Sir David Attenborough Profile

As the world's most famous and esteemed naturalist, Sir David Attenborough has brought landmark wildlife to television screens for over 50 years. From series such as Life on Earth to Frozen Planet, his accessible storytelling has inspired generations to learn more about the natural world.

Sir David Attenborough

Early Years

Born in 1926, David Frederick Attenborough into a well-off family with two brothers, John and Richard. During World War II, his parents took in two Jewish girls who had fled the Nazis and they were treated like family. Richard went on to great success as an actor and film-maker, starring in Hollywood blockbuster films such as Jurassic Park, while his younger sibling John became an executive in the car industry.

Natural Curiosities Trailer

David became fascinated by natural history in his early childhood. In fact, by the age of seven he had already created his very own "museum" of bird eggs, old stamps and ancient fossils. It was at this young age that he had one of the defining experiences of his life, when his father, who worked at a university, introduced him to a young academic named Jacquetta Hawkes. She was so impressed by his "museum" that she sent the him a box brimming with fossils, dried seahorses and other exotic artefacts. It confirmed in the young David's mind that he wanted to be a naturalist, and he remained in touch with Jacquetta when he grew up, by which point she herself found some fame as an archaeologist.

After school, David studied natural sciences at Cambridge, but was reluctant to become an academic, disliking the idea of being stuck in labs and lecture theatres all his life. On finishing his studies, David joined the Royal Navy hoping to see the world, but didn't get very far; he was posted to an aircraft carrier in the Firth of Forth. After three years he left and went into the world of publishing, editing children's science textbooks.

Sir David Attenborough in Life on Earth

Sir David Attenborough in Life on Earth


David joined the BBC in 1952. His boss at the BBC initially told Attenborough he shouldn't actually work in front of the cameras as his "teeth were too big", but soon enough he ended up presenting his first series, a rather stuffy show called The Pattern of Animals, which was co-presented by the famous naturalist Sir Julian Huxley.

After several years he started to make a name for himself, making the successful Zoo Quest series. By 1965 he was elevated to the post of Controller of BBC2, where he oversaw the introduction of colour TV to Britain, and only a few years later was made Director of Programmes for BBC1 and BBC2.

Wild world

David returned to his first love of making natural history documentaries in 1973. Several successful years of making wildlife programmes peaked with his seminal series Life on Earth, at the time the most ambitious series the BBC had ever produced.

Frozen Planet Clip

The working process

David begins any series with a general outline of the questions he wants to ask and answer, followed by a dialogue over many months with the prospective programme's researchers and producers. Once a massive file of notes has been accumulated, only then does David begin his travels.

Not one for being passive, David writes all his own scripts. His talent as a writer is such that he won a major literary prize in Britain for the book of The Life of Birds before the series itself had even been screened.

The great presenter is no prima donna, always travelling economy class with his film crew, only accepting offers for airline upgrades if it extends to his crew as well. A modest David has been quoted as saying, "People assume I do all the work. I keep having to tell them, it was the cameraman, not me".

Quite apart from the extensive travel to often dangerous regions, David is willing take risks for his shows. He let himself be attacked by military ants in Africa, abseiled down a rainforest tree his late 60s and is the oldest person to set foot on the North Pole! In fact the plucky presenter has only two aversions: rats, and anywhere (like dark caves) where there might be rats.