Happy 94th Birthday, David Attenborough!

Happy 94th Birthday, David Attenborough!

Posted by Leanne Sturrock on 8th May 2020

There are few individuals as decorated and beloved as Sir David Attenborough. Often referred to as a ‘national treasure’ throughout his native England and beyond, the world-famous naturalist has graced our television screens for some seven decades, collecting countless accolades and honours throughout his long career. Today (8th May) marks Sir David’s 94th birthday, and in celebration, we will be sharing some of his career highlights. What’s your favourite Attenborough moment or fact? Let us know in the comments!

The Early Years

David Attenborough young at the BBC

It’s impossible for many of us to recall the days before Sir David became a staple of television programming, but one thing is for sure: we can all be grateful to a lady named Mary Adams, who gave a young Attenborough his start with the BBC.

It was around 68 years ago when David Attenborough applied – and was rejected – for a job as a radio talk producer at the BBC. An interesting CV, however, caught the eye of Ms Adams, who was the head of the Talks department at the BBC at the time. She reached out to Attenborough with an offer of a three-month training course, which Attenborough accepted, before joining the BBC full-time in 1952. The rest, as they say, is history…

Finding Fame

David Attenborough tv awards

Okay, there’s obviously a lot more to Attenborough’s early years than getting his foot in the door of the BBC! After a spell of producing shows for the channel (1952-1953), Sir David soon branched out into further credits such as writing and, famously, presenting. His first series was 1954’s ‘Zoo Quest’, a 6-part documentary series which saw a young Attenborough travel to foreign lands in search for wildlife. (At the time, it was an accepted practice for staff from London Zoo to visit tropical countries as to capture animals for their collections; this, of course, would be something that most would frown upon today.) Zoo Quest would continue to air until 1959, by which point it had solidified Attenborough as a confident and capable fixture on our television screens.

In the decades that followed, Sir Attenborough’s success only increased, and we saw this soon-to-be legendary naturalist tackle topics all the way from plant life to human civilisation; from fossils to the modern day. Attenborough also saw award nominations start to roll in, winning numerous awards for his efforts as a writer, producer and presenter from the 70s onwards. But Attenborough wasn’t only winning media recognition – he would gradually become one of the most decorated personalities in British broadcasting history.

Attenborough’s Achievements

A quick glimpse at Attenborough’s Wikipedia page will show you just how celebrated he is: not only is he a Sir, but he is an Honorary Fellow of numerous institutions (Clare College, Cambridge, the Zoological Society of London, the Institute of Biology and many more); he possesses the Order of Merit (OM); he is recognised with the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH); and he is credited with the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE). Sir Attenborough’s titles are seemingly never-ending, but if you were to ask what he were most proud of in his life, his thoughtful and humble answer may surprise you:

Animal Honours

David Attenborough and animal

No less than 15 species and genera has earned their namesakes in Attenborough’s honour, which is rather charming given the man’s influence on budding naturalists and casual documentary-watchers alike. Sir David has the unique ability to win over audiences of all ages and creeds, willing millions of us to tune into episodes of Planet Earth and to learn about the world around us in stunning detail. It’s no surprise, then, that Attenborough has earned honorary credits in the form of a series of flowers, insects and more. Just a few of Sir David’s namesakes include:

• Blakea attenboroughi (a flower endemic to Ecuador, discovered in 2007)

• Euptychia attenboroughi (a species of butterfly found in Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia)

• Pristimantis attenboroughi (a species of frog native to the Peruvian Andes)

• Sir David's long-beaked echidna (found in the Cyclops Mountains, Indonesia)

• Attenborough’s fan-throated lizard (found in coastal Kerala, Southern India)

• Nepenthes attenboroughii (a carnivorous pitcher plant found in the Philippines – and one of Sir David’s favourite genera of all!)

As for why so many researchers name their discoveries after Attenborough, we’ll leave you with this quote from the researchers of Euptychia attenboroughi, who chose to name their discovery ‘in gratitude for opening the eyes and hearts of millions to the natural world through his inspiring and edifying work’. How lovely!

Final Thoughts

David Attenborough beach

Sir David has proven himself to be an inspiring, thoughtful and considered individual, and with that in mind we’d like to leave you with a few of our favourite Attenborough quotes which reflect this most wonderful part of his personality. For one last time, we wish you a very happy birthday, Sir David Attenborough!

‘It is not the differences between us that are important - it is the similarities.’
‘An understanding of the natural world and what’s in it is a source of not only a great curiosity but great fulfilment.’
‘People must feel that the natural world is important and valuable and beautiful and wonderful and an amazement and a pleasure.’

David Attenborough feeding cub

‘The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?’
‘The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.’
‘It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty, the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.’
‘I just wish the world was twice as big and half of it was still unexplored.’

Sir David Attenborough

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