David Attenborough: Biography Of The Voice Of 'Planet Earth' And More
David Attenborough gets a closer look at an Australian pygmy goanna. August 15, 1984. (Photo by Julian Kevin Zakaras/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).
David Attenborough is the voice of nature documentaries, beginning with the BBC in England and reaching international status with Planet Earth (2006). For decades, Attenborough was known as a celebrity naturalist in the UK, familiar to British viewers, beginning with Zoo Quest in the '50s and continuing through Life On Earth in 1979. For his dedication to the natural world and advocacy for causes including endangered species and climate change, Attenborough has been honored by having at least 20 species named after him, including Stumpffia davidattenboroughi -- a Madagascan stump-toed frog.
Young Attenborough Collected Newts For Profit
Attenborough was born in in 1926 in Isleworth, Middlesex, which is now part of west London. He grew up on the campus of the University College, Leicester, and spent most of his childhood collecting fossils, stones, hand natural specimens. When he was 11, after hearing that the university needed newts, he collected them from a local pond and sold them to the university.
Naturalist Grey Owl Inspired David Attenborough
In 1936, he attended a lecture which influenced him. The lecture, by Archibald Belaney (Grey Owl), struck Attenborough because of Belaney’s knowledge of Canadian flora and fauna, his determination to save the beaver, and his warnings about maintaining the delicate balance in the environment. Attenborough would direct a biopic about Belaney called Grey Owl.
Another one of his programs would be based on a childhood incident: his adoptive sister gave him a prehistoric creature trapped in amber. This would become the subject of The Amber Time Machine.
Formal Education And Time In The Navy
After his early education at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Lancaster, he won a scholarship to attend Clare College in Cambridge. While there, he received a degree in natural sciences after studying geology and zoology. In 1947, he began his service in the Royal Navy. He spent two years in service in North Wales and the Firth of Forth.
His Time with The BBC
In the 1950s, Attenborough was a junior producer at BBC, producing programs for more domestic pursuits, like gardening and cooking. From there, he became one of the first controllers of BBC Two. One of his commissions was Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He also worked on making wildlife films, including Zoo Quest, which ran from 1954 to 1963. Zoo Quest followed the London Zoo as they attempted to gather rare animals from various parts of the world. During the show, he was the first to capture the Komodo Dragon. He continued to capture unusual animals on film throughout his career; when he narrated The Blue Planet, he introduced the world to the hairy angler fish and the Dumbo octopus.
Leaving The BBC To Pursue His Passion
He resigned from the BBC in the 1970s to work on wildlife films full time. In 1979, he released Life on Earth. The 13-part series traced evolution from the primordial ooze through Homo Sapiens. The film was notable for some of its cutting edge techniques, such as the use of slow-motion to capture animal movements. In one part of the documentary, Attenborough is cavorting with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, one of the many scenes that demonstrate his love of the natural world.
The Path To International Recognition
Although he became quickly known in Britain, it was not so in the United States and despite the respect from the British, his work was unknown in the U.S. The 2006 BBC series Planet Earth would change that. Made with the budget of a Hollywood film, Planet Earth included the first footage of a snow leopard, an Asian wildcat that hunts in the Himalayas. In 2007, The Discovery Channel broadcast Planet Earth, but with a voice over by Sigourney Weaver. However, the DVD of the series used his voice, and sold more than 2.6 million copies. He then became a household name.
He Continues To Produce Groundbreaking Work
Attenborough's most recent work is an eight-part documentary series for Netflix released in 2019 called Our Planet, which was filmed over four years. It was shot on every continent, with the aim of both presenting the beauty of the world and showing what climate change is doing to it. While he did not travel to remote locations to film the series, he was responsible for the voice-over and for contributing to the script.
Attenborough has been a voice for the wild in front of powerful audiences as well, speaking at the 2018 U.N. climate talks in Poland and at the 2019 World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, urging world leaders to take action on climate change.
Queen Elizabeth II of England knighted him in 1985. In a nationwide poll for the BBC, in 2002, Attenborough was named one of the 100 influential Britons. He has an extensive list of awards, and received honors that will live after him: at least 20 different species and genera have been named after him, from an alpine hawkweed (Hieracium attenboroughianum) to a Madagascan stump-toed frog (Stumpffia davidattenboroughi).
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