Sir David Attenborough

Sir David AttenboroughBiography:

David Attenborough is Britain’s best-known natural history film-maker. His career as a naturalist and broadcaster has spanned five decades and there are very few places on the globe that he has not visited.

Sir David joined the BBC in 1952, as a trainee producer, and it was while working on the Zoo Quest series (1954-64) that he had his first opportunity to undertake expeditions to remote parts of the globe to capture intimate footage of rare wildlife in its natural habitat.

He was Controller of BBC2 (1965-68), during which time he introduced colour television to Britain, then Director of Programmes for the BBC (1969-1972). However in 1973 he abandoned administration altogether to return to documentary-making and writing.

He has established himself as the world’s leading natural history programme maker with several landmark BBC series, including Life on Earth (1979), The Living Planet (1984), The Trials of Life (1990), Life in the Freezer (1993), The Private Life of Plants (1995), The Life of Birds (1998), The Life of Mammals (2002), Life in the Undergrowth (2005) and Life in Cold Blood (2008).

Alongside the “Life” series, David narrated every episode of Wildlife on One, a BBC One wildlife series which ran for nearly more than 250 episodes between 1977 and 2005. At its peak, it drew a weekly audience of eight to ten million, and the 1987 episode “Meerkats United” was voted the best wildlife documentary of all time by BBC viewers. He has also narrated over 50 episodes of Natural World, BBC Two’s flagship wildlife series. (Its forerunner, The World About Us, was created by Attenborough in 1969, as a vehicle for colour television.) In 1997, he narrated the BBC Wildlife Specials, each focussing on a charismatic species, and screened to mark the Natural History Unit’s 40th anniversary.

As a writer and narrator, he has continued to collaborate with the BBC Natural History Unit into the new millennium. He narrated The Blue Planet (2001), the Unit’s first comprehensive series on marine life. The same team reunited for Planet Earth (2006), the biggest nature documentary ever made for television, and the first BBC wildlife series to be shot in high definition. In 2009, Attenborough wrote and narrated Life, a ten-part series focussing on extraordinary animal behaviour, and narrated Nature’s Great Events, which showed how seasonal changes trigger major natural spectacles.

By the turn of the millennium, Attenborough’s authored documentaries were adopting a more overtly environmentalist stance. In State of the Planet (2000), he used the latest scientific evidence and interviews with leading scientists and conservationists to assess the impact of man’s activities on the natural world. He later turned to the issues of global warming (The Truth about Climate Change, 2006) and human population growth (How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?, 2009). He also contributed a programme which highlighted the plight of endangered species to the BBC’s Saving Planet Earth project in 2007, the 50th anniversary of the Natural History Unit.

Attenborough continues to work into his ninth decade, and is currently involved in a number of projects: He wrote and presented Frozen Planet, a major series for BBC One which examines the impact of a warming climate on the people and wildlife of the polar regions. He has also recently completed two projects for BBC Two. Madagascar (which first aired weekly between the 9th to 23rd February 2011) a three-part series giving an overview of Madagascar’s unique wildlife. The accompanying documentary Attenborough and the Giant Egg (which aired on the 2nd of March 2011) features the elephant bird egg which Attenborough discovered on his first filming expedition to the island in the 1960s.

The importance of Sir David Attenborough’s contribution to wildlife film making is beyond doubt as his huge catalogue of programmes have been seen by millions of people worldwide and stirred up massive interest in the natural world. His contribution to conservation film is widely regarded as one of the best due to his authoritative presence and well-respected command of the issues pertaining to important environmental concerns… His long-time commitment to wildlife film and commentary on environmental issues have proven him to be a filmmaker that truly has made a very significant difference!

Other Achievements:

From 1983, Attenborough worked on two environmentally themed musicals with the WWF and writers Peter Rose and Anne Conlon. Yanomamo was the first, about the Amazon rainforest, and the second, Ocean World, premiered at the Royal Festival Hall in 1991.

They were both narrated by Attenborough on their national tour, and recorded on to audio cassette. Ocean World was also filmed for Channel 4 and later released.
In 1982, he received the Panda Award for Outstanding Achievement at Wildscreen.

He serves on the advisory board of BBC Wildlife magazine; is Wildscreen Patron; a Trustee of the British Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; an Honorary Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge; a Fellow of the Royal Society and was knighted in 1985.

By Jason Peters

Maji ni Uhai – Water is Life


The Maji ni Uhai (Water is Life) project was focused upon the Great Ruaha River in Tanzania. This major river used to run all year round, from central Tanzania, to the coast. It goes through the heart of the Ruaha National Park, the second largest in Tanzania, whilst also providing almost half of the country’s electricity at the hydroelectric dams downstream from Iringa. However, problems in the catchment for this river have meant that despite no real decrease in rainfall, the river now dries up completely for most of the year. The surrounding area, the industries, the people, the National Park and the environment are all suffering as a result of this. In the surrounding area there are many signs of desertification, drought and environmental degradation.

