In any assessment of the greatest Britons ever, it would be a complete farce not to include Sir David Attenborough, preferably somewhere in the top three. The list of contributions the nation’s favourite natural historian has made to our collective understanding is limitless and his life’s work makes him, without doubt, one of the greatest living men.
If you couldn’t tell, I really like David Attenborough. But the influence of this one man is undeniable. This is a man who was instrumental in the early years of the BBC, introduced colour TV to Britain, presided over a Golden Age of programming, and is still involved in some of the most cutting edge and captivating television at the ripe old age of 89.
Life on Air is a fascinating insight behind the man who has epitomised the best of British television since its inception. From his childhood fascination with the natural world, to his first television show Zoo Quest, continuing onwards through his work as controller of the BBC and his varied and always-fascinating work as a presenter of nature documentaries which he continues to this day, a lifetime of accomplishments and anecdotes await the prospective reader. And if that weren’t persuasion enough, Attenborough’s iconic, breathy delivery dominates the mind’s ear as one reads – what could be better?
As one might expect, Attenborough is a humble narrator, and the star of his memoir is less himself but the natural world which he has brought to us all, not through some sense of obligation, but through his irrepressible enthusiasm for his job. He shares, with trademark fervour, the experiences that have made the biggest mark on his life: whether it’s witnessing his beloved Birds of Paradise for the first time in the wild, his impromptu meeting with the Zulus in Africa, or his now famous interaction with lowland Gorillas. There are many other little anecdotes and previously unheard witticisms too, like the time he prevented a political party from looking extremely stupid on live TV, or his meetings with the few people who lived in an abandoned Australian outback town, including an Aussie redneck with a penchant for anachronistic vocabulary. Insight into Attenborough’s personal experiences and beliefs is rare, but if anything this intensifies his enigmatic appeal.
There’s not much more one can say. Life on Air is the fascinating life-story of a national treasure and is a worthy addