Sir David Attenborough's best moments: Life on Earth to Our Planet – his most jaw-dropping and groundbreaking TV series

A look back at the British national treasure’s unparalleled TV career – which has spanned seven decades and included some of the best-loved TV shows of all time.

Sir David Attenborough has been producing ground-breaking television for seven decades, a feat that may never be matched again.

While most of us would imagine spending our 90s – if we’re lucky enough to get that far - curled up and cosy in a comfy chair, Sir David has no intention to ever wind down.

"To be told that I didn't have anything else to do and nobody wanted anything from me and people telling me to go play golf, I don't know what I'd do," he said, when asked about the idea of retirement back in 2013.

Sir David Attenborough

"When you lie in bed in the morning, if you think that nobody cares whether I get up or not, that must be very, very depressing.

"Whereas if you need to get up because something needs to be written or people are waiting on you, then you get up and that's what life is about - doing things."

His tireless work ethic, a relentless inquisitiveness for the natural world and new technologies and an ability to express his own knowledge, awe and passion in a way that resonates with millions of TV viewers, of all ages, all over the world.

Here are seven of Sir David Attenborough’s greatest moments

1. The launch of Life on Earth

Sir David Attenborough

When asked if he could relive one day or moment in his career, the presenter said that it would be the day he launched the Life on Earth series.

"It was a three-year project and there were people in my own profession who said that we couldn't ever do it. They said we couldn't possibly hop over from Africa one minute and then back to Surrey. They said people would get confused," said the presenter.

"Although I had faith in it, I had a sneaky feeling in the back of my mind that maybe I was mad and people were right. So that first programme was very, very important to me. It was crucial to me. We got great reviews the morning after, and everything was positive and that was a day I will always remember forever."

2. Attenborough underwater

An essential part of Attenborough’s TV success has been his determination to always be at the forefront of broadcasting technology. From black and white films to shooting in 4K, 3D or the latest new-fangled filming techniques, his marriage of knowing what viewers want and pushing the boundaries on new ways to capture it has been his secret weapon for a lengthy career.

One example of his determination and forward-thinking is his drive to film underwater.

Whether it was filming the grey reef shark underwater in 1984 for The Living Planet, capturing the majesty of the Great Barrier Reef or heading underwater in his 80s to film within a Triton submersible in Australia, he's never shied away from danger


3. Monkey around

Possibly his most famous TV moment came in 1979's Life on Earth when he encountered a family of mountain gorillas on the border or Rwanda and Zaire.

The footage of Attenborough talking to camera while young gorillas lay across him, stick their bottoms in his face and play with his shoes is magical because it's so natural and Attenborough's obvious joy in the moment is infectious.


4. The magic of the lyrebird

Truly astonishing footage from Australia during The Life of Birds features a lyrebird, a rare ground-dwelling bird which Sir David describes as having one of the most beautiful songs in the world. Not only is the lyrebird known for its beautiful song, but it is also renowned for being able to mimic almost any other sound.

Sir David and his crew managed to capture one lyrebird mimicking not only the song of a kookaburra, but also the click of the crew’s camera shutter, the whir of the camera’s motor drive, a piercing car alarm and the haunting burr of the chainsaws used by woodcutters in the bird’s forest habitat.


5. Attenborough and the baby rhino

Attenborough's Africa series was one of his greatest ever and this extra, unplanned piece of filming with a blind baby rhino was enough to reduce even the most stony-faced viewers to tears.

Willing to crawl on his hands and knees and coo for the rhino, Attenborough displays a playfulness and paternal-like affection for the young creature that creates a magical TV moment.


6. The Blue Planet effect

In recent series, Attenborough has shifted the emphasis of his shows from merely demonstrating the power and beauty of the natural world to highlighting the grave and emerging dangers it faces.

Using the popularity of his shows and the authority he brings to the subject, he is able to bring home the horrors we face right now and in 2017’s Blue Planet II he shined a light on the toxic impact we’re having on the oceans with single-use plastics.

The impact of the film following a mother whale and the baby she lost struck a chord with viewers and had an genuine impact that made genuine changes on the way individuals, businesses and governments think about plastic.


7. Attenborough lands on Netflix

Sir David Attenborough

In 2019, aged 92, Attenborough has launched his biggest TV project yet – an exclusive 8-part documentary series for Netflix.

Our Planet has an urgent message about the pressing dangers facing the landscapes and wildlife across the globe.

Filmed over four years, the series is unprecedented in scale and cinematic in quality.

Our Planet is streaming on Netflix now.

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Photo Credit: Rex Features/Shutterstock

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