Happy birthday David Attenborough

QLife on Earth (1979)English wildlife enthusaist Sir David Attenborugh OM, CH, CVO, CBE, FRS, FZS, FSA was born on this date 8th May in 1926. He is a younger brother of director, producer and actor Richard Attenborough and 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 Life series, in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit, which collectively form a comprehensive survey of all life on the planet.Attenborough grew up in College House on the campus of the University College, Leicester, where he spent his childhood collecting fossils, stones and other natural specimens. He received encouragement in this pursuit at age seven, and one of his adoptive sisters also gave him a piece of amber filled with prehistoric insects. A

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.Television & RadioIn 1950, he applied for a job as a radio talks producer with the BBC. where he also attracted the interest of the head of the Factual broadcasting department of the BBC’s fledgling television service, he accepted a three-month training course, and in 1952 he joined the BBC full-time. Attenborough’s association with natural history programmes began when he produced and presented the three-part series The Pattern of Animals, which  discussed the use of camouflage, aposematism and courtship displays among animals. Through this programme, Attenborough met  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 presentedIn 1957, the BBC Natural History Unit was formally established in Bristol. Attenborough formed his own department, the Travel and Exploration Unit, which allowed him to continue to front Zoo Quest as well as produce other documentaries, notably the Travellers’ Tales and Adventure series.  In between filming Attenborough also began studying for a post-graduate degree in social anthropology at the London School of Economics, however he returned to the BBC as controller of BBC Two before he could finish the degree and became the controller of BBC Two in March 1965 but was allowed to continue sudying as well as making programmes on an occasional basis. Later the same year, he filmed elephants in Tanzania, and in 1969, he made a series on the cultural history of the Indonesian island 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 a lost tribe.When Attenborough arrived as controller of BBC2, he  established a portfolio of diverse and different  programmes which defined the channel’s identity for decades to come. which included music, the arts, entertainment, archaeology, experimental comedy, travel, drama, sport, business, science and natural history programmes such as 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. He also ordered a 13-part series on the history of Western art, which was Broadcast to universal acclaim in 1969 and set the blueprint for landmark authored documentaries. Others followed, including  The Ascent of Man 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 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.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. 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 . On his return, he began to work n 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) and another on the voyages of discovery (The Explorers).

Eventually, the BBC signed a co-production deal with Turner Broadcasting and Life on Earth moved into production in 1976.The Life seriesBeginning 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.

tlpdaIn 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 , showed plants as dynamic organisms by using time-lapse photography to speed up their growth.    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 on the theme of behaviour. The order of the remaining “Life” series was dictated by developments in camera technology. For The Life of Mammals, low-light and infrared cameras were deployed to reveal the behaviour of nocturnal mammals. 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 2010 Attenborough asserted that his First Life — dealing with evolutionary history before Life on Earth — should also be included within the “Life” series.He has also continued to work on other  documentaries, and his voice is synonymous with many other fabulous wildlife documentaries including  The First Eden, Lost Worlds Vanished Lives, Wildlife on One,  BBC Wildlife Specials,  The Blue Planet, Nature’s Great Events,  Life,  Frozen Planet,  Wildlife on One and the Natural World. 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, and continued to collaborate with the BBC Natural History Unit in the new millennium.  When filming The Blue Planet (2001), the Unit’s first comprehensive series on marine life, the makers asked Attenborough to narrate the films. The same team reunited for Planet Earth (2006), the biggest nature documentary ever made for television. In 2011, they reunited for Frozen Planet, a major series on the natural history of the polar regions. during which Attenborough appeared on screen, in addition to performing voiceover duties.In 2009, he co-wrote and narrated Life, a ten-part series focussing on extraordinary animal behaviour, and narrated Nature’s Great Events, which showed how seasonal changes trigger major natural spectacles.   By the turn of the millennium, Attenborough’s authored documentaries were adopting a more overtly environmentalist stance. In State of the Planet, 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) and human population growth (How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?). 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.   Attenborough is also forging a new partnership with Sky, working on documentaries for the broadcaster’s new 3D network, Sky 3D. Their first collaboration was Flying Monsters 3D, a film about pterosaurs which debuted on Christmas Day of 2010.A second film, The Bachelor King, followed a year later, and further collaborations are planned including  a series on plants, and following that, a series on the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. and a second series of First Life, which explored  the origins of the mammals

In 2012  Attenborough celebrated 50  years in broadcasting and during this long and distinguished career he has been given many honorary degrees by British universities. In 1980, he was honoured by the Open University. He also has honorary Doctor of Science awards from the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford  and the University of Bath. In 2006, he received the title of Distinguished Honorary Fellows of the University of Leicester, “in recognition of a record of continuing distinguished service to the University.” David Attenborough was also 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.  He has also received the title Honorary Fellow from Clare College, Cambridge, the Zoological Society of London, the Linnean Society, the Institute of Biology and the Society of Antiquaries, snd was named as the most trusted celebrity in Britain in a 2006 Reader’s Digest poll. The following year he won The Culture Show’s Living Icon Award and was also 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.He also has the distinction of having a number of newly-discovered species and fossils being named in his honour. In 1993, a fossilised Mesozoic  armoured fish discovered in Western Australia was given the name Materpiscis attenboroughi, which is also 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-pitchered carnivorous plants, Nepenthes attenboroughii, 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, and In September 2009, London’s Natural History Museum opened the Attenborough Studio, part of its Darwin Centre development. Attenborough’s contribution to broadcasting and wildlife film-making has brought him international recognition. He has been called “the great communicator, the peerless educator” and “the greatest broadcaster of our time”. His programmes are often cited as an example of what public service broadcasting should be, and have influenced a generation of wildlife film-makers.

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