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By Kate Smith
7th May 2016

Sir David Attenborough has been broadcasting for over 60 years. For his 90th birthday, we look back on what has made him the most successful and well-known naturalist in the world.

Look anywhere online this week and you’d be hard-pressed not to see some reference to Sir David’s birthday tomorrow. The BBC’s Earth Youtube channel has released a series of light-hearted tributes in anticipation of the big day. You can find two of the best below.

Sir David’s career in television spans almost as long as his career in naturalism, which began with a science degree from Cambridge. He was a member of the BBC from the very beginning of their TV broadcasts. Interviews with him and his late brother Sir Richard Attenborough (‘Jurassic Park’) contain tales of a boy obsessed with the natural world. Luckily for us (and science teachers everywhere) Sir David managed to turn that obsession into the most accomplished series of documentaries on nature ever made. With the might of the BBC behind him, Sir David and his team wrote, produced, and presented the ‘Life’ Series, which includes ‘Life on Earth,’ ‘Trials of Life’ and ‘First Life’, among many others. With and without the BBC he also produced many other documentaries, and has also written books and appeared in many various other projects. 2002’s autobiography ‘Life on Air’ is still one of the most interesting and informative books I have ever read, and I thoroughly recommend the accompanying doco. The sheer number of Attenborough’s projects is staggering…

Which is why when speaking about his work the other day to my Year 7 science class, I just about fainted when not one of my students knew who he was. I’ve since made a vow to fix that. Another teacher friend of mine, when playing an Attenborough film to her students, will not tolerate speaking during his narration. She will pause the film and say, “Shhh, David is speaking.” Attenborough has something of a cult following among science teachers. We’re big fans.

With his messy hair and rumpled appearance, it should be surprising that Attenborough’s style of presenting is one of the most imitated and parodied ever. Any reference is always with affection, so he’s not afraid to sprinkle that distinctive voice across current events or pop culture. Who didn’t love his narration of Adele’s ‘Hello’? Or the curling video from the last Winter Olympics? Attenborough’s sense of humour is one of the reasons he’s so loved.
Sir David’s career in television spans almost as long as his career in naturalism, which began with a science degree from Cambridge.

Sir David is the recipient of over 30 awards, including a knighthood (obviously) in 1985 and a BAFTA Fellowship. He’s not one to rest on his laurels, either. He’s still working, not only continuing to produce excellent nature docos such as the recently announced ‘Planet Earth II’ (starting production this year) but also using his influence in humanitarian projects. Barack Obama even interviewed Attenborough in 2015 to discuss the future of the planet. Not many other broadcasters can claim that kind of authority.

There’s a very simple reason that Sir David Attenborough is so popular. It’s not his enormous body of work, or even the quality of the work (though that’s certainly important). It’s a little to do with his affable nature, his everyman appearance, and that he’s just plain likeable. But mostly it’s his infectious and boundless enthusiasm for his work and the natural world that demands universal admiration and respect. There’s not a single person who I can think of who will ever fill his shoes, and that brings with it a tinge of sadness. He is 90, after all.

Since the 1980s, Attenborough has had several species named after him, which is a fair honour in itself. However, you may have heard that the naming rights to a multi-million Pound UK research vessel were opened to public suggestion earlier this year, and that the most popular entry was Boaty McBoatface. I thought that was awesome enough, but yesterday news broke that while the ship itself will not be named that (that particular honour goes to one of its subs) - the official name will be the RRS Sir David Attenborough. It’s rather fitting, don’t you think?

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