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Life On Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster [Hardcover]

David Attenborough
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)

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Book Description

19 Sep 2002
Sir David Attenborough is Britain's best-known natural history film-maker. His career as a naturalist and broadcaster has spanned nearly five decades and there are very few places on the globe that he has not visited. In this volume of memoirs David tells stories of the people and animals he has met and the places that he has visited. Over the last 25 years 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), The Private Life of Plants (1995) and Life of Birds (1998). Sir David is 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.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: BBC Books; 1st edition (19 Sep 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0563485035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0563485032
  • ASIN: 0563534613
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.2 x 4.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 326,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sir David Attenborough is Britain's best-known natural history film-maker. His career as a naturalist and broadcaster has spanned nearly six decades.

His first job - after Cambridge University and two years in the Royal Navy - was at a London publishing house. Then in 1952 he joined the BBC 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, and 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), The Private Life of Plants (1995), Life of Birds (1998), The Blue Planet (2001), Life of Mammals (2002), Planet Earth (2006) and Life in Cold Blood (2008).

Sir David was knighted in 1985, is an Honorary Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and a Fellow of the Royal Society, and stands at the forefront of issues concerning the planet's declining species and conservation

Product Description

Amazon Review

David Attenborough hardly needs any introduction; his voice has accompanied so many of the best natural history programs that have graced our televisions over several decades. Life On Air, his autobiography, tells the story of how he has managed to professionalise his schoolboy interests in such a remarkably successful way.

Attenborough's Life On Air began in 1950, having taken a degree in Natural Sciences in the University of Cambridge, done National Service in the Navy, got married, done a year as an editor with an educational publisher, had a son and then answered a BBC recruiting ad in the Times. Turned down for BBC Radio, he was offered a traineeship in BBC TV which was pioneering the medium in Britain and he has never looked back. The rest is TV history and you can read Sir David's personal view of it all in his engaging and highly entertaining book.

This is no boring story of the rise and rise of a media mogul in the smoke-filled rooms of Ally Pally and Lime Grove. Having served his apprenticeship producing programmes like Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? and Song Hunter with the famous American folk singer and song collector Alan Lomax, he managed to escape from the confines of overlit studios into the natural world. Zoo Quest began in 1954 with an animal collecting trip to Sierra Leone and David Attenborough had found his metier. Since then he has managed to bring the wonders of the natural world into millions of living rooms around the world and to reach general audiences without patronising them, without any spurious antics, silly voices or dumbing down. His animal and plant subjects are the stars, Attenborough is the master of ceremonies who introduces the acts for our wonder and amazement. But his scope extends way beyond the birds and the bees.

In the 1960s, it was suggested that he took up an administrative post--"after all, you won't want to be gallivanting around the world when you are 50". Fortunately, he did not abandon gallivanting for admin but went freelance, studied anthropology and helped extend our view of native peoples and sympathies for their life styles. He went on to become responsible for coming up with famous BBC TV series such as Kenneth Clark's incredibly successful Civilisation series, followed by Bronowski's The Ascent of Man. Inevitably, he did become one of the BBC suits but one that wore a camouflage jacket.

What is remarkable is that Attenborough has managed to do it for so long without really changing his own style too much. He has not had to because the technology has changed and so he has constantly been able to give new views and insights into the details of life on Earth. Writing pretty much as he speaks, it is easy to hear his voice, dry sense of humour and generosity coming through all the time. Do not expect to read personal details, navel-gazing or malicious gossip--that is not his style. The only personal note comes at the end with the death of his wife in 1997. Over 100 photos associated with the huge range of programmes he has been intimately involved with decorate Life On Air, a fascinating personal story of our times. He says that he knows of "no pleasure deeper than that which comes from contemplating the natural world and trying to understand it"; he certainly manages to convey that in Life On Air. --Douglas Palmer


