Walk In Sir David Attenborough's Footsteps, In London

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 23 months ago
Walk In Sir David Attenborough's Footsteps, In London
Sir David Attenborough at the Wild London festival after inaugrating the new Jubilee Pond in 2012. Photo: Michael Garnett

He's known for reporting from exotic and far-flung corners of the world, but Sir David Attenborough is a Londoner born and bred, calling the city his home since he was born in Isleworth in 1926. Today, he lives in Richmond.

But London's not just the place he calls home. The city has played a significant role in his career, too.

The BBC

The BBC is where it all started, and where Attenborough’s work largely remains.

He joined the BBC in 1952 as a trainee producer, working out of two small studios in Alexandra Palace. It wasn't long before a twist of fate kickstarted his (unintentional) presenting career.

At London Zoo in 1954, the then little-known producer teamed up with a reptile curator to create a new BBC programme discussing wildlife around the world. The programme was called Zoo Quest, and followed expeditions which retrieved animals from the wild to put into zoos.

For the first episode of Zoo Quest, the curator handled the animals. For the second episode, he fell ill so Attenborough was forced to step out from behind the camera and present. So began a career spanning six decades to date.

Zoo Quest ended in 1963, at Attenborough's own request: public opinion about capturing wild animals was changing, and it was no longer considered acceptable. But you can still see episodes (featuring a very young-looking, and dare we say it, inexperienced, Attenborough) on the BBC archive.

Attenborough presenting Zoo Quest to West Africa in 1955. Photo: BBC website

By 1965, Attenborough was controller of BBC2. By this time, BBC Television Centre at White City had opened as headquarters of BBC Television, with the exception of news programmes (which remained at Alexandra Palace until 1969). As controller, Attenborough oversaw the introduction of colour TV to Britain; the first colour signal was transmitted from Alexandra Palace in 1965.

Attenborough's career in television is still going strong today. In an interview in November 2015, at the age of 89, he said: "I’ll keep on doing this job, even if I have to get there in a wheelchair".

London Zoo

Zoo Quest wasn’t Attenborough’s first involvement with London Zoo. His first natural history programme, made in 1953, was a series called The Patterns of Animals. Creatures from London Zoo were brought into the studio to demonstrate the animal behaviours being discussed.

It was through this programme Attenborough met Jack Lester, the reptile curator who fell ill during filming of Zoo Quest, forcing Attenborough into the presenting arena.

Attenborough's links with the zoo didn't stop there. In 1998, he was named as an Honorary Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, the charity which runs London Zoo, and in 2004 he officially opened the zoo's new Komodo Dragons exhibit.

Natural History Museum

For someone so closely associated with the natural world, it's no surprise that Attenborough is also linked to the Natural History Museum.

In 1981, Attenborough presented The Ark At South Kensington, a BBC programme celebrating the museum's 100th anniversary by going behind the scenes.

Visitors to the Natural History Museum today can visit the Attenborough Studio, where film screenings and live events take place daily. Most recently, the museum ran a Great Barrier Reef virtual reality experience tying in with Attenborough's television series of the same name.

David Attenborough dives on the GBR in a Triton Submarine, which is being filmed by a virtual reality rig for a virtual reality experience at Natural History Museum. Photo: Atlantic Productions

The Royal Institution

In 1973, Attenborough stepped up to the podium at the Royal Institution to present that year's Christmas Lectures for young people. His topic was the language of animals. Videos of the lectures are available to watch on the Royal Institution channel, and although the picture quality isn't always perfect, that smooth voice is instantly recognisable.

In this video, filmed in 2011, Attenborough talks about the perils of working with animals, and how he almost pulled out of doing the lectures.

Richmond Park

Attenborough’s love for wildlife isn’t restricted to the plains of Africa or the depths of the ocean. He's a patron of the Friends of Richmond Park, and is regularly involved in events at the park.

In July 2015, Attenborough officially reopened Poets Corner, an area of the park overlooking Petersham Park, with a bench dedicated to 18th century Scottish poet James Thomson, best known for writing the words to Rule Britannia.

Attenborough has described the park as:

“a very special place; a national nature reserve, a site of special scientific interest and home to a wealth of wonderful wildlife from thousands of rare beetles and birds to over 1,100 veteran oak trees, some over 700 years old."

It's the sort of place that inspires young people to get interested in nature — in London's fascinating flora and fauna. And who knows — maybe even the place that could inspire the next Sir David.

Last Updated 30 September 2016