Crushing on David Attenborough

21:58, Oct 01 2012

Today's guest post was written by Nicola Toki, of the awesome In Our Nature blog. Keep an eye out for a return post, by me, over at her blog ... probably about my irrational fear of praying mantises or something like that. Thanks for helping out, Nicola! - Chris

When Chris asked me to write something for On the Box, it became clear to me that I am in fact a one-trick pony. When it comes to my favourite television shows, they actually haven't changed since I was a kid. There are no prizes for guessing that my ultimate television shows are basically anything with Sir David Attenborough in them.

I have long had an inappropriate crush on Sir David. It could be the blue shirt/beige pants combo he has managed to rock in almost every single documentary he has presented over the past 60 years, but I think more than anything it must be his voice. Those dulcet tones have taken me on a journey of awe and discovery from topics as diverse as whales hunting sea lions on a beach, to the intricate ballet of leopard slugs mating.

David Attenborough could describe paint drying and I would still be fascinated. If I had the chance to meet anyone on the planet, I'd want to meet him.

David Attenborough revolutionised wildlife television, taking the BBC from a format which involved dragging some poor and usually terrified zoo animal into the bright lights of the studio, where a presenter would prod and poke them and discuss their life histories. In fact, it was such a programme, The Pattern of Animals, that launched David's television career, a show that he produced and presented despite having previously being told by his BBC boss that his teeth were "too big" for television.

While making the studio shows, the idea grew to film a collecting expedition by London Zoo to Sierra Leone, and the epic Zoo Quest series were born. I was too young to have viewed any of the Zoo Quest episodes, but careful searching of garage sales, secondhand book shops and the like has given me a great collection of some of the Zoo Quest books.


It was Life on Earth that was the game-changer for me as a kid. Sunday nights in our house would see us gathering in the lounge in hushed anticipation of what was going to be featured this week in the groundbreaking series.

The Sunday night Our World slot on TV One was always pretty epic, whether it featured the BBC wildlife series, or the world-class documentaries produced by the then Natural History Unit of TVNZ, especially the Wild South stories - which have sparked the careers of many a ranger I've met in DOC.

When I graduated from Otago University with my zoology degree, I was accepted on to the Postgraduate Natural History Filmmaking and Communication Diploma course in the first year it was offered, and I grabbed the chance to follow in David Attenborough's footsteps with great gusto. But the appetite for wildlife documentaries had waned. In fact by the late 1990s the well-loved nature shows had all but disappeared off our screens. In their place came "reality TV", then cooking shows - in my view leaving a gaping hole in our viewing opportunities.

Conversations with television executives about why we didn't have nature shows on the box anymore simply ended with them telling me that they didn't "rate" and the "demographic didn't want those shows". I'm not sure if that's true, because I'd also say that the demographic probably don't want 10 different versions of the same cooking show either.

Prime came to the rescue of Kiwi wildlife documentary fans about five years ago, playing the amazing Life in the Undergrowth, Life in Cold Blood, and other epic Attenborough shows. TVNZ finally got the picture this year with Frozen Planet, which rated highly (and sent the twitterverse into raptures as people raved online about narwhals, walrus, penguins and polar bears while watching). This month, TVNZ has added another series of documentaries narrated by David Attenborough on Tuesday nights, which has so far been great too.

There are too many moments that have blown my mind in series presented by my hero Sir David Attenborough, but I think this one probably takes the cake. Watch this interaction with a lyrebird - it's simply amazeballs (watch it through to the end of the clip, you won't regret it!).

So did Sir David Attenborough change the way you think about wildlife? What's your favourite Attenborough moment?  Can we expect more nature documentaries on New Zealand TV? Should they make a New Zealand wildlife series? What would you like to see?

Nicola Toki writes the In Our Nature blog here at Stuff.
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