Sir David Attenborough, broadcaster, journalist and naturalist, is best known for his often groundbreaking nature documentaries such as Life on Earth, The Private Life of Plants, The Life of Mammals, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet.
Throughout his seven-decade career, Sir David has been at the forefront of broadcasting. In addition to his regular nature documentaries, he was controller of BBC Two in the 60s – commissioning, among other shows, Call My Bluff and Monty Python’s Flying Circus and overseeing the channel’s switch to colour, the first British channel to do so.
Sir David was recently on our screens in David Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities on W channel (BT TV channel 311). This nature series saw Sir David shine a spotlight on some of nature’s evolutionary anomalies and most curious animals such as the pizzly bear (a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly).
Everyone has a favourite Sir David Attenborough TV moment, but here are six of his greatest ever TV moments:
1.Gorillas in Rwanda
Say Sir David Attenborough to most people and they will say, “gorillas”. Sir David’s 1979 encounter with some baby gorillas in Rwanda for the series Life on Earth struck a chord for many - with the gorillas lounging all over Sir David, pulling on his feet and taking off his shoes. Sir David later described his meeting with the gorillas as “bliss” and an “extraordinary experience” as well as “one of the most unforgettable moments” of his career. Going in to filming, the team hadn’t expected the gorillas to get quite as up close and personal as they did, the footage being a result of a once-in-a-lifetime situation.
2.Christmas Island crabs
From majestic mammals to crawling crustaceans – it’s not only gorillas that Sir David has found himself in the midst of. For The Trials of Life in 1990, Sir David and his film crew visited Christmas Island, 200 miles south of Java in the Indian Ocean. Once a year, on the same night in November, the distinctive bright red crabs spawn – one hundred million of them according to Sir David. As he settles in to watch the spectacle, the legendary filmmaker discovers that the crabs will let nothing, not even him, get in the way as he is enveloped by a crawling red tide heading towards the ocean.
3.Howling like a wolf
The Life of Mammals in 2002 saw Sir David getting under the skin – or should we say fur – of a wolf. He shows off a perfect imitation of a wolf’s howl, not once but twice – so perfect that some real wolves even respond to his call. Sir David was illustrating how wolves use their howl to communicate with other members of the pack.
4.The lyrical 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.
On a visit to Scotland, Sir David came face-to-face, or rather knee-to-beak, with a rather angry capercaillie. Keen to protect its turf, the capercaillie advances on Sir David, chasing him and parrying until the TV legend falls over backwards.
6.Conversing with cannibals
During a 1975 appearance on Michael Parkinson’s chat show, Sir David told a story from one of his earliest TV documentaries. In Papua New Guinea in 1957 for Quest of the Paradise Birds (part of the Zoo Quest series), Sir David and his crew encountered what he was told were cannibals: “Suddenly, out onto the track, about 70 or 80 men jumped out of hiding and ran down towards us brandishing spears and waving knives.” Sir David’s response: “I walked towards this screaming horde of men and I stuck out my hand and I heard myself say, ‘Good afternoon’.” The encounter turned out not to be aggressive at all, but rather a traditional Papua New Guinea welcome.
Photo credits: PA, BBC