"Our planet, the Earth, is, as far as we know, unique, in the Universe - it contains life."And here we see the common troper in its natural habitat, describing a trope.
—David Attenborough, The Living Planet
Sir David Frederick Attenborough (born May 8, 1926) is a British broadcaster and naturalist, famous as a nature documentary producer and narrator, long fondly stereotyped and much mimicked for his hushed yet enthusiastic delivery and ability to find any
sort of plant or animal interesting. He is one of the most enduring presences on UK television in a career spanning 60+ years, as well as a former controller of the channel BBC2
. To many people he has long been THE face and voice of natural history, having created many of the most notable television series on the natural world - especially those in the "Life" sequence beginning with 1974's Life on Earth
and continued with The Living Planet
, The Trials of Life
, Life in the Freezer
, The Private Life of Plants
, The Life of Birds
and ...of Mammals
, Life in the Undergrowth
, Life In Cold Blood
, and Charles Darwin - The Tree Of Life
; he has also narrated many other major series such as The Blue Planet
, Planet Earth
, and Life
. He has been credited as being the most-traveled man on Earth. Recently voted the "most trusted public figure" in UK media.
Incidentally, he has been credited with popularizing colour TV in the UK by commissioning the snooker program Pot Black
as head of BBC Two (as you need a coloured TV set to see the different coloured pool balls). He was also responsible for televising Wimbledon
in colour because it was a cheap way to fill airtime with the limited number of cameras available in the late sixties.
While controller of BBC2 he commissioned a number of landmark documentary series, including Sir Kenneth Clark's Civilisation
, Alistair Cooke's America
and Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man
. Ironically, it was not until some years later that he was persuaded to apply the format to natural history with Life on Earth
Younger brother of the late actor and director (Lord) Richard Attenborough. Also making the first documentary on pterosaurs.
Tropes related to David Attenborough:
- Affectionate Parody: Has been the subject of a good deal of them.
- Apocalyptic Log: The "On Location" bonus in the reptiles and amphibians episode of Life, which depicts the crew filming a slowly dying water buffalo being stalked by a hungry Komodo dragon, has shades of this.
- Chased by Angry Natives: Their fearsome display turned out to be their traditional greeting.
- Cool Old Guy
- Cozy Voice for Catastrophes: He's right up there with Stephen Fry and Morgan Freeman in terms of having an incredibly soft and calming voice.
- The Determinator: Born in 1926, and still making documentaries.
- Even more so since the late nineties when his wife died. He likes to keep himself busy.
- Documentary: This appears to be the only thing he makes.
- Doing It for the Art: Having turned down a high-profile job at the BBC to continue making documentaries.
- Filler: In an older documentary series for the London Zoo he was supposed to be searching for an African bird for a week but had actually found it on the second day.
- Friend to All Living Things: Particularly birds,except maybe the capercaillie
- Green Aesop: He often delivers one of these at the end of each series, and is in fact noted for his endorsement of conservation efforts. He has taken part in at least two documentaries specifically about global warming (State of the Planet and Are We Changing Planet Earth?).
- He's A Woman In America: Planet Earth and Life are narrated by Sigourney Weaver and Oprah Winfrey, respectively, to the fury of fans (don't worry, the non-Discovery Channel DVDs keep Attenborough's narration). The Frozen Planet series replaced him with Alec Baldwin when Discovery broadcast it.
- Imperturbable Englishman: Very deadpan when it comes to accidents on set. Also once confronted a tribe of cannibals charging at the crew with a handshake and a "how do you do?"
- Is This Thing Still On?: Forgetting he had a mike while climbing a particularly tall tree, resulting in the crew hearing his panicked swearing and singing as he made his way up.
- Limited Wardrobe: Always wears the same light blue shirt and khaki chino trousers to keep people focused on whatever he's observing instead of on him, and also allows for editing between shots to look more smooth without violating a sense of continuity. Averted in the Antarctic, where he was required to wear a different colour-coded outfit in each territory he visited.
- Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Met a few who did on his travels.
- Mickey Mousing: Almost all of the soundtrack to Life on Earth punctuates the actions of animals on screen.
- Offscreen Teleportation: He wears identical sets of clothes on-camera while filming a series over anything up to three years, with the result that it looks like he's just walked straight from Brazil to India. Referenced and parodied by satirists. David says he does this because he doesn't want viewers wondering why his clothes have changed and if there is some point or message in the new shirt colour, since that would distract from whatever he's showing on screen.
- Combines with Time Travel in Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life due to using footage from an earlier Darwin documentary that was made in the sixties or seventies.
- Redshirt Reporter: Qualifies as this once or twice. For instance, during Life in the Freezer, he gets a little too close to a bull elephant seal, and the seal evidently doesn't like his company. When Attenborough explains that the seals must fight to defend their patches of beach, the seal turns around and lunges at him.
- Refusal of the Call: Refused to climb up the BBC promotion chain, because he loved making documentaries so much.
- Science Marches On: In The Life of Birds, he cites Confuciusornis as evidence that teeth were lost early in bird evolution. However, it now appears that confuciusornithids lost their teeth independently of the radiation leading to modern birds, as enantiornithines, hesperornithines and Ichthyornis (all of which are more closely related to modern birds than confuciusornithids are) retained their teeth.
- Speaks Fluent Animal: Although he talks to them, how much communication is happening is debatable. Although they generally seem amazingly comfortable with him.
- Tempting Fate: Making a comment about the ability of bats to navigate without hitting objects in the dark, right before a bat flew into his face.
- This may be due to the fact that bats mostly use echolocation for hunting and Attenborough being in their commuting corridors would be just as surprised to the bat as to him
- Understatement: "But then again, living on an active volcano is not without its risks..." (from The Blue Planet).
- Why Did It Have To Be Rats?: Not a fan of them, particularly when one jumped out from a toilet he was using.