British naturalist and broadcaster, whose much-acclaimed television series have presented to a wide audience the spectacular array of plants and animals living on this planet. He was made a CBE in 1974 and became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1983. He was knighted in 1985.
The younger brother of the film director Richard Attenborough, David Attenborough read zoology and geology at Clare College, Cambridge. After a brief spell in the Royal Navy, he joined a publishing house as an editorial assistant (1949–52) before moving to BBC television as a trainee producer. Attenborough conceived the idea of a TV series based on animals in their natural habitats and in 1954 the first Zoo Quest programmes were filmed in Sierra Leone. In the second series, Attenborough took over as presenter and also wrote the first of several books to accompany the programmes, Zoo Quest to Guiana (1956). In 1965, Attenborough was appointed controller of the BBC's newly created second channel, BBC 2. He was responsible for overseeing the production of such notable series as Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man and Kenneth Clarke's Civilization. In 1968 he was made director of programmes for both BBC TV channels but four years later he resigned to return to film-making and writing. The Tribal Eye (1976), a series concerned with art in so-called ‘primitive’ societies, was followed by an extensive series about evolution called Life on Earth (1978). It was highly praised and the companion book, Life on Earth (1979), became a best-seller. This was followed by several equally successful series, notably The Living Planet (1983), in which Attenborough presented examples of how plants and animals are adapted to their environments, The Trials of Life (1990), which examined the processes by which various species survive, The Private Life of Plants (1995), and The Life of Birds (1998). Attenborough was a member of the Nature Conservancy Council (1973–82) and was a trustee of the UK branch of WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) until 1990 and of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew until 1992; he remains a trustee of the British Museum. In 1991 he was elected president of the British Association. He is known for his passionate advocacy of international action to save wildlife and their habitats from destruction by human activities.
Subjects: Literature — Contemporary History (Post 1945).