Issue date: 19 November 2003

ISSUE DATE: 19/11/03

The University of the West of England will award the honorary degree of Doctor of Science to Sir David Frederick Attenborough CH CVO CBE FRS on Thursday 20 November. The honorary degree will be conferred at the Award Ceremony of the Faculty of Applied Sciences at 11.30am at Bristol Cathedral.

David Attenborough was born in London in May 1926 and educated at Wyggeston Grammar School, Leicester and Clare College Cambridge where he took an honours degree in natural sciences. After university, he spent two years in the Royal Navy as a national serviceman and then worked in an editorial role with an educational publisher.

The broadcasting career of David Attenborough began in 1952 when he joined BBC Television as a trainee and spans over fifty years. He became a producer working at the Alexandra Palace studios in north London. His work there involved producing live studio programmes covering a whole range of non-fiction subjects including: children’s features; cooking; religious topics; party political broadcasts; ballet; knitting; short stories; and, archaeological quizzes. In 1954 he launched the first of his famous Zoo Quest series.

After ten years of heading and making programmes for the BBC’s Travel and Exploration Unit, David Attenborough resigned in order to take a postgraduate degree in social anthropology at the London School of Economics. In 1965, he was invited to return to the BBC and became Controller of BBC2, which was then less than a year old. Four years later, during which the network had become the first in Europe to transmit in colour, he was put in overall charge of both the BBC’s television channels as Director of Programmes.

David Attenborough resigned as the BBC’s Director of Programmes in 1973 to become a programme maker once more. First came Eastwards with Attenborough, a natural history series set in south-east Asia and then The Tribal Eye which examined sculpture, weaving, metal casting, and other artistic activities in tribal societies around the world. He also began narrating Wildlife on One, a series that has since broadcast well over a hundred and fifty editions. In 1976 he started work on Life on Earth. That project, which occupied him for three years, told the story of the evolution of animal life, in thirteen fifty-minute instalments. It was the most ambitious series ever produced by the BBC Natural History Unit and received universal acclaim from press and public. It was shown all over the world and gained many awards. The twelve-part series The Living Planet surveyed the natural world from an ecological point of view and proved a worthy successor to Life on Earth.

In 1990, David Attenborough completed the third of his Life trilogy which dealt with animal behaviour and was entitled The Trials of Life. Interspersed between these major series, he also wrote and presented several smaller ones: The First Eden; Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives; Life in the Freezer; and, in 2000, The State of the Planet, an assessment of the world’s ecological health. He has also written and presented such memorable single programmes as: The Lost Gods of Easter Island; Attenborough in Paradise; Bowerbirds, The Art of Seduction; and Song of the Earth, which examined the musical achievements of birds, whales and gibbons.

David Attenborough’s sequence of series examining in detail particular sections of the living world began in 1995. First came The Private Life of Plants. This was followed by The Life of Birds in 1998 and The Life of Mammals in 2002. Currently he is working on Life in the Undergrowth which will survey terrestrial invertebrates from spiders and scorpions to dragonflies, butterflies and termites. Each of those major series has been accompanied by a book and in 2002 he also published his broadcasting memoirs under the title Life on Air.

David Attenborough has served as a Trustee of the British Museum, the Science Museum, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and the World Wildlife Fund International, and as President of the Royal Society for Nature Conservation. He was knighted for his services to broadcasting in 1985 and in 1996 he was appointed a Companion of Honour. He has received many other awards and distinctions and is to be awarded the Royal Society’s Michael Faraday Prize for 2003.

Now a widower, Sir David has a son who is an anthropologist and a daughter who is an educational consultant. His leisure-time interests include music, tribal art, contemporary ceramics and natural history.

The Honorary Degree is awarded in recognition of Sir David Attenborough’s promotion of the public understanding of science and of his links with, and contribution to, Bristol, including his work with at-Bristol and the BBC’s Bristol-based Natural History Unit.


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