A broadcaster and naturalist with a remarkable career stretching over several decades, Sir David Attenborough is responsible for bringing the wonders of nature to a global audience for over 50 years.
David was the middle of three Attenborough sons, his elder brother Richard later going on to become an actor, whilst his younger brother John became an executive at an Italian car manufacturer. From an early age, Attenborough was fascinated with animals and the natural world. He attended a grammar school in Leicester before winning a scholarship to study natural sciences at Clare College, Cambridge in 1945. Whilst at Cambridge he pursued his interest in geology and zoology.
After graduating, Attenborough was initially rejected from a position at the BBC, but rather fortuitously forged a career there after Mary Adams, head of factual broadcasting, saw his CV and offered to give him a chance. He was initially discouraged from presenting and appearing on camera because Adams felt his teeth were too big… It was here that Attenborough started making the nature programmes that would come to define his career.
In the 1960s, Attenborough left the BBC to study a post-graduate degree in social anthropology at LSE, but would soon return as the new controller of BBC2. The channel had been established in 1964 but had struggled to take off, so Attenborough quickly overhauled it, establishing a new set of programming that would come to define the channel’s identity for many years to come. In particular music, experimental comedy, travel, history and archaelogy all featured on BBC2. He also took advantage of the switch to colour TV by introducing live Snooker. Attenborough’s success in the role prompted many to throw his name into the ring for the BBC Director General job, but he decided he had not appetite for it, and so resigned in 1972 to continue with full-time programme-making.
He continued to work on several nature documentaries throughout the 1970s, but it was in 1979, when he began work on Life on Earth, the first in his famous Life series, that Attenborough really captured a global audience. The series would become the benchmark in quality in wildlife filming, and lasted for over 30 years, culminating in Life in Cold Blood, broadcast in 2010. Each programme documented a different aspect of life on earth, with the latter programmes covering the major groups of terrestrial animals and plants.
Attenborough has worked on numerous other documentaries, and has won an array of awards and accolades, including honorary awards from BAFTA and the royal society, and his knighthood in 1985. He also enjoys the unusual distinction of having had several species named after him, most notably a fossilised armoured fish discovered in West Australia, now known as Materpiscis attenboroughi. Attenborough is widely regarded as a national treasure (though he dislikes the term), and, at 88, continues to lead the field in nature programming.