WWF-UK ambassador, Sir David Attenborough’s broadcasting career spans over 50 years. It began in 1952 when he joined BBC Television as a trainee and then became a producer working in the studios of Alexandra Palace in north London, from which the world’s first television service was broadcast. His work there involved producing live studio programmes on a whole range of non-fiction subjects, from children’s programmes and cooking, religious programmes and political broadcasts, ballet and archaeological quizzes. In 1954 he launched the first of his famous Zoo Quest series. These took him each year to different parts of the world in search of animals - Sierra Leone (1954), Guyana (1955), Indonesia (1956), Papua New Guinea (1957), Argentina and Paraguay (1958) the Southwest Pacific (1959), Madagascar (1960), northern Australia (1962) and down the Zambezi from source to mouth (1964).
After 10 years of making such programmes, he resigned to take a post-graduate degree in social anthropology, but in 1965 he was invited to return to the staff of the BBC to take up the post of Network Controller of BBC2, the Corporation’s second network which was then less than a year old. After 4 years in which the network established itself and became the first in Europe to transmit in colour, he was put in overall charge of both the BBC’s television networks as Director of Programmes.
In 1973, Sir David resigned to become a programme maker once again. First came Eastwards with Attenborough, a series set in south east Asia, and then The Tribal Eye which examined sculpture, weaving, metal casting and other artistic activities in tribal societies around the world. He also at this time began narrating Wildlife On One, a series that continued for well over a hundred editions.
In 1979 he wrote and presented the first of his major comprehensive series, Life on Earth. This told the story of the evolution of animal life. With 13 fifty minute parts, it was then the most ambitious series ever produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. It was universally acclaimed by press and public, gained many awards and was shown round the world.
The 12-part series The Living Planet, surveying the natural world from an ecological point of view, proved a worthy successor to Life on Earth and in 1990 he completed the third of the Life trilogy which dealt with animal behaviour and was entitled The Trials of Life. In addition to these major series, he also presented several shorter ones: including a survey of humanity’s impact on the lands around the Mediterranean, The First Eden; a series about fossils, Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives; in 1993 Life in the Freezer about wildlife in the Antarctic.
He has made several series dealing comprehensively with particular sections of the natural world; The Private Life of Plants in 1995, The Life of Birds in 1998, The Life of Mammals in 2002, and a survey of terrestrial invertebrates with the title, Life in the Undergrowth, and Life in Cold Blood, which dealt with amphibians and reptiles. Each of these major series was accompanied by a book. He also narrated other major natural history series, Blue Planet, Planet Earth and The Frozen Planet.
In 1985, Sir David was knighted for his services to broadcasting and over the years he has received a number of other awards and distinction. In addition to honorary degrees, these have included:
1966 Silver Medal of the Royal Television Society
1966 Silver Medal Zoological Society of London
1981 UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize
1983 Fellowship of the Royal Society
1984 Honorary Doctor of Science, Cambridge University
1985 Gold Medal Royal Geographical Society
1985 International Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, New York
1988 Honorary Doctor of Philosophy, Oxford University
1991 President British Association for the Advancement of Science
1991 Gold Medal Royal Television Society
1993 The Golden Camera Award, Berlin
1996 Companion of Honour
1998 Honorary Fellow, Zoological Society of London
1999 Honorary Fellow, The Linnean Society
2004 Peterson Medal, Harvard University
2004 Caird Medal, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
2005 Awarded Order of Merit
On 1st November 2013 WWF-UK were delighted when Sir David opened the Living Planet Centre in Woking – the new home of WWF-UK and Visitor Centre.
Sir David Attenborough was born in London in May 1926 and educated at Wyggeston Grammar School, Leicester, and Clare College, Cambridge where he took an honours degree in Natural Sciences. He did two years National Service in the Royal Navy and then spent some time on the editorial side of the University of London Press. He has served as trustee of the British Museum, the Science Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and as President of the Royal Society for Nature Conservation. Now a widower, he has a son who is an anthropologist and a daughter who is an educational consultant. His main leisure time interests are music, tribal art, contemporary ceramics and natural history.
In 2019, David Attenborough narrated ‘Our Planet’, an eight-part documentary series, made for Netflix. The series was produced in collaboration with WWF and legendary documentary makers Silverback Films, who created BBC documentary series Planet Earth, Frozen Planet and The Blue Planet.
In Autumn 2020 Sir David Attenborough will also be launching another feature documentary, ‘David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet’. In his 94 years, Attenborough has visited every continent on the globe, documenting the living world in all its variety and wonder. But now, for the first time he reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime as a naturalist and the devastating changes he has seen. The film, which serves as Attenborough’s witness statement for the natural world, is honest, revealing and urgent. It’s a powerful first-hand account of humanity’s impact on nature and a message of hope for future generations. The film has been created by award-winning natural history filmmakers Silverback Films and global environmental organisation WWF. The film will launch on Netflix globally this autumn.