Who is David Attenborough

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.

BBC administration

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.

Broadcasting return

Life series

Starting with Life on Earth in 1979, Attenborough created a body of work that became a standard in the making of wildlife documentaries and affected a generation of filmmakers.

Life on Earth's success led the BBC to consider a follow-up, and The Living Planet was televised five years later. Attenborough this time constructed his series on the theme of ecology and adaptation of life to the environment. It was another major and commercial achievement, which generated enormous global revenues for the BBC. In 1990, The Trials of Life finished the initial trilogy, examining human conduct in various life stages. The film provided powerful stimulation to the audience because of its scenes of Killer Whales on Patagonian beaches hunting Sea Lions and Chimpanzees hunting and murdering Colobus Monkeys.

There were a wide range of other releases in Attenborough’s upcoming and prestigious catalogue. These included; Life in the Freezer, The Private Life of Plants, and many other life centred documentaries.

The more recent additions to his achievements of documentary series include The Blue Planet in 2001, Planet Earth in 2006, the first 4K product called Life Story and finally a second instalment of The Planet Earth series titled Planet Earth II.

Even more recently after the return of the Blue Planet series, a five-part series in 2018 called Dynasties, and in 2019, Attenborough narrated Our Planet, an eight-part documentary series, for Netflix.


Mr David Attenborough CBE (1974–1983)

Mr David Attenborough CBE FRS (1983–1985)

Sir David Attenborough CBE FRS (1985–1991)

Sir David Attenborough CVO CBE FRS (1991–1996)

Sir David Attenborough CH CVO CBE FRS (1996–2005)

Sir David Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE FRS (2005–2007)

Sir David Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE FRS FSA (2007–)

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