Celebrated documentarian Sir David Attenborough brought the wonders of Earth's geography and animals to viewers in homes around the globe for more than six decades, which made him one of the most respected and prolific producers of natural history programming in television history. His restless passion for nature's history and development, embodied memorably in his hushed and awestruck narration for countless programs, served as the first glimpse of nature for millions of young viewers while captivating adults from all walks of life with the simple beauties and complex evolutionary processes in mammals, fish, reptiles and insects, as well as regions ranging from the sun-soaked Mediterranean to the frozen wastes of Antarctica. Attenborough also campaigned tirelessly for environmental issues in his documentaries, urging viewers to make the preservation of animals and their worlds vitally important to all. Attenborough's career spurred many viewers to make their own explorations of the world around them, but more importantly, underscored the importance of all forms of life to humanity. In doing so, Sir David Attenborough was among television's most legendary figures.
Born David Frederick Attenborough in the West London town of Isleworth, England, he was the son of University College, Leicester president Frederick Attenborough, who raised him and his brothers Richard Attenborough, later a celebrated actor and director, and John, who served as an executive for the Alfa Romeo car manufacturers. David Attenborough developed an interest in archaeology and naturalism at an early age, and studied geology and zoology at Clare College in Cambridge. After receiving his degree in natural sciences, Attenborough served in the Royal Navy for two years before taking a job as an editor for children's science books. He found the work disheartening, and applied to become a radio talk producer with the BBC. Attenborough was instead hired by the network's then-new television service, and despite having little experience with the medium - like most U.K. residents at the time, he did not even own a set - he completed the BBC's three-month training course and began producing a variety of programs in 1952.
In 1954, Attenborough made his debut as an on-air presenter with "Zoo Quest" (BBC 1954-1963), a documentary series that followed his attempts to find and capture various exotic animals for the London Zoo. The program became remarkably popular and established Attenborough as a household name to U.K. television audiences. Three years later, Attenborough headed his own department at the BBC, the Travel and Exploration Unit, which allowed him to continue to host "Zoo Quest" and oversee a wealth of other documentaries and programs for the network while remaining at home in London. He briefly left the BBC to pursue a postgraduate degree in social anthropology from the London School of Economics, but was brought back to television in 1965 at the behest of Michael Peacock, who had been promoted from the head of BBC 2, the country's third television network, to head of BBC 1. Attenborough was tapped to replace Peacock at BBC 2, which at the time struggled to establish its own identity in the shadow of its predecessor.
To boost the network's profile, Attenborough shepherded a diverse and eclectic array of programming devoted to a wide variety of interests, from traditional drama and sports programs to experimental comedy like "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (BBC 2 1969-1974) and the groundbreaking music series "The Old Grey Whistle Test" (BBC 2 1971-1987). He also introduced color programming to British televisions in 1967, which brought to life the vivid images depicted in such acclaimed documentary series as "Civilisation" (BBC 2 1969), which traced the history of Western art and architecture, and Alastair Cooke's "America" (BBC 2 1972). The success of these and other programs led to Attenborough's appointment to director of programming for both the BBC and BBC 2, which took him away from producing and developing new series. When Attenborough was suggested to serve as the new Director General of the BBC in 1972, he declined the position and returned to writing and producing programs on natural history. Two years later, his contributions to U.K. television earned him appointment as a Commander of the British Empire (CBE).
In 1976, Attenborough teamed with Turner Broadcasting to present his landmark series "Life on Earth." The 13-part series used revolutionary camera techniques and filming strategies to capture some extraordinary footage of animals, including a glimpse of a coelacanth, a living relic from prehistoric times, and an encounter with mountain gorillas that groomed and played with Attenborough. "Life on Earth" was seen by an estimated 500 million viewers worldwide and received four BAFTA nominations. Attenborough was also knighted for his efforts, but more significantly, he was unofficially appointed as the face and voice of nature programming in America and the U.K. He followed "Life on Earth" with two equally groundbreaking programs: "The Living Planet" (BBC 1984), which explored ecological issues, and "The Trials of Life" (BBC 1990), which took an unflinching look at animal behavior throughout the various stages of life. These were soon after followed two unofficial "sequels": "Life in the Freezer" (BBC 1993), the first television series to examine the natural history of Antarctica, and "The Private Life of Plants" (BBC 1995). During this period, Attenborough also worked on other documentaries, including "The First Eden" (BBC 1987), about the history of the Mediterranean, and lent his distinctive voice to a host of nature programs, including the long-running "Wildlife on One" (BBC 1977-2005) and "Natural World" (BBC 1995- ).
In 1998, Attenborough returned to his "Life" series with a new trilogy: "The Life of Birds" (BBC 1998), "The Life of Mammals" (BBC 2002) and "Life in the Undergrowth" (BBC 2006), all of which benefited greatly from advances in camera technology, including infrared and low-light cameras. Following their conclusion, Attenborough realized that the only animal group that had not received their own documentaries was reptiles, which were addressed in "Life in Cold Blood" (BBC 2008). He continued to lend his talents to a variety of documentaries, including "The Blue Planet" (BBC 2001), the network's exploration of marine life, and "Planet Earth" (2006), both for the BBC Natural History Unit. The latter earned a place in the television history books as the most expensive nature documentary ever made, as well as the first BBC documentary to be filmed in high definition. In 2009, he served as co-writer and narrator for "Life" (BBC) before reuniting with the Natural History Unit for "Frozen Planet" (BBC 2011). The following year, Attenborough celebrated his 60th anniversary in broadcasting by announcing a slew of new projects, including 3D documentaries, a Channel 4 documentary featuring singer Björk, and a new edition of his radio monologue series, "David Attenborough's Life Stories" (BBC Radio 2009- ).