David Attenborough: Changing the world one show at a time

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The BBC has announced the second part of Blue Planet is coming soon and the series will see the return of Sir David Attenborough once again. This is not surprising given the ratings that Plane Earth II had. Attenborough’s sequel to Planet Earth was the most watched natural history show in 15 years according to The Guardian. It surpassed shows like the X Factor and this success makes you wonder: How does David Attenborough makes his shows so popular and interesting?

Sir David Attenborough has been around for more than 60 years with his first natural show aired in 1954 Zooquest . Now at the age of 90 we saw him flying on a hot air balloon telling us the stories of sloths in love and bears scratching their backs, dancing around the woods. His voice changes even the most mundane aspects of animal life into intriguing, heart-wrenching stories that stay with us. This is the reason why Attenborough’s shows are so popular and loved; it is his way of narrating and letting us experience these stories for ourselves.

According to McIntyre, Scottish philosopher, ‘man is essentially an animal who tells stories, and this applies to his actions and his fictions.’ Hence, story telling is rooted in us and is essential to us. This does not apply only to fiction, movies, etc. but also to science. Science can be daunting but if put in the right way, as a story, it becomes easily approachable for everyone. This is paramount to understanding the success behind Attenborough’s shows. David Attenborough himself emphasizes this point. He says that ‘The best programs are like stories; they all have a narration in which you want to see what is next. And this works for a detective novel and for a science programme. Science is interesting because it raises a question and the viewer wants to see what is the sequence of facts that finally will take him to the answer, and this will take him to another question. But the search for a story line must not be taken to the extreme of distorting the truth.’

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In a recent video, we saw him creating these stories, spending hours in a recording studio, selection the right words. We witnessed how science becomes a story and then captures the audience. At the same time, the viewers do not only get involved with the narrative but also take in the facts because they are so accessible. This is not to say that his shows oversimplify the scientific parts, they just provide a metaphor that the everyday can understand and digest. We are given hard facts that are delivered to us in characters that overcome danger, we hold our breaths in suspense and while all of this happens, we also learn about the world around us. This is why his shows are so popular and have ratings of this kind: his story telling let us identify and see ourselves within the science in the wildlife.

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Attenborough’s enthusiasm does not only let us become part of the wildlife on screen but it also allows us to explore the complexities and problems that modern life brings to it. His shows are not just stories with a good rating. They are also a means of educating the viewers as to the dangers that face the wildlife nowadays. This is another reason for the popularity of these shows: they raise awareness and provoke action from us.

If Attenborough’s story lets us identify with an animal, in a sense we turn into it. When we hear that this animal is facing extinction, we, the viewers by instinct will be prompted to do something about it because we understand its story better having experienced it ourselves. Not surprisingly the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) says that ‘From his earliest productions, Sir David has raised awareness about the impact of human society on the natural world’. Indeed most of his shows end with an episode dedicated to the top of the food chain, us, the humans. He shows how we have developed, how we are very much alike so many animal species. However, the greatest emphasis falls on how humans impact the wildlife and how we can help save it.

Everyone knows that a lot of species are going extinct due to human intervention in the natural habitats of these animals. David Attenborough brings this to life in his shows and through his words he plants the idea of preservation. His way of narrating, his natural enthusiasm and the facts he presents to us do raise awareness. They prompt us to do something about the wildlife because we are part of it and through its destruction we also become endangered.

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There is so much that can be said about Sir David Attenborough and his work. In all of his shows, he brings his enthusiasm and lights a spark in us to care more and do more. His stories make us laugh and sometimes tear a bit. This happens because the stories are true and they are told by a man who really cares about his subject matter, the wildlife. That is why his natural shows are better known than many others. We, the audience, can see that he genuinely cares and enjoys what he does and this is a contagious feeling. So keep on watching, keep on learning and keep on doing more because as Sir David Attenborough says ‘the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.’

  • Written byGalina Miteva

    Galina is a recent graduate from Glasgow University with a double major in English Literature and Religion. A proper book junkie, when she is not buried in her books, she works, writes and spends time with her friends, her partner and their cat Chicken.


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