PROFILE: Sir David Attenborough
|Watch an excerpt from the interview with Sir David Attenborough online.|
In the genre of wildlife documentaries no one is as respected as Sir David Attenborough. Sir David's resume is filled with awards for his work, including one for merit presented by the Queen in 2005.
For 55 years, Sir David has been a staple of the British Broadcasting Corporation's television network. He first became associated with wildlife programming in 1954, with Zoo Quest, which ran for a decade.
After Zoo Quest, Sir David went on to hold some of the highest positions at the BBC. Among his lasting accomplishments was his role in bringing colour television to the UK.
But Attenborough returned to his first calling as a documentarian in 1973.
Landmark Series: Life on Earth
In 1979, he wrote and hosted the 13-episode Life on Earth series. An estimated 500 million people around the globe have seen the popular program.
Sir David, with his distinctive voice and urbane on air presence became an international star.
Five years later, the BBC broadcast the second installment of the trilogy titled The Living Planet. The third part of the series ran in 1990 as the Trials of Life.
Misrepresentation in Nature Films
In 1987, Sir David (he was knighted three years earlier) spoke at the Huw Wheldon Lecture. The topic of his talk was "Unnatural History." Sir David tackled the thorny issue of misrepresentation in nature films.
"As programme-makers, as documentary-makers, we actually invoke fiction much more frequently than we perhaps imagine," Sir David told his audience.
"As I have said, whoever it was who first said that the camera cannot lie, of course was not telling a truth at all. There has never been a less truthful saying than that. The camera is the most convincing of all liars. But in the end it is the motive of the filmmaker that is crucial."
Birth of a polar bear
The 1990s saw Attenborough turn his attention to the frozen Arctic and Antarctic. One animal he focused on was the polar bear.
A screen shot from Polar Bear, Arctic Warrior which depicts the controversial polar bear cub birth.
His 1997 production Polar Bear, Arctic Warrior followed the lives of polar bears in their frozen environment. The climax of the documentary is an incredible scene of a cub being born in a polar bear den.
Viewers were not told during the scene that the birth had actually taken place at the Frankfurt zoo. The narration implied the filming had occurred in the Arctic.
"Do you believe that the viewers would have understood at the time that was a possibility or does it even matter?" the fifth estate's Bob Mckeown asked Sir David.
"I don't think it's of any consequence. I don't think it's about that at all," replied Sir David. "I wasn't involved in the filming of it, but we couldn't have gotten it any other way. I suppose the inclusion of that in a general natural history of the polar bear – I still think it's justified, but that's about the closest that I've been worried about."
Scandal over a snake
Earlier this month Sir David had to defend himself once more against allegations that he had misrepresented a scene in one of his nature documentaries.
According to the London Times newspaper, it concerned a scene depicting Sir David coming across a cobra in a South African desert in his new series Life in Cold Blood. The cobra, unknown to the viewers, had been placed there from a snake farm. Sir David agitated the snake to get it to spit at the camera. (read an article about the incident)