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a legend

somebody and the head of the department wrote a note to the producer of that programme saying, ‘Young Attenborough is quite intelligent and so on, but he shouldn’t be used because of the size of his teeth’.”

Attenborough only discovered the note years later when, as controller of programmes, he was asked to make a speech for the retiring head of department. “As was the custom at the BBC, you received the personal file of the person retiring and you would go through it to see if you could find something indelicate that you could use in their goodbye speech. I discovered my name and thought ‘hello?’ and that was when I read this note about the size of my teeth. So that’s how I know, otherwise it would have remained locked within the secrets of the corporation!”

Over the the last six decades, the transformation of TV has been “total” and he’s certain there’s more change to come. “When I joined television, everything was live, it all came from two tiny studios in Alexandra Palace in North London, in black and white and rather smudgy. Particularly, if you lived on the edge of the transmission, it was always breaking down. It was completely unrecognisable from what it is now. “It was new. You could only see it in London, it wasn’t even nationwide. And now we have high definition colour, three-dimensional. It’s very dangerous to say we’ve come to the end of television, because it’s difficult to know what else we might do. There’s a possibility you might put smellies or something into it, but I suspect that the great changes that are going to take place in the next decade or so, won’t be to do with the quality of the picture, it’ll be to do with the availability of the picture and people will be able to see things in places, ways and detail which we have never thought of. A programme like this will be seen around the world. That’s a fantastic development and how it’s going to change the human mind, our views of one another and the planet we live on, it could be very profound.”

To mark his anniversary, the BBC will be showing Attenborough, 60 Years In The Wild in October, which sees him return to Borneo where he first filmed with an orangutan for the 1956 documentary Zoo Quest. He admits he found the country had changed. “The odd thing about making natural history films is that you tend to go where natural history is best and in a way, I’m likely to get a rather rosier view of how things are because there’s no point in going to where they’ve felled vast swathes of forest and put an oil palm plantation, if you’re going to look for orangutan. “But this time, I deliberately tried to take a wider view of things and of course, it can be very depressing. But it would be irresponsible and terrible if you turned your back on that and deluded yourself into thinking that human beings had not altered the world. They’ve devastated great parts of it and people should be aware of that.”

26 Life Begins

I can’t leave without asking whether the great naturalist is himself green-fingered. “No,” he says, with a chuckle. “Anything green is likely to wither and die under my fingers within a very short period. But Nepenthes attenboroughii and I have a close relationship.”

And to what does he attribute his longevity as a broadcaster? Smiling, he adds: “Clean living, almost entirely”.

Facts about - Sir David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough was born in Isleworth, London on May 8, 1926, but grew up on the campus of University College, Leicester, where his father was principal.

He is the middle of three sons, his eldest brother being Oscar winning director and actor Richard.

In 1950, he married Jane Elizabeth Ebsworth Oriel, who passed away in 1997. They had two children, Robert and Susan.

He says there are still certain wildlife events he hasn’t seen: “There are some displays of humming birds which I’ve only seen on film. Because I also edit films and write commentaries, I spend hours and hours looking at a humming bird display and it so gets in my mind, I think I’ve actually seen it.”

Photos: PA Photo/Sky/Atlantic Productions

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