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How David Attenborough changed the world

How David Attenborough changed the world

As the naturalist’s new series Seven Worlds, One Planet airs on BBC One, we look back on his life achievements

At 93, Sir David shows no signs of slowing down, and neither does climate change – all the more reason why his latest series is vital viewing

Seven Worlds, One Planet, Sunday 27 October, 6.15pm, BBC One HD (CH 101/108). Also available for 30 days in Catch Up > Channels > BBC iPlayer

In interviews, Attenborough baulks at the mere mention of retirement and has said: “You never tire of the natural world. Putting your feet up is all very well, but it’s very boring, isn’t it?” Well, we’re not exactly making it easy for him to do so either. The world is in the midst of a climate crisis and his latest natural history series hopes to spread awareness with a conservationist message about its impact on the place we call home.


The series aims to do for climate change what Blue Planet II did for the war on plastic waste. And when the nation’s spiritual grandfather has a message to tell you, you know to sit down and listen! Four years in the making and made possible by more than 1,500 people, Seven Worlds, One Planet showcases animals in their natural habitats across the seven continents.

Before you tune in, celebrate a lifetime of Attenborough’s achievements with our round-up of some of his most noteworthy contributions. Well, we don’t have enough space to list them all, you know…


He’s the father of natural history programming

Find Zoo Quest in Catch Up > Channels > BBC iPlayer

Attenborough first joined the BBC as a trainee in 1952. His 1954 series Zoo Quest combined live studio presentation with footage shot on location for the very first time. Viewers at home were wowed by shots of animals such as chimpanzees, pythons and birds of paradise in far-flung locations, driving a blue whale-size appetite for the format. Zoo Quest also marked the first time a Komodo dragon was caught on camera. Attenborough even brought animals he encountered during filming back to the UK so they could become part of London Zoo’s permanent collection.


He’s partly responsible for colour telly!

In 1965, while working as controller of BBC Two, Attenborough oversaw the first colour broadcasts in Europe, beating out German broadcasters by three weeks. He later commissioned the acclaimed series Civilisation, which allowed history, culture and science to shine on the small screen like never before. And as the BBC’s director of programmes in 1969, he helped further our cultural education yet again by commissioning Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Who knew?!


He encouraged us to clean up our act

Find Blue Planet II in Catch Up > Channels > BBC iPlayer

Blue Planet II’s final episode showed albatrosses feeding their chicks plastic, and it shook viewers to their core. Attenborough’s rallying message – “The future of all life now depends on us” – inspired people to act, and fast.


Research reveals that 88% of people who watched the programme have since changed their behaviour as a result, with half of these people saying they have “drastically changed” their behaviour. Added to this, a multitude of businesses pledged to use less plastic and discussions were sparked in parliament, resulting in even greater public awareness.


He lets nature run its course (most of the time)

Find Dynasties in Catch Up > Channels > BBC iPlayer

Attenborough and the teams he works with are generally against interfering with the natural order of things. For example, if an animal is going to be killed and eaten, it is not the film-makers’ job to intervene – no matter how cute or fluffy the critter. But when a group of emperor penguins became hopelessly stuck in a ravine during the filming of Dynasties, the film crew decided to dig a trench to enable them to escape. Executive producer Mike Gunton said Attenborough told him he “would have done the same”.


He warned us about climate change decades ago… and is still warning us about it today

David Attenborough addresses the crowd at Glastonbury Festival 2019

At this year’s Glastonbury Festival, Attenborough introduced a four-minute teaser of the show, saying: “We will see how life developed on each continent and so gave rise to the extraordinary and wonderful diversity we know today. And we will see why this precious diversity is being lost.” Seven Worlds, One Planet, which marks the first time the BBC Natural History Unit has explored every continent in a single TV series, achieves this remarkable feat through a dazzling blend of cutting-edge filming techniques and urgent, powerful commentary.


Seven Worlds, One Planet

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Image credit: Seven Worlds One Planet © BBC Studios – Photographer: Chadden Hunter