Thanks to Alberto Yanosky, leader of Paraguay’s most important conservation organization, for bringing this old clip to our attention. Fitting tribute to the man in the clip who, according to INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, September/October 2012 is celebrating an amazing milestone:
When David Attenborough joined the BBC, 60 years ago this September, Britain had only one television channel. Cameras had to be wound up like a clock and could only film live or in 20-second bursts. There was no way to capture sound and vision at the same time, or to broadcast from anywhere but the studio. Attenborough, like most people, did not own a television set; he thinks he had seen only one programme in his life.
He had applied for a job in radio, as a talks producer, and been turned down, and it was only by chance that his CV was seen by a television executive, the head of factual broadcasting, Mary Adams. She gave him a chance—but when he first went in front of the camera, she said his teeth were too big.
By 1956, Attenborough had persuaded the BBC to let him try a new way of filming—from and of the natural world. With only a cameraman and animal expert for company, he would go off for months to remote lands in search of rare beasts. In Borneo, some days’ walk from civilisation, he was on the trail of orangutan when he spied a man paddling up the river, wearing only a sarong and bearing a message tucked in a cleft stick. It was from the BBC, giving instructions on how to use their new toy: colour film. What started in a makeshift fashion with “Zoo Quest” matured over the decades into “Life on Earth”, “The Private Life of Plants”, “Life in Cold Blood”, “Frozen Planet” and many more. With Attenborough, the phenomenon of natural-history film-making was born.
He did so well that he became controller of BBC2, in 1965, and then BBC director of programmes—but had a clause written into his contract to make sure he could carry on making films himself, and within a few years he returned to his vocation. Now, aged 86 and still going strong aside from a gammy hip, he has revisited some of his early haunts to make a series of three films looking back over the six decades. “The BBC decided they wanted to do something to mark it, and I just hoped to goodness it wasn’t going to be a dinner,” he said. “A series sounded like more fun, but I wanted to shift the focus from me, to look at the changes in natural-history film-making, science and the natural world.” The self-effacement is typical, but immaterial: the story of his life is the history of his genre.