The main 45 minute film, made in collaboration with Friends of Ruaha Society (FORS) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), was completed in November 2004. It was aimed at primary school children in the Ruaha area and is presented in Kiswahili but with English subtitles. Emphasis was placed on children’s perspective of water, as mostly it is the children who work with water in the local environment. The film is music rich, all written and performed for the film by local school children. The entries from a local drawing competition about the importance of water were also used, as well as a short animation. The film was narrated by a well known and respected Tanzanian presenter called Godwin Gondwe.

African Sunset

Overview of the main film:

Introduction: the presenter introduces the film, explaining what it is about and what is going to be covered Talking about water: children discuss the importance of water (early primary syllabus).

The Water Cycle: a mixture of archive footage, animation and local examples (later primary syllabus).
The Great Ruaha River: putting the water cycle into context locally through the eyes of a local child.
The large scale problems: using the problems to reinforce educational goals about the water cycle – looking at what happens when you disrupt aspects of the natural water cycle.

The local problems: children discuss the local effects and causes of water shortage Children’s solutions: positive ideas that young people are putting into practise to address these issues
Summing up: a positive message from the presenter and children, with music written especially for the film.

In addition to this, a number of other versions have been produced. Some look at
particular topics within the larger film, for example: trees’ importance in the water cycle, whilst others have been designed to provide variety for FORS when it comes to a screening, looking at animals or “a view from the air”. Another has been produced as a short film for the delegates and decision-makers who attend the up-coming conferences focussed on the problems surrounding the Ruaha.

Other versions

Trees in the Water Cycle: Asks and tackles the question “Why are trees important?”
The Ruaha Problem: Aimed at decision makers. Short and to the point. Also giving visual evidence of current situation.
The Great Ruaha River: As above but aimed at general audience, with more background.
Talking about Water: Children talking about water. Lower primary syllabus.
The Water Cycle: Upper primary syllabus material.
Animals of Ruaha: Fun film looking at some of the animals.
Flying over the Ruaha: Fun film going on a plane journey over the Ruaha
Website clips: for the FORS website (
Music Video: One of the songs recorded for the film made into a music video.
Evidence footage: Footage from the flights made available to WCS

Positive results:

The Brock Initiative’s primary aims were to:

  • Undertake a pilot project in Tanzania
  • Work in conjunction with a local NGO, ensuring the films’ local relevance, active use and ability to assess results.
  • Receive film contributions from both professional and non-professional sources, and encourage others to see the value in it.
  • Promote the practical and cost effectiveness of using film as a conservation tool.
  • Encourage and facilitate similar projects to be undertaken by others in the future.
  • To produce a film that would have real practical value as a conservation tool.

FORS’ primary aims for the film were four fold:

  • Reduce water wastage in these local communities.
  • Educate the local community about the major problems surrounding the Great Ruaha River.
  • Increase the impact of their environmental education.
  • Using practical examples, to inspire children and the local community to actively care and take responsibility for their local environment and water resources.

The Tanzanian Ministry & Institute of Education’s broader aims were to:

  • Enrich the diversity of teaching methods and resources used by teachers.
  • Encourage teaching of the new environmental syllabus in primary schools

Tanzania “World Water Day” Premieres. The premiere showings of the Brock Initiative’s “Maji Ni Uhai (Water is Life)” took place in Tanzania last month to coincide with World Water Day. A local mobile screening unit was hired to visit all the villages and schools involved and before the film, environmental teachers led a debate on the importance of water. Every school had also prepared an activity to mark the celebration. Activities included: class visits to a water sources, cleaning of taps, marching through the villages holding posters with different water messages and singing water conservation songs they had written.

After the film showing, every school was able to sing the songs from the film. It left practical challenges for the students and local community, and the feedback was that “film was a perfect tool for spreading conservation education to the community.” When students were asked if they would be able to pass an exam question on water, they responded that they would be “unable to fail”.

The film was shown widely in schools around Ruaha National Park and on Tanzanian TV channels. It is still shown to this day and the song written by a local school still gets played on the radio (Last heard on World Water Day 2010). By 2008, the damaging agriculture in the Usanga wetlands had been stopped by the Tanzanian government and the Ruaha National Park was extended to include this vital catchment area!

“The film evaluations which we have carried out have clearly demonstrated that people are affected in the short time (3-months) by films. It is our opinion that films alone will not change behaviour permanently, but films and their messages will be remembered for a long time (especially where rural people do not see TV) and, if repeatedly reinforced by other education methods (which might be ineffective on their own), then films have been a highly effective partner in conservation education and delivery.” Dr David Harper, CBCF


Project Co-ordinator: Ben Please – The Brock Initiative
Maji ni Uhai – Water is Life (music video):
Richard Brock
The Brock Initiative
Dumpers Cottage, Chew Magna, Bristol BS40 8SS, UK
Telephone: +44(0)1275 333187

Non-Profit DVD Availability:

Contact Richard Brock should you wish to use this film or any other footage from the Brock Initiative Film Resource Library:

By Jason Peters