David Attenborough: A life measured in heartbeats

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For 60 years, David Attenborough has brought the wonders of the world around us to TV viewers hungry for science and natural history. In an exclusive interview with Brian Cox and Robin Ince, he talks about the BBC, Darwin and what keeps him moving.


Robin Ince writes:

No other individual is held in such awe by as broad a group of people as Sir David Attenborough. On seeing him, one eloquent friend felt he must say something, and so he bounded up, blurted out “Thank you”, then scarpered. I have seen people held in high regard reduced to gibbering fan-kids on finding themselves in the same room as him. After 60 years in broadcasting, a career that has included commissioning Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation and Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man, as well as astounding investigations into the varieties of life on this planet, he continues to work every day of the year with the occasional exception of Christmas Day.

The landmark series Life on Earth was my introduction to the theory of evolution and the work of Charles Darwin, a man who increasingly fascinates me the older I become. The writings of Darwin convey a mind restlessly ­attempting to understand the life he sees before him and driven to explain why it seems to be as it is. David Attenborough has allowed us to stay in our armchair and dwell on the complexity of living things on this small but densely populated planet. As Carl Sagan once wrote when contemplating the seeming rarity of life in the known universe, the earth is “a meadow in the sky”.

Whenever the case against television is brought up, the work of Attenborough is called by the defence. In the television world, where so much is required to be fake, from the smiles to the feigned interest of the interviewer, Atten­borough conveys passion, a wish to communicate not defined by pay packet or celebrity. He is not making a film about tribal art or bowerbirds or environmental crisis because it’s a job; he is doing it to share ideas, convey wonder and to learn for himself. This is not a tired academic going through the rigmarole of explaining life one more time; this is someone able to capture the excitement of the adventure because he is still on it. Where cynicism and ironic distance can seem the way of the 21st century, here is an unashamed enthusiast. As he leaned forward during this interview and told us of seeing the hasty and flamboyant mating ritual of a hummingbird slowed down so each intricate detail could be examined, he reminded me that it is criminal to feel bored in a world so rich.

Written By: Brian Cox and Robin Ince
continue to source article at newstatesman.com

11 COMMENTS

  1. @OP – The landmark series “Life on Earth” was my introduction to the theory of evolution and the work of Charles Darwin, a man who increasingly fascinates me the older I become. The writings of Darwin convey a mind restlessly ­attempting to understand the life he sees before him and driven to explain why it seems to be as it is. David Attenborough has allowed us to stay in our armchair and dwell on the complexity of living things on this small but densely populated planet.

    …and when his world class series was made available to the brain-dead of US commercial TV, the last programme in the series, which mentioned global warming and polar ice melt, was omitted to avoid upsetting the denialist carbonaceous Luddites!

  2. One of the few living people I would unhesitatingly describe as ‘great’. All sorts of pricks are routinely described as ‘great’, but it’s Attenborough’s profound moral integrity as much as the incredible range and depth of his work that shines through.

  3. In reply to #1 by Alan4discussion:

    …and when his world class series was made available to the brain-dead of US commercial TV, the last programme in the series, which mentioned global warming and polar ice melt, was omitted to avoid upsetting the denialist carbonaceous Luddites!

    Makes you wonder what’s going to happen now that Attenborough’s taken the Murdock shilling. How will American audiences react when they find out about the incident with the polar bear cubs? We know what sticklers Fox News viewers are for accuracy in programming.

    For those who may not be aware, Brian Cox and Robin Ince present a Radio 4 science/comedy programme called The Infinite Monkey Cage. All 28 episodes to date, including one in which Richard Dawkins was a guest, are available to download free here or in iTunes.

  4. I have a few heroes but none have had such a sustained and positive effect on my life as David Attenborough. Things started going well for me from 1965 when he made the BBC intelligent and attractive at the same time. He commissioned Monty Python and a host of must see current affairs and economics programmes. Even the quiz show, Call My Bluff made me fall in love with words. The authored documentary series were exhilarating.

    When the timid religious quailed at the prospect of meaningless existence and then made the world God’s secure little backyard, David filled the rest of us up to overflowing. Sure the pix were great but he had the passion, he minted the memes that so many of us happily carry decades later. He placed us in the world and made it feel like a fabulous home.

    I am delighted that he feels enough satisfaction at his naturalist’s achievements that he can now address the major ills afflicting us. Even now he is making my life better.

  5. In reply to #4 by Katy Cordeth:

    Makes you wonder what’s going to happen now that Attenborough’s taken the Murdock shilling. How will American audiences react when they find out about the incident with the polar bear cubs? We know what sticklers Fox News viewers are for accuracy in programming.

    Oooh! – Using a clip of a zoo polar bear cub to illustrate a programme on wild polar bears!
    – - Admitting it and stating they should have mentioned the zoo in the programme.
    I wonder how many of the critics would have been so honest!

    For those who may not be aware, Brian Cox and Robin Ince present a Radio 4 science/comedy programme called The Infinite Monkey Cage. All 28 episodes to date, including one in which Richard Dawkins was a guest, are available to download free here or in iTunes.

    There is at present a new series of “Stargazing Live” on BBC2
    Alt Text

    Professor Brian Cox, Dara O Briain and guests debate all things astronomical. – bbc.co.uk/programmes
    ____________

    bbc.co.uk/programmes/b019h4g8/features/schools

  6. Add me to the list of those introduced to evolution (at a very tender age) by Life on Earth. I’m less optimistic than Attenborough about the relationship between the public and science though. Seems to me most people consuming the wonders of modern science care not a fig about how their phones or whatever else work.

    But to remain upbeat, I’m eagerly awaiting Brian Cox’s new series: Wonders of Life later this month. From the trailer (complete with Eric Idle singing about how evolution is more interesting than God) it seems a little like an updated Life on Earth, with evolution and DNA to the fore.

  7. In reply to #8 by paulmcuk:

    But to remain upbeat, I’m eagerly awaiting Brian Cox’s new series: Wonders of Life later this month. From the trailer (complete with Eric Idle singing about how evolution is more interesting than God) it seems a little like an updated Life on Earth, with evolution and DNA to the fore.

    While you are waiting, you might like to look over some of the music for it!

    An updated version of the lyrics for Eric Idle’s “Galaxy Song!

    Galaxy DNA Song – nerdist.com/2012/10/eric-idle-on-galaxy-song-the-new-biological-version
    Or more about the new BBC Series:
    facebook.com/ProfessorBrianCox

  8. In reply to #8 by paulmcuk:

    But to remain upbeat, I’m eagerly awaiting Brian Cox’s new series: Wonders of Life later this month. From the trailer (complete with Eric Idle singing about how evolution is more interesting than God) it seems a little like an updated Life on Earth, with evolution and DNA to the fore.

    From the trailer (complete with Eric Idle singing about how evolution is more interesting than God) facepunch.com – WATCH – LISTEN AND ENJOY!

  9. In reply to #10 by Alan4discussion:

    In reply to #8 by paulmcuk:

    But to remain upbeat, I’m eagerly awaiting Brian Cox’s new series: Wonders of Life later this month. From the trailer (complete with Eric Idle singing about how evolution is more interesting than God) it seems a little like an updated Life on Earth, with evolution and DNA to the fore.

    From the trailer (complete with Eric Idle singing about how evolution is more interesting than God) facepunch.com – WATCH – LISTEN AND ENJOY!

    Love it. My jaw almost dropped when I first saw the trailer over Christmas and heard the “Life from a star, is far more bizarre, than an old bearded bloke they call God” line. The BBC are usually too “respectful” of religion to be quite so on the nose.

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