In this volume of memoirs Britain's best-known natural history film-maker tells the stories of the people and the animals he has met and the places that he has visited.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Inspirational Read 22 Mar 2004
There are essentially two sides to David Attenborough's autobiography. Firstly it is a superb collection of anecdotes concerning a career that saw the author trek across most of the globe to film some of the greatest natural history series ever produced, as well as work with all manner of people from animal collectors, to conservationists, to the queen. The juxtaposition chapters devoted to natural history, with those describing life at the BBC and David Attenborough's various duties, help keep the pages turning and add many wonderful comic moments, as well as giving a rare insight into the early days of the BBC.
The book is quite simply, a hugely enjoyable read, there are no prolonged accounts of rocky relationships, or attempts to qualify controversial decisions, as is the case in so many biographies. Travel and the production of quality wildlife programs, have been David Attenborough's goals, and their achievement has given him many wonderful experiences that he simply wants to share with his readers.
There is however, a second side to the book. Though David Attenborough's manner is gentle, jovial and indeed very humble, there are serious issues discussed in the book. Descriptions of cults that retaliate against, or subvert western intervention, as well as tales of meeting people from places such as the Falklands, are just a couple of examples where the reader is introduced to emotional situations. What is key is that David Attenborough tells events as he sees them, and clearly endeavours to give an open and fair account of peoples opinions.
The fact that David Attenborough was probably one of the last westerners to see many cultures almost untouched, or, equally, one of the first to see the results of western intervention, puts the book almost beyond value. The book is truly global in scope and offers a unique and inspiring view of the world as it was, and as it is.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing, An interesting life 19 Feb 2003
It's remarkable to think that Sir David has spent 50 years in Television. It was also refreshing to read an autobiography with no swear words or obscenities. I think many so-called celebrities would learn that you don't need to criticise or publicly offend others to sell a book.
Sir David's an ambassador not only to the Wildlife he so excellently narrates but also to his pioneering behind the scenes work at the BBC.
Overall I found this book a must read for all those David Attenborough fans and for those interested in how programmes are made and how the technology has changed over the years.
The question we all want answering is.... What will Sir David do next?
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true horn of plenty 17 Mar 2004
I have just read Life on Air, and I think I have developed more than a little crush on a man more than 40 years my senior... Until I saw the portrait-programme with Michael Palin, I never knew what charming and witty raconteur David Attenborough is. Being Norwegian I knew him only as an enthusiastic oddball from wildlife programmes, with wind in his hair and mud on his shirt.
This book is brimful not only of anecdotal charm and witty perceptions, but also offers interesting insights into the development of the BBC as an organisation, and of television broadcasting as a medium, with both technical and editorial challenges. I only wish he had chosen to tell more of his personal life, but as the title indicates, it focusses on the bit of his life that has been on air. Fair enough. Modest without being coy, he readily acknowledges the talents, skills and hard work of those around him, but is nevertheless beaming with pride over his own accomplishments as well. It's refreshing! The book is seeping with both boyish curiosity as well as respect and awe for his subjects, be they animal, mineral or vegetable. Or human, for that matter. But throughout it all, the most remarkable aspect of the book is the radiating narrator. Yes, I am infatuated. A truly, warmly, deeply recommended read!
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life on Air - an insight into the Beeb 25 Oct 2002
As well as giving us an idea of what happens inside the Beeb, David Attenborough also takes us on a time travel in the development of technology used to film wildlife. His story telling skills are able to keep us interested in all his anecdotes - some are really brilliant !! Like the April fool's one or the change over from black and white to colour television, and so on... You can even hear him telling the stories since he wrote the book in his own words.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly absorbing 13 Oct 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I don't normally go in for celebrity (auto)biographies, but I picked this up on holiday as it was the best thing on offer, and found it was surprisingly absorbing! There may've been a more recent edition than the one I read, which terminated just after his wife's death, and so misses some of Attenborough's more recent work, such as the Blue Planet series, but covers all of his television career up to that point.
Despite being an autobiography, Attenborough does his best not just to describe what many people will have seen of his work on television. There are many amusing anecdotes to be found, and the tales of his adventurers around the world really are quite special, since so much his changed in the intervening years (indeed his experience of Komodo Island before and after is one perfect example). There's also quite an insight to be had into the workings of the BBC, and Attenborough's supporting stance is quite plain (one particular encounter he had with the chairman of ITV springs to mind).
All in all, a mixed bag. It suffers all the pitfalls common to autobiographical works, in my opinion, but his travels and experiences have been interesting enough to warrant it worth the read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Excellent book with so much background to his many TV series and time at the BBC. The anecdotes about his various travels, particularly Zoo Quest, are so enlightening. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Miki
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 17 days ago by olly
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my first memories of early television is of ...
One of my first memories of early television is of David Attenborough's knees, in black and white in those days. Read more
Published 1 month ago by PGTips
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read !
A fascinating story of a great man and a great period in broadcasting.
I recommend this book to all nature lovers.
Published 3 months ago by brian atkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Attenborough at his best
It was bought as a present for an 88 year old. She was delighted, most enjoyable were her words.

Bill R
Published 3 months ago by Billy
5.0 out of 5 stars Even Better Than Expected
This book is even that you'd expect it to be, after all it would be highly unlikely David Attenborough would write a poor autobiography. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Nico
5.0 out of 5 stars A most interesting read
I really enjoyed this book and it was so interesting to read how Mr Attenborough got into television and also be reminded of how animals were collected in the past.
Published 7 months ago by the trout
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly extraordinary, delicately written.
I have just finished reading this book.

David Attenboroughs achievments and contributions to our knowledge of the natural world is truly extraordinary. Read more
Published 8 months ago by JackB
5.0 out of 5 stars Sir David Attenborough
I listen to it while cooking, ironing, cleaning, going to bed.. very interesting, funny stories and that voice... love it
Published 10 months ago by Dodi
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally Brilliant
This is a brilliant, insightful biography of one of the most recognised people in the UK. It focuses on his work life with only brief mentions of his home life but it made me... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Rachel
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