© 2002 HUW CORDEY
A ttenborough: Oh, yeah. Almost every series I
have done there has been some new bit of kit which
nobody has been able to use or exploit before. The
heli-gimbal [a devise to stabilize cameras on helicop-ters], which was used for Planet Earth—the first time
it was used on a documentary—was simply mind-blowing. The trouble with helicopters normally is
you can’t get close-ups. If you go down to get a close-up, the noise of the helicopter and the down-draft
from the rotor scare the bejesus out of the animals
and the vegetation is flattened. It doesn’t work.
have elected to build our cities. And if we go on the
way we are going on, the sea level is going to rise by
several yards. A great deal of Manhattan will be
underwater. But I’m all right because I live on a hill.
CC: There seems to be more interest in what you do
now than at any other point? Why?
Attenborough: Well, it could be, as the United
Nations has revealed, over 50 per cent of the population of the world is now urbanized and increasingly
divorced of the natural world of which we are a part.
That may be one of the reasons. The other reason is
many other television networks had not given
the chance for their viewers to become interested
in these sorts of programs until within the last
For more than 50 years
Sir David Attenborough
has brought the wonders
of the natural world to
a captivated audience.
These photos are just a
sample of the wonders
The marvelous thing about the heli-gimbal is
that it got over that problem and you could film the
close-up of a wolf as it ran across the tundra from
several hundred feet in the air. The wolf was totally
unaware that you were there. So you were able to see
the tactics of a wolf hunting pack, how they
actually understand one another in order to chase a
particular caribou, the teamwork involved.
Of course, when it came to landscape, the pictures were breathtaking.
It’s also interesting to
note that before working
for the BBC, he reached
the rank of lieutenant
in the Royal Navy. And,
as controller of BBC2,
Attenborough was the
one to give the green
light to Monty Python’s
CC: Has your work made a difference in people’s lives?
Attenborough: Well, I don’t know about mine,
but I think natural-history filmmaking in television
has made a difference in people’s lives, yes. I think it
is probably true that people in North America and
England are better informed about the animals that
inhabit this world than ever before in history.
Ordinary people who are not supposed to be interested in biological sciences will ask me the most
extraordinary and sophisticated questions: “What is
this about altruism?” “Is it really true that animals will
do this without reward?” Advanced stuff, and they
know what things are because they have seen it on
film. The population of the world is better informed
than it has ever been, even though it is more cut off
from the natural world than it has ever been.
CC: Who is someone doing nature work now that
we should know about?
Attenborough: One of the greatest naturalists
alive today is E.O. Wilson. His great field of expertise
is ants. He is the biggest authority in the world on
ants. But he’s also written hugely on the natural
world and the need for conservation.
CC: Life on Earth, first broadcast in 1979, turned
out to be the first of a trilogy. Did the series change
Attenborough: I don’t know if it changed my life,
but it certainly gave me a sufficient success to mine
that particular lode for 10 years.
CC: Why do you think society should change when it
comes to our attitude on global warming?
Attenborough: Because we are going to be in
very, very serious trouble all over the world if we
don’t, if only because of the rise in sea level. Where
are the fertile lands of this earth where we grow our
food? Only a small proportion of the dry land is suitable for doing it. A great deal of dry land is mountains, deserts and swamps. The places where there is
fertile soil are quite small. Mostly they are low-lying
and coastal, and it’s on just those places where we
CC: You are currently working on an upcoming series
on amphibians and reptiles called Life in Cold Blood.
Attenborough: When we have done that, we will
have a series about every major group of living creatures on the surface of the earth. Not in the sea, but
on the surface. We will put all of those together to
form 40 hours of television, which will be a survey of
all life on earth. We will probably market that with a
series of discs which are sequential in number with
an index where you will be able to look up any ani-
mal or plant that was shown in the series. It will go
to market in a year to 18 months.
The documentary Planet Earth
is available on DVD in most
Costco warehouses. A variety
of Planet Earth board, activity,
colouring and sticker books will
also be available in most Costco
Richard Deitsch is a New York City-based writer. warehouses.
CC: So what’s your best travelling tip for us?
Attenborough: Simple. Travel light. C