David Attenborough

David Attenborough’s Life Through the Decades: From His Wildlife Documentaries to Environmental Advocacy

If you ask someone to name the most influential environmental advocate, they will likely say, David Attenborough! A regular on British screens, the filmmaker has produced countless wildlife documentaries, like Planet Earth and The Blue Planet. At The Sustainability Speakers Agency, we are big fans of Sir David Attenborough; between his incredible documentaries and vital work in sustainability, many of the speakers we work with were initially inspired by David’s campaigning.

Find out more about his life in this comprehensive timeline of David Attenborough’s incredible career.

1950s: Trainee at the BBC

In 1952, David joined the BBC team as a trainee. Following a lifelong interest in biology, the young documentary filmmaker hosted Zoo Quest, a live studio presentation that exposed viewers to rare animals like pythons for the first time. David became an instant hit, for both his calm speaking style and evident love of nature.

1960s: Introduction of Colour TV

Among many of his ‘firsts’, David oversaw the first colour broadcast in Europe in 1965. He later commissioned two cutting-edge series, Civilisation and Ascent of Man, which took advantage of the technological advancements to bring coloured images of nature, history and science to audiences across the United Kingdom.

1970s: Life on Earth & Beyond

Following a long and successful career behind the camera, as a BBC executive, David presented As Blank on the Map, in 1971. The revolutionary documentary series followed David as he tackled thick rainforests in New Guinea to find the Biami tribe. Sporting his own loin cloth, he documented the isolated tribe; a truly unforgettable depiction of human connection.

1980s: Best Wildlife Documentary of All Time

In 1987, David’s episode of Wildlife on One titled Meerkats United was voted the Best Wildlife Documentary of all time. He narrated all 253 episodes of the programme, which ran for several decades and had a loyal fanbase. The episode, Meerkats United, explored the complex and interesting social structures in meerkat colonies, including life-long romances and fights among rival gangs.

1990s: Flightless Beetles to Hawkweed

Many plants and animals have been named after David Attenborough – an incredible honour for any wildlife filmmaker. Such flora and fauna include a species of hawkweed found in the Brecon Beacons and even the Attenborosaurus, a type of long-necked dinosaur. During the filming of The Private Life of Plants, David adapted the plant name, Amorphophallus Titanum, to titum arum, as he believed the former was too racy for television! David’s adaption has since become the plant’s common name.

2000s: The Blue Planet Makes Waves

Leaving dry land, David released The Blue Planet in 2001. Audiences had become used to seeing new and exciting animals, but the introduction of ocean creatures made The Blue Planet a fan favourite. For the first time, many species were captured on film, like the adorable Dumbo octopus and terrifying hairy angler fish, narrated by David’s dulcet tones.

2010s: Attenborough Down Under

Fifty years since David launched colour television in Europe, he broke the record for the deepest dive on the coral reef in 2015 – he is a true technological visionary. While sat in a small submersible, David dove 1,000ft off the Australian coast to explore unseen parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Each documentary by David Attenborough pushes the boundary of broadcasting and technology.

2020s: Champion of the Earth

Watch David Attenborough’s speech at COP26 in 2021.

In 2022, David was recognised as a Champion of the Earth by the United Nations Environment Programme. He regularly attends COP26, supports several sustainable initiatives and charities, like the World Land Trust, and has been a vocal supporter of planet earth for his entire career. David Attenborough’s pioneering work has made him one of the most recognisable ambassadors of sustainability.

Source: UN Environment Programme

Book a Sustainability Champion

Our network of sustainability speakers share David Attenborough’s lifelong passion for protecting our planet. The Sustainability Speakers Agency provides a wide range of sustainability and environmental speakers for corporate conferences and workshops, who have been inspired by David Attenborough’s incredible work. To see how you could work with us, get in contact by filling out our online contact form or by calling directly on 0203 9355 587.

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