Is there anything not to like in the eco-friendly Brit’s six-decade career?
When TVMucho started rebroadcasting UK TV abroad, we had an office discussion about who we’d want to present our fantasy ‘Brit TV for Expats’ award in 2017. It was very brief. More than three-quarters of the participants came up with the same choice: David Attenborough.
The UK public seems to share our tastes. Placed high in the list of ‘100 Greatest Britons’ by national poll, Attenborough holds an extraordinary 32 honorary degrees besides his knighthood and other honours. Worldwide, the story is pretty similar. Biologists in Europe and the Americas have named both living and fossil species in his honour, and a research vessel bearing his name sails the polar oceans. How cool is that?
Such are the rewards of ubiquity. Put simply, Sir David is part of the BBC’s DNA. With his programme ‘Zoo Quest’ (1954) and its successors, he single-handedly set the template for decades of TV wildlife programming: exotic location; state-of-the-art photography; knowledgeable commentary delivered both on location and in voiceovers.
Having spent ten years refining the ‘Quest…’ formula, Attenborough transferred to what he called a ‘desk job’. This turned out to mean a lengthy stint as Controller of BBC Two, the Corporation’s highbrow second channel. Taking full advantage of the channel’s early conversion to colour broadcasting, he commissioned dozens of iconic series, among them: ‘Man Alive’, ‘Call My Bluff’, ‘Chronicle’, ‘One Pair of Eyes’, ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’, ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’, ‘The Money Programme’… He was also among the instigators of Kenneth Clark’s ‘Civilisation’, Jacob Bronowski’s ‘Ascent of Man’, and Alistair Cooke’s ‘America’, weighty and influential cultural commentaries which continue to reach audiences all over the world. (Indeed, much of his output is still accessible on ‘oldies’ channels you can view via your standard TVMucho subscription.)
David Attenborough for DG
In 1972, he was named as a possible Director-General. For a lifelong supporter of the BBC, who has described his preference for “a network that measures its success not only by its audience size but by the range of its schedule,” it should have been a dream job. But David Attenborough had other ideas. He missed hands-on programme-making, and he had ideas for a new series which would ramp up the production values of the ‘Quest…’ series using the resources of his beloved BBC Natural History Unit to their fullest extent. Sidestepping promotion, he began work on the series ‘Life On Earth’.
When it was released in 1979, it was apparent that he had raised the bar for wildlife film-making once again. This time, the benchmark appeared unsurpassable. As series has followed series, he has consolidated his grip on the quality market: ‘The Living Planet’ and the numerous ‘Life…’ and ‘Planet…’ successors can be considered as a single masterwork both celebrating Earth’s living diversity and mourning its destruction.
Now aged 90 and a widower, Attenborough is somewhat less likely to lead a location shoot. His gusto, however, seems undiminished… and fans will remember his presence in some memorable underwater sequences for his recent series on Australia’s Barrier Reef. With any luck, wildlife enthusiasts and armchair ecologists will continue to enjoy his contributions for years to come. And, with series like ‘Frozen Planet’ and ‘Africa’ featured regularly, TVMucho is the best way for expats to enjoy prime UK TV abroad.