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David Attenborough

It may be difficult to imagine a time when David Attenborough was not a household name, yet his career as a maker of natural history documentaries evolved through a mixture of talent, fate and luck.

Born in London in May 1926, Attenborough was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School, Leicester and Clare College, Cambridge. He did National Service in the Royal Navy and worked in educational publishing before joining the BBC.

At the age of 28, he had been a BBC producer for two years working on a variety of programmes from ballet to party political broadcasts, none of which satisfied his desire to put his zoology degree to good use. He and Jack Lester, London Zoo's Curator of Reptiles, persuaded their respective employers to mount a joint animal-collecting expedition that would result in a filmed series for the BBC and a collection of rare animals for the zoo.

At the time the BBC cameramen had no experience of such a project, but for the price of a pint of beer they enticed Charles Lagus, recently returned from an expedition in the Himalayas, to join them and they set off for Sierra Leone.

The idea was to combine live film of the animals together with footage of how they were caught. Attenborough moved in front of the cameras for the first time when the Zoo's expert fell ill.

That was in 1954. The Zoo Quest series was so popular that similar expeditions were launched to different parts of the tropics annually for the next ten years. In Zoo Quest for a Dragon, Attenborough relates his adventures in parts of Indonesia which were then little known, looking for animals which had never been filmed before, including the now-famous dragons that live on the tiny and remote island of Komodo.

Other Zoo Quest programmes took him to Guyana, Argentina, Paraguay, the south-west Pacific, Madagascar, northern Australia and down the Zambezi from source to mouth.

In 1965 David Attenborough became Controller of the fledgling BBC2 television network. However, after eight years of sitting behind a desk he returned to programme-making during which time he made his mark by narrating and writing several highly acclaimed series - Life on Earth, The Living Planet, The Trials of Life and, more recently, The Private Life of Plants, The Life of Birds, The Blue Planet, The Life of Mammals and Life in the Undergrowth.

Books

Life on Air

By David Attenborough

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