Sir David Frederick Attenboroughnote (born 8 May 1926) is a British broadcaster and naturalist, most famous as a Nature Documentary producer and narrator, long fondly stereotyped and much mimicked for his hushed yet enthusiastic delivery and ability to find (and make) any plant or animal interesting.
He is one of the most enduring presences on UK television in a career spanning 65+ years, as well as a former controllernote of the channel BBC2. To many people on both sides of the Atlantic he has long been THE face and voice of natural history, having created what can safely be called the definitive — and usually technically groundbreaking — series of television nature documentaries, spanning all parts of the globe and every type of living creature (yes, including humans). He has been called the most-traveled man on Earth.
Perhaps most widely-known is the epic "Life" series, beginning with 1979's Life on Earth and continued through 2010 with The Living Planet, The Trials of Life, Life in the Freezer (an in-depth survey of Antarctica), The Private Life of Plants, The Life of Birds, The Life of Mammals, Life in the Undergrowth (invertebrates, mainly arthropods), Life In Cold Blood (reptiles & amphibians) and Charles Darwin - The Tree Of Life. More recent series include Micro Monsters, Africa and Dynasties. He has also narrated many other landmark achievements in the genre, including State of the Planet (on the detrimental effect mankind has had on the environment), The Blue Planet (oceans and their surrounding ecosystems), Blue Planet II, Frozen Planet (a more comprehensive look at life in both polar regions), Planet Earth (an overview of Earth’s major biomes), Planet Earth II, Life (survival strategies employed by plants and animals), The Hunt (predator-prey relationships and hunting strategies), Our Planet (similar to Planet Earth but with a stronger emphasis on environmentalism), Prehistoric Planet (which applied Planet Earth’s biome-based formula to the Mesozoic) and Frozen Planet II. He also made one of the first major documentaries on pterosaurs, named Flying Monsters.
At least 20 species and genera, both living and extinct, have been named after him, as has a British polar research vessel which was launched in 2018.
Among non-nature-related triumphs, he has been credited with popularizing colour TV in the UK, first by commissioning the snooker program Pot Black for BBC2 (as you need a coloured TV set to see the different coloured snooker balls), and later by televising Wimbledon in colour. He also commissioned a number of landmark documentary series in other genres, 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.
His autobiography, published in 2002 (with a later revised edition in 2009), was called Life on Air. He was the subject of Attenborough: A Life on Camera, a three-part BBC2 tribute, on the 60th anniversary of his broadcasting career in 2012. His 90th birthday in 2016 was marked by a number of special programmes, including a compilation of newly-found and remastered colour footage from his first overseas trips in the 1950s, shot more than a decade before Britain had colour television.note
He is the younger brother of the late actor and director Richard Attenborough.
He ended at #63 in One Hundred Greatest Britons.
Tropes related to David Attenborough:
- Affectionate Parody
- Has been the subject of a good many parodies. His presentation style is instantly recognisable, lending itself to caricature, but his earnest desire to educate and inform makes it extremely difficult to parody him without affection.
- He's also not above the odd bit of Self-Parody from time to time, as his intro to the music video for Adele's "Hello" proves.
- In his published diaries, Michael Palin describes Attenborough "very sportingly" agreeing to record for a sequence in Palin's comic play The Weekend in which a character turns the TV off in disgust upon hearing Sir David "describe insect copulation in great detail."
- Aardman Animations produced a series of shorts in a style similar to their Creature Comforts talking animal series, titled The Day I Met David Attenborough. The shorts open with a well-known live-action clip of Sir David commenting on particular animals (such as the famous "lying with gorillas" scene); then cuts to an animated segment with the animals commenting on him in return.
- 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 trope.
- Call-Back: One-shot specials Attenborough in Paradise and Attenborough and the Giant Egg are both themed around revisiting memorable events from much earlier in his career.
- Chased by Angry Natives: This seemed to be happening in one early sequence. The locals' fearsome display turned out to be their traditional greeting.
- Cool Old Guy: He's in his late nineties and still active and as sharp and charismatic as ever and is more beloved than ever.
- 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.
- Deadline News: 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.
- Determinator: The bushman in the persistence hunting sequence from the final episode of Life of Mammals.
- Documentary: One of the major players in raising the genre into a high-profile art form over the latter half of the 20th century.
- Filler: In the course of filming an older documentary series for the London Zoo he was scheduled to search for an African bird for at least a week but actually found it on the second day, necessitating considerable quantities of manufactured drama.
