Monday, 19 March 2007

The Next David Attenborough

There has been talk in the media, and dinner table talk, of 'Who will be the 'next' David Attenborough?' It started when Sir David announced he was making his last TV series. But to me this is a preposterous proposition. It is actually quite impossible for anyone to replace Sir David. And I am not being sycophantic or hagiographic. It is simply impossible, as anyone who has read David's recent autobiography would realise. [see "Life on Air"].

For the last 10 years David has been largely known to the public as a TV presenter. But in actual fact he was considerably more than a presenter. Probably more than any other single living person, David is a TV professional, as well as being a first-rate naturalist and zoologist. It is his breadth and depth of knowledge of the world of TV that gives him his uniqueness. No one else still actively broadcasting has such an extensive experience, which ranges from going into the field with a camera crew to make the early Zoo Quest series, to being Director of BBC2 and launching colour TV. While David is always the first to acknowledge the contribution of the producers, script-writers, cameramen etc who make up his teams, the reality is that he not only could, but often had done, most of those jobs himself.

My first meeting with David was in 1978 when he returned from making the gorilla sequence for 'Life on Earth', and as a result of that meeting the Mountain Gorilla Project was launched, and has gone on to be a great conservation success. His support for that project, and many subsequent conservation activities has been significant. He put his name behind the launch of the World Land Trust in 1989, and subsequently as Patron of the Trust. His position as a figurehead is a constant source of inspiration to all out Interns and Trainees, as well as all the Staff and Trustees. It is this inspirational ability that is so important.

So let's forget the talk of the 'next David Attenborough', enjoy all his great films and books, and see what happens to wildlife films and TV in the future. One thing is for sure, it will never be the same again. And meanwhile David is continuing to inspire countless thousands of emerging conservationists all over the world.


  1. I can't see anyone paving as much as he has already, but we have a lot to grow from his work. I was chilled to read you worked with him on the "Life on Earth" series, one which has been in my heart since I was 10. I'm 29 now. I think today's documentary's have taken the unfortunate twist towards the illusion of extreme. I don't care about the most venomous snakes; however I do care about the habitat in which she thrives and see how she reacts to changes to her environment. This is where Sir David hits home every time. A true depiction of the orgainsmenvironment.

  2. I misread about you working with him on "Life on Earth"...

  3. No I didn't work in TV; at the time I was running the Fauna Preservation Society (now FFI), when David contacted me. I gathered together Gorilla experts Dr Sandy Harcourt and Kelly Stewart, and a few others, and we launched the Mountain Gorilla Project, after Brian Jackman, of the Sunday Times made a quick investigative visit to Rwanda.

    The MGP has, despite the political upheavals become a very successful long-term project. And as an interesting twist of fate, one of the first field managers of the project was Roger Wilson, who is now working as a consultant for the World Land Trust on its reforestation projects.

  4. I think it should be an unknown. How can anybody already in the public eye fill his shoes? Stephen Fry is moving into the frame i fear with all the travel docs he is doing. Please not him. I like him but he is a bit pompus and intellectual for me.

  5. I think Karl is missing the point I was trying to make. Sir David is not just a TV Presenter. He is far, far more than that. He is one of the greatest innovators in TV. Read his biography, read between the lines of his innate modesty and you will see what I mean. The man who introduced colour TV into Britain, who became one of the most important TV administrators, who discovered a lost artifact from Captain Cooke’s voyage, wrote inspirational books etc etc. And most important of all, inspired millions of people to value the wildlife of the world. TV has now changed beyond recognition, and no single channel will ever attract the audiences that BBC 2 did back in the 1970s. Forget a replacement. It is good to have good presenters on TV. But they need to be as knowledgeable about biology as David. And these certainly exist. Mark Carwardine and Chris Packham to name but two. But neither would aspire to become Sir David ‘replacements’.