David Attenborough 2011


David Frederick Attenborough was born on 8 May 1926 in Isleworth, London, UK, to Frederick and Mary.  He was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Leicester before studying at Clare College, Cambridge, where in 1947 he graduated with a degree in Natural Science. He spent two years in the Royal Navy in North Wales before taking employ as an editor of children’s science textbooks.

In 1952 he began his long and illustrious career at the BBC working his way up as writer, editor, director and producer and also introducing colour television in the United Kingdom. His contribution hardly needs introduction - his often-whispering voice forms the backdrop for so many of the best natural history programmes used to teach and entertain our children from pre-school to university.

While at BBC2, David developed his own style of nature cinematography – one that filmed nature unobtrusively. During the accumulation of his monumental portfolio, he has travelled to every part of the Earth, presenting, narrating, displaying, and showcasing the extraordinary natural world - delivering a view of natural science that, in his own words, “is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest ... the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living”.

It was in 1985, that he received his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth the 2nd to become Sir David Attenborough and in 2005 he was awarded the Order of Merit conferred for eminence in his field. His list of television programmes, publications and awards is extensive but special mention must be made of his being voted one of the Smithsonian’s 35 Innovators of our Time Who Made a Difference.  Added to this, an opinion poll in 2006 by Reader's Digest names him “the most trusted celebrity in Britain” and according to a list compiled by New Statesman in the same year, he was voted tenth in the list of “Heroes of our time”. He is patron or supporter of many charitable organisations, including Patron of the World Land Trust, which buys rain forest and other land for preservation.

Sir David has visited South Africa several times while filming his many series, traversing the country from Cape to Kruger filming all kinds of amazing wildlife from Matebele ants to spitting cobras.

He has built much of his career around the conviction that the natural world is a beautiful and complex place, and that humankind is in danger of being severed from its natural environs by technology and civilization. In contrast to our obsession with ourselves as organisms, Sir David provides poignant glimpses into the astounding world on which we are so dependent. In so doing he fathered the basic structural framework for much of the current science material available on television, such as The Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel. He has provided hours of wonder and awe in a remarkably entertaining way, while maintaining the scientific credibility. Sir David Attenborough has without doubt earned the title of “the alpha male of natural history documentary-making” (Times Online, 22 January 2009).

He married Jane Oriel in 1950, spending 47 years with her until her death in 1997. They have two children, Robert and Susan.

In recognition of his pioneering approach to wildlife film-making as well as the engineering of an astonishingly successful marriage between science and entertainment – maintaining both profitability and fascination while living up to the scientific credibility demanded by our intricate and complex natural world, it is an honour for NMMU to confer the degree of Doctor of Science (honoris causa) on SIR DAVID FREDERICK ATTENBOROUGH.