- Friend to All Living Things: Particularly birds, except maybe the capercaillie.
- Gentle Gorilla: A legendary sequence in one documentary had him discussing mountain gorillas while sitting close to a gorilla family in Rwanda when they drew him into their grooming activity. He always emphasizes that they are indeed gentle creatures and the danger to him was low, but given their strength, and the fact that he was close to their young while their parents were present, Attenborough's calm was astonishing.
- Gilligan Cut: In Zoo Quest for a Dragon, Attenborough's memoir of a trip to Indonesia to film a documentary about the Komodo Dragon, he recalls that one of the officials who helped them obtain travel permits was bemused by the idea of traveling to distant places to film animals and kept hinting that it would be easier to arrange for them to go and film Borobodurnote like all the other foreign film crews."Njonja," I said, "please, for the last time, we are zoologists. We look for animals. We will not go to Borobodur."
Standing in front of Borobodur, we were glad we had succumbed to Njonja's persuasions.
- Green Aesop: He often delivers one of these at the end of each series (with Our Planet being specifically about this trope) 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?).
- Imperturbable Englishman: He's 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?: In A Life on Camera, he wryly describes how he once forgot his mike was live while climbing a particularly tall tree during one shoot, resulting in the crew hearing his panicked swearing and singing as he made his way up.
- Limited Wardrobe: Attenborough nearly always wears the same light blue shirt and khaki chino trousers — supplemented as needed with the same olive military-style parka and black gloves — regardless of location, unless thermal or other specialized gear is required (as in the Antarctic, where he was required to wear a different colour-coded outfit in each territory he visited). Word of God is that this is intended to avoid the viewer focusing on him and/or his possible motives for changing, instead of whatever he's showing on screen. It also of course greatly simplifies continuity when editing the footage later. A behind-the-scenes clip for Galapagos 3D revealed that the iconic light blue shirt even has a customized loop of fabric in the lapel specially made to hold a lavalier mike. But this trope was later subverted in the same documentary when the producer had him switch to a navy-coloured shirt because the light blue made his shoulders look weird to the 3D cameras. He replied, (mostly jokingly) aghast, that he'd "never heard such codswallop".
- Majored in Western Hypocrisy: He met a few people who exemplified this trope on his travels.
- Mickey Mousing: Almost all of the soundtrack to Life on Earth punctuates the actions of animals on screen.
- Mundane Made Awesome: A cornerstone of his documentaries is to take simple acts, both with animals and the environment, and to portray them in such a manner that they become absolutely riveting to watch.
- Offscreen Teleportation: As noted, he deliberately wears identical sets of clothes on-camera while filming a series over anything up to three years, making it look uncannily like he's just teleported straight from, say, Brazil to India between shots. Naturally, this is irresistible to satirists. 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.
- Scenery Porn: His documentaries are legendary for their absolutely stunning visuals and ability to make the simplest actions and sites and make them strikingly beautiful.
- She's a Man in Japan: 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). Frozen Planet replaced him with Alec Baldwin when Discovery broadcast it, and Africa with Forest Whitaker.
- Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The title of the first episode of Life on Earth, "The Infinite Variety", is taken from a line in Antony and Cleopatra.
- Simple, yet Awesome: His general presenting style is fairly straight forward but the combination of stunning visuals, his unique editing style and his charisma and genuine and infectious enthusiasm make his works immensely enjoyable.
- Speaks Fluent Animal: A big part of his charm as a narrator is his ability to interpret animal behaviour in relateably human terms without actually anthropomorphizing them. Face-to-face encounters are more of a mixed bag; although animals generally seem amazingly comfortable with his presence nearby, they also have no compunction about charging or even attacking if he makes a wrong move. And the trope can get quite literal with him; in 2003's The Life of Mammals, he was able to mimic a wolf call, to which the real wolves in the valley responded.
- Super-Persistent Predator: The final episode of ''Life of Mammals" features an entire sequence dedicated to persistence hunting practiced by bushmen in the Kalahari Desert.
- 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.note
- Understatement: In the most classically British sense. "But then again, living on an active volcano is not without its risks..." (from The Blue Planet).
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Or rather, rats. He's not a fan of them, particularly when one jumped out from a toilet he was using.
- Wildlife Commentary Spoof: A popular subject for such. For example, see Questionable Content: