David Attenborough

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Attenborough with a pair of albatrosses in the series Life in the Freezer

Sir David Frederick Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE FRS, born May 8, 1926 in London, (the younger brother of director and actor Richard Attenborough), is the presenter of many ground-breaking and award winning BBC wildlife documentaries, and a former senior manager for the BBC. He has travelled widely, originally to collect animals for zoos. He is also an anthropologist.


Education and early career

Attenborough was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Leicester and then won a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge, where he obtained a degree in Natural Sciences (http://www.cam.ac.uk/cambuniv/natscitripos/).

He joined the Royal Navy in 1947 and, after two years' service, worked for a publishing company, eventually joining the BBC in 1952. His association with natural history programmes began in 1954 with the series, Zoo Quest.

From 1965 to 1968, Attenborough was Controller of BBC2, as it was then styled. From 1969 to 1972, he was BBC Television's Director of Programmes (responsible for both BBC1 and BBC2), but turned down the offer to become Director General of the BBC. In 1972, he resigned his post and returned to programme making.

Among the programmes he introduced were Match of the Day, Pot Black, The Likely Lads, Not Only... But Also, Horizon, Man Alive, Masterclass, The Forsyte Saga, The Old Grey Whistle Test and The Money Programme. This diversity of programme types reflects Attenborough's belief that BBC2's output should be as varied as possible.

Major series

Foremost among Attenborough's TV documentary series are the trilogy: Life on Earth, The Living Planet and Trials of Life. These examine the world's organisms from the viewpoints of taxonomy, ecology and adaptive fitness respectively.

In addition to these series, he presented more specialised surveys including The Private Life of Plants, Life in the Freezer (about life in and around the Arctic and Antarctica), The Life of Birds, The Blue Planet (about life in the oceans) and The Life of Mammals. As of 2003 he was working on The Life of Insects.

Attenborough also narrated the long-running half-hour nature series Wildlife on One on BBC One (variously retitled Wildlife on Two, BBC Wildlife and Natural World depending on the channel it is broadcast on), though his role has mainly been to introduce other people's film and he rarely appears on camera.


The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awarded him the Desmond Davis Award in 1970, and a Fellowship in 1979. He was appointed CBE in 1974, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1983, and received a knighthood in 1985. In 1991 he was made a CVO for producing the Queen's Christmas broadcast for a number of years, and in 1996 became a Companion of Honour for "services to nature broadcasting." In 2004, Attenborough was awarded the Descartes Prize for Outstanding Science Communication Actions. In April 2005 he was awarded the Order of Merit, and recieved the honour on 10th June 2005 at Buckingham Palace. In 2005, he also recieved the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest.

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 BBC2.

Some people, including the former BBC producer Brian Leith [1] (http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2002/10_october/31/lifeonair_mammalspack.pdf), have 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 ever.

Views on creationism

Attenborough's documentaries exposed millions to the diversity of life on Earth, including, of course, viewers who subscribe to the belief that all life was directly created by God, known as creationism. In his series, Attenborough rarely explicitly speaks about the mechanisms of evolution, except in Life on Earth, which was an entire series explicitly on the evolution of life. Instead, he describes the advantages of each adaptation in high detail — why flowers are shaped in a certain way, why birds and animals migrate, how mechanisms of mimicry can serve as protection or to attract insects and animals, and so forth.

As such, his work has been cited by some creationists as exemplary in that it does not "shove evolution down the viewer's throat". Others have written Attenborough letters and asked him to explicitly refer to God as the creator of life. In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, he has responded publicly:

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'.
[2] (http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/03/24/1048354544138.html?from=storyrhs)

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 2002, Attenborough joined an effort by leading clerics and scientists to oppose the inclusion of creationism in the curriculum of state-funded public schools which receive private sponsorship. His most recent TV series, The Life of Mammals, makes numerous direct references to evolution, in particular human evolution.



  • Zoo Quest to Guyana (Lutterworth Press, 1956)
  • Zoo Quest for a Dragon (Lutterworth Press, 1957)
    • Zoo Quest for a Dragon (book club edition with 85 extra pages, Quest for the Paradise Birds, 1959)
  • Zoo Quest in Paraguay (Lutterworth Press, 1959)
  • The Zoo Quest Expieditions (Lutterworth Press, abridged compilation of the above three titles with a new intoroduction, 1980)
  • Quest in Paradise (1960)
  • Zoo Quest to Madagascar (1961)
  • Quest Under Capricorn (1963)
  • Fabulous Animals (1975)
  • The Tribal Eye (1976)
  • Life on Earth (1979)
  • Discovering Life on Earth (1981)
  • The Living Planet (1984)
  • The First Eden (1987)
  • The Atlas Of The Living World (1989)
  • The Trials of Life (1990)
  • The Private Life of Plants (1994)
  • The Life of Birds (1998)
  • Life On Air (2002)
  • Life of Mammals (2002)
  • Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster (autobiography; 2002). Hardcover: ISBN 056353461-3; paperback: ISBN 056348780-1


A number of Attenborough's programmes have been available on video; most are now out-of-print. These DVDs are available (unless stated, dates are of original transmission):

  • Life On Earth (1979)
  • The Living Planet (1984)
  • Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives (1989)
  • Trials of Life (1990)
  • Life In The Freezer (1993)
  • The Private Life Of Plants (1995)
  • Life of Birds (1998)
  • State Of The Planet (2000)
  • The Life Of Mammals (2002)
  • Great Wildlife Moments With David Attenborough (compilation)
  • The Blue Planet (2001)
  • Deep Blue (2004, feature, based on The Blue Planet))
  • Wildlife Special: The Tiger
  • Wildlife Special: The Eagle
  • Wildlife Special: The Leopard
  • Wildlife Special: The Serpent

Narrated by Attenborough

Character voice

Other programmes

Author and producer

  • Zoo Quest
  • Eastwards with Attenborough
  • The Tribal Eye


External links

eo:David ATTENBOROUGH de:David Attenborough fi:David Attenborough zh:大衛·愛登堡


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