In the next blog of the series, we take a look at significant figures in the pet and animal world - there’s no greater person to feature than Sir David Attenborough.
Born on 8 May 1926, Sir David Frederick Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE FRS FLS FZS FSA FRSGS is an English broadcaster and natural historian. He is best known for creating and presenting the nine natural history documentary films forming the Life collection in combination with the BBC Natural History Unit, which together forms an extensive study of Earth's animal and plant life. He is the only person to have won BAFTAs for programmes in each of black and white, colour, HD, 3D and 4K. In 2018 and 2019 he received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Narrator.
Early life and family
Attenborough was raised in Isleworth, Middlesex (now part of West London) and brought up at College House on the University College campus in Leicester, where his dad, Frederick, was the Principal. He also spent a lot of time at the university grounds, and at the age of 11, he learned that the Department of Zoology required a large number of newts that he provided to deliver for 3d each through his dad.
Attenborough was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Leicester and then won a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge in 1945. He studied Geology and Zoology and obtained a degree in Natural Sciences. In 1947, he was called up for national service in the Royal Navy and spent two years stationed in North Wales and the Firth of Forth.
First years at the BBC
After leaving the Navy, Attenborough worked for a publishing company to edit children's science textbooks. He soon became jaded with the work and applied to the BBC in 1950 for a job as a radio conversation producer. Despite being dismissed for this job, his cv subsequently drew the interest of Mary Adams, Head of the Talks (factual broadcasting) division of the new television service of the BBC. He later accepted the three-month training course and in 1952 he joined the BBC full time.
Attenborough left the permanent staff of the BBC in the early 1960s to study at the London School of Economics for a post-graduate degree in the field of social anthropology, interwoven with further films. However, he accepted an invitation to return to the BBC as Controller of BBC Two before he could finish the degree.
In March 1965, Attenborough became BBC Two's controller but had a clause inserted in his contract that would allow him to continue on an occasional basis to make programs. He filmed elephants in Tanzania later the same year, and in 1969 he made a three-part series on the Indonesian island of Bali's cultural history.
Attenborough was promoted to Program Director in 1969, making him responsible for both BBC channels’ output. His duties included agreeing budgets, attending board meetings and firing employees. When the name of Attenborough was suggested in 1972 as a candidate for the position of BBC Director-General, he phoned his brother Richard to confess he had no appetite for the job. He left his post early in the following year to return to full-time program making, leaving him free to write and present the planned natural history epic.