenborough received three honorary degrees in 2008; one from the University of Aberdeen on 1 July 2008, another from the University of Exetermarker on 11 July 2008 and the other on 4 November 2008 from Kingston Universitymarker.

A species of the Pitcher plant from Palawan Islandmarker in the Philippinesmarker, discovered in 2007 and dedicated to Attenborough on the occasion of his 80th birthday, but only officially described in 2009 is named Nepenthes attenboroughii in his honour.

Favourite Attenborough moments

In April 2006, to celebrate Attenborough's 80th birthday, the public were asked to vote on their favourite of his television moments, out of twenty candidates. The results were announced on UKTV on 7 May. Each is given with its series and advocate:

  1. Attenborough watching a lyrebird mimicking various noises (The Life of Birds, selected by Bill Oddie)
  2. Mountain gorillas (Life on Earth, Sanjeev Bhaskar)
  3. Blue whale encounter (The Life of Mammals, Alan Titchmarsh)
  4. His description of the demise of Easter Islandmarker's native society (State of the Planet, Charlotte Uhlenbroek)
  5. Chimpanzees using tools to crack nuts (The Life of Mammals, Charlotte Uhlenbroek)
  6. A grizzly bear fishing (The Life of Mammals, Steve Leonard)
  7. Imitating a woodpecker to lure in a real one (The Life of Birds, Ray Mears)
  8. The presenter being attacked by a displaying male capercaillie (The Life of Birds, Bill Oddie)
  9. Chimps wading through water on two feet (The Life of Mammals, Gavin Thurston)
  10. Observing a male bowerbird's display (The Life of Birds, Joanna Lumley)
  11. Watching elephants in a salt cave (The Life of Mammals, Joanna Lumley)
  12. Wild chimps hunting monkeys (The Trials of Life, Alastair Fothergill)
  13. Freetail bats leaving a cave and Attenborough holding one of their young (The Trials of Life, Rory McGrath)
  14. Being threatened by a bull elephant seal (Life in the Freezer, Björk)
  15. A wandering albatross chick and its parent (Life in the Freezer, Ellen MacArthur)
  16. Spawning Christmas Island red crabs (The Trials of Life, Simon King)
  17. In a tree with gibbons (The Life of Mammals, Steve Leonard)
  18. Burrowing under a termite mound to demonstrate its cooling system (The Trials of Life, Björk)
  19. Observing a titan arum (The Private Life of Plants, Alan Titchmarsh)
  20. Timelapse footage of a bramble growing (The Private Life of Plants, Rory McGrath)

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, attempting to observe the Geico Gecko and obtain footage, but failing to do so. "'E's giving me the 'eebie-jeebies," the lizard confides.

"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.

He has also been parodied by the Australia 1980s sketch show The Comedy Company where Ian McFadyen portrays a character called David Rabbitborough.

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

Views and advocacy

Environmental causes

From the beginning, Attenborough's major series have included some content regarding 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, his programmes have been criticised for not making their environmental message more explicit. 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.

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.

In the last few years, Attenborough has become increasingly vocal in support of environmental causes. In 2005 and 2006 he backed a BirdLife International project to stop the killing of albatross by longline fishing boats. He gave public support to WWF's campaign to have 220,000 square kilometres of Borneomarker's rainforest designated a protected area. He also serves as a vice-president of BTCV, 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 OBE, the producer of Life on Earth and a personal friend, who had died the previous year. Attenborough also launched ARKive in May 2003, a global project which had been instigated by Christopher Parsons to gather together natural history media into a digital library, an online Noah's Ark. He later became Patron of the World Land Trust, and an active supporter. He supported Glyndebournemarker in their successful application to obtain planning permission for wind turbine in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and gave evidence at the planning inquiry arguing that the public must be prepared to accept the visual effects of something designed to combat climate change.

Attenborough has repeatedly said that he considers human overpopulation to be the root cause of many environmental problems. Both his series The Life of Mammals and the accompanying book end with a plea for humans to curb population growth so that other species will not be crowded out. In 2009, he became a patron of the Optimum Population Trust, a UK charity advocating sustainable human populations.

He has recently written and spoken publicly about the fact that, despite past scepticism, he now 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. At the climax of the aforementioned "Climate Chaos" documentaries, the naturalist gives this summing up of his findings:

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.

Religion and creationism

In a December 2005 interview with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio Five Live, Attenborough stated that he considers himself an agnostic. 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:

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'.

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 I'm 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." However, he specifically denies that he is an atheist, but rather an agnostic.

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.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. 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."

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." 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".

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."

The 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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

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.”

“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.”

“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.”

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?”

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.'”

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.

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


Attenborough is known foremost for writing and presenting the nine 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
    • paperback: ISBN 0-563-48780-1
    • updated edition: ISBN 9781846076527
  • 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


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

  • 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.

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–)


  1. History of College House
  2. pp. 10-11.
  3. Life on Air, p.13.
  4. Life on Air, pp.60-61.
  5. Radio Times 23–29 June 2007
  6. Radio Times 26 Jan–1 Feb 2008: "The Last Word", interview with Jeremy Paxman
  7. June 2006.8313843344 Honorary Degrees and Distinguished Honorary Fellowships Announced by University of Leicester, University of Leicester press release, 9 June 2006; India News report
  8. University of Leicester Alumni Relations Sir David Attenborough (Hon DLitt 1970) gave the Alumni Association Lecture in 2003
  9. The David Attenborough Studio Campaign
  10. Simon Hoggart, 'In David we trust ... but not Peter,' The Guardian, 28 January 2006
  11. Brian Leith, 2002. Life on Air (Press Release); Andrew Denton, 2003 " Interview with David Attenborough" on Enough Rope, ABC TV.
  12. C. Barry, Oldest Live-Birth Fossil Found; Fish Had Umbilical Cord, National Geographic News, [1]
  13. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 159, 195–20
  14. James Fair, "Small Things Bright and Beautiful", BBC Wildlife Magazine, November 2005, pp. 25-26.
  15. 'Personal plea by David Attenborough,',, 27 January 2006
  16. 'Sir David Attenborough: Heart of Borneo is a global heritage,', WWF-UK press release.
  17. Arkive sets sail on the web, The Guardian, 20 May 2003
  18. Climate change is the major challenge facing the world David Attenborough, The Independent, 24 May 2006
  19. Interview with Simon Mayo, BBC Radio Five Live, 2 December 2005
  20. David Attenborough, 2003. " Wild, wild life." Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March. Attenborough has also told this story in numerous other interviews.
  21. BBC Today programme, 31 January 2009
  22. Press release, Blood Pressure Association web site, 13 May 2005

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