Global tributes to ‘national treasure’ David Attenborough at 90

He has travelled to every corner of the globe and it was only fitting that tributes to David Attenborough ahead of his 90th birthday were led by a future king and from as far afield as space.

Prince William said it was apt that Mr Attenborough and his grandmother Queen Elizabeth were both turning 90 within weeks of each other as both were “national treasures.”

Astronaut Tim Peake, speaking in a message recorded on the International State Station, wished him a happy birthday and said: “Your adventures and your words have inspired us enormously and changed the way that we look at our earth.”

David Attenborough has inspired generations to learn more about the natural world, bringing adventure and wonder, dinosaurs and polar bears, into the homes of millions of television viewers.

The reassuring, hushed and reverential whisper has narrated every journey, as he surveys almost every aspect of life on earth. He sometimes seems barely able to contain his excitement as he watches incredible behaviour in the animal kingdom.

Born on May 8, 1926, his interest in nature started as a child when he collected fossils. He went on to gain a Natural Sciences degree from Clare College, Cambridge after attending Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Leicester.

He served in the Royal Navy from 1947 to 1949 before joining the BBC but was initially discouraged from appearing on screen because his bosses thought his teeth were too big. Despite their dental misgivings, he launched his Zoo Quest series in 1954.

He writes all his own scripts, and although he says he dislikes writing, he won a major literary prize for his book The Life of Birds before the series even screened.

His combination of charm and an ability to put across his wide knowledge in an attractive and compelling way has been much-imitated but rarely replicated.

Long before environmental issues were making daily headlines, he was a fervent eco campaigner both on and off screen. His 2000 series State of the Planet and Are We Changing Planet Earth? in 2006 dealt heavily with environmental issues such as global warming.

As a younger man, he famously often travelled in economy class on flights, only accepting upgrades if they were extended to his crew as well. When he turned 75, the BBC reportedly told him he should fly in business class.

He has shown a lack of fear in alarming situations, including being attacked by an army of ants and an amorous capercaillie.

When his career began, wild creatures were seen as curiosities to be tracked, captured and brought back to British zoos to be stared at, and Zoo Quest reinforced that Victorian notion. In the series he would travel with staff from London Zoo to a tropical country to capture an animal for the zoo’s collection. In his much later series Attenborough: 60 Years in the Wild, the transition to a more respectful attitude towards animals and the natural world was a dominant theme.

The brother of the actor Richard Attenborough, who died in 2014, his pioneering efforts on screen have been matched by those off camera, as the man responsible for introducing colour television into Britain after he became controller of BBC Two in 1965.

Over the years he had made such iconic programmes as Life on Earth, The Living Planet, The Trials of Life, Life in Freeze and narrated The Blue Planet and The Life of Mammals.

Even as he approached his 90th year, he has continued at a prodigious pace, bringing more about the wonders of planet Earth to the masses.

He has been confirmed as the presenter of Planet Earth 2, a series of six one-hour natural history programmes that will air later this year.


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