Sir David Frederick Attenborough (born May 8, 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 60+ 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 1974's Life on Earth and continued through 2010 with The Living Planet, The Trials of Life, Life in the Freezer (an indepth survey of Antarctica), The Private Life of Plants, The Life of Birds and ...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 The Blue Planet (oceans and their surrounding ecosystems), Blue Planet II, The Frozen Planet (a more comprehensive look at life in both polar regions), Planet Earth (an overview of Earths major biomes), Planet Earth II, Life (survival strategies employed by plants and animals), The Hunt (predator-prey relationships and hunting strategies) and Our Planet (similar to Planet Earth but with a stronger emphasis on environmentalism). He also made one of the first major documentaries on pterosaurs, named Flying Monsters.
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.
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 has been 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.
He is the younger brother of the late actor and director Lord Richard Attenborough.
He ended at #63 in 100 Greatest Britons.
Tropes related to David Attenborough:
- Affectionate Parody: Has been the subject of a good deal of them. 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."
- 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.
- 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: Their fearsome display turned out to be their traditional greeting.
- Cool Old Guy: A charismatic, well-mannered and knowledgeable British gentleman with a soothing voice, born in 1926 and still active. When he appeared unannounced on the stage at Glastonbury 2019, he got a reception as enthusiastic and rapturous as any rockstar.
- 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 very much on the go. Even more so since the late nineties when his wife died; he likes to keep himself busy.
- 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.
- 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: 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: 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 focussing 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.
- 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: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 very small prey. A comparatively enormous documentary film-maker suddenly standing right in the middle of their commuting corridors would be just as surprising to the bat as to him. It's also possible the sound of his voice disrupted the calls the bat was using for echolocation (his comparatively quiet voice would be very loud to a bat's keen sense of hearing).
- 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 Rats?: Not a fan of them, particularly when one jumped out from a toilet he was using.
- Wildlife Commentary Spoof: A popular subject for such.