David Attenborough image

David Attenborough

The Heart of the Midlands is at the centre of the environmental debate, his leadership on this subject has changed popular thinking and changed behaviour.

David Attenborough and the consequences of climate change

Sir David Attenborough has inspired millions of people around the world during his career as a broadcaster and naturalist.

He has simply transformed the way we look at natural history and, in the process, has alerted millions across the globe to the beauty and fragility of the planet on which they dwell. His programmes have changed the way we look at the Planet, deal with species extinction, habitation destruction, global pollution and the effects of climate change on the polar regions.



David grew up on the University of Leicester campus

David Attenborough has always had a special connection with the University of Leicester. Born in London in 1926 the age of five he moved onto the campus of what was then University College Leicester, when his father Frederick Attenborough was appointed Principal. David grew up on the campus, with his brothers Richard and John, and was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys. Sir David Attenborough says growing up in Leicester provided him with a rich cultural upbringing.


A scholarship to Cambridge

In 1945, David left Leicester when he won a scholarship to Cambridge. Six years later his father retired as College Principal; the Attenborough Tower is named in his honour, as is the University’s Attenborough Arboretum. He married Jane Elizabeth Ebsworth Oriel on 17 February 1950 and they were married for 47 years, until she died of a brain haemorrhage in 1997. They had 2 children, Susan and Robert. Following the death of his wife, Attenborough said that throwing himself into his work had helped him to cope.


Distinguished Honorary Fellows of the University of Leicester

In 2006, David and Richard Attenborough received the University’s highest honour when he and his brother were named Honorary Distinguished Fellows to mark his contributions to the establishment and continuing support for the city of Leicester.


David Attenborough: 10 landmark nature series

Sir David Attenborough is at the centre of the environmental debate, his leadership on this subject has changed popular thinking and changed behaviour. He's a man who’s changed the way we see the natural world through his nature programmes.


Zoo Quest (1954-63)

In 1954 began his famous 'Zoo quest' series. David Attenborough and a team from London Zoo travel in search of exotic animals. Their aim is to capture them and bring them back to the UK for exhibit in the zoo. It was the first major programme to feature David Attenborough and was broadcast on the BBC Television Service between 1954 and 1963.

Originally filmed in 1956 as a joint venture with London Zoo, a very young David Attenborough has gone to Indonesia in search of the fearsome Komodo dragon. By asking the local villagers, David learns of a great place to go looking for pythons.


Wildlife on One (1977-2005)

Having survived a brush with New Guinean cannibals while shooting A Blank on the Map (1971) and taken a diversion to recount the great voyages of discovery in The Explorers (1975), Attenborough started narrating a programme that would run for 253 episodes over 28 years.

The episode ‘Meerkats United’ was voted the best wildlife documentary to screen on the Beeb, which rehired Attenborough for the Wildlife Specials franchise between 1995-2007.


Life on Earth (1979)

Using the latest equipment and drawing on the expertise of Natural History Unit camera crews, Attenborough concocted scenarios that allowed him to leap continents and centuries in a single cut.

The meeting with Dian Fossey’s gorillas in Rwanda ranks among the greatest moments in television history.


The Living Planet (1984)

Nine series would be made under the ‘Life’ banner, with later studies focusing on birds (1998), mammals (2002), invertebrates (2005), and amphibians and reptiles (2008).

But Attenborough is equally interested in habitats and lifestyles and the 12 films in this collection took him to rainforest canopies, polar ice caps, scorching deserts and remote islands to show how creatures of all sizes have adapted to their environments.


The Trials of Life (1990)

During its three-year genesis, he travelled around a quarter of a million miles to study how animal forms navigate, communicate, make their homes, cohabit and procreate.

No episode caused more distress than ‘Hunting and Escaping’, which showed a killer whale toying with a captured sea lion pup off Patagonia and some chimpanzees violently stalking and slaying a colobus monkey in the Ivory Coast. Attenborough would court similar controversy over the dehydration death of a baby elephant in Africa (2013).


The Private Life of Plants (1995)

A long-standing obsession with Mount Roraima in South America (which had inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World) prompted this series.

Yet it took the intervention of Jane Fonda to persuade then-husband Ted Turner to co-fund a project that had made BBC executives nervous that the public wouldn’t respond to static flora in the same way that it had to quaint or ferocious fauna. However, the latest time-lapse technology enabled the camera crews to present botany as an ongoing drama, which Attenborough admitted often made his own jaw drop, with the pioneering depiction of how plants adapt to changing conditions, combat predators and collaborate with each other.


State of the Planet (2000)

Comprising only three parts, this isn’t among Attenborough’s more epic enterprises, but it’s certainly one of the most important. Criticised by eco-activists for not doing enough to highlight the effects of global warming, he responded by exploring humanity’s impact on the planet and drawing on the latest scientific research to propose changes that could reverse ruinous current trends.

Standing before the statues on Easter Island, he reminds us of the brevity of the human interlude in Earth’s history and he has continued to drive home the message with urgency and cogency – but without alarm – in The Truth about Climate Change (2006) and Saving Planet Earth (2007).


The Blue Planet (2001)

Although this landmark investigation into marine life was driven by the BBC Natural History Unit and Attenborough didn’t appear, producer Alastair Fothergill still invited him to narrate.

Despite over 70% of the Earth’s surface being covered by water, surprisingly little is known about underwater life and the crews had to spend five years filming in 200 locations in order to capture previously unseen environments and behaviour patterns. Among the remarkable denizens of the depths are the walking handfish and the Australian squid that change colour while mating, while the shorelines play host to battling elephant seals and antic emperor penguins. Attenborough returned to narrate Blue Planet II in 2017, It was critically acclaimed and had the highest UK viewing figure for 2017, 14.1 million.


Planet Earth (2006)

Made over five years in high-definition, this is the BBC’s most expensive wildlife series. Venturing into the last wildernesses, the 11 episodes show how creatures have settled into a range of terrains, including the jungles that occupy only 3% of the land mass, while hosting over half of the world’s 8.7 million known species.

American viewers heard Sigourney Weaver instead of Attenborough narrating, just as Oprah Winfrey would narrate Life (2009). Moreover, while Attenborough had written and appeared in the spin-off Blue Planet documentary, Deep Blue (2003), he was notable by his absence from Earth (2007). Nevertheless, he resumed presenting and voiceover duties on the 4K sequel, Planet Earth II (2016).


Frozen Planet (2011)

Having fronted Life in the Freezer (1993), the first tele-survey of the natural history of Antarctica, the 84 year-old Attenborough returned to cold climes for a seven-part series that caused considerable controversy when a number of American stations refused to show ‘On Thin Ice’, as its views on climate change were deemed to be politically provocative.

Moreover, the decision to include footage of a polar bear giving birth in a Dutch animal park was also criticised. But, having devoted himself to presenting life as it is lived, Attenborough justified the choices with the same sense of pragmatism he has brought to all of his wildlife endeavours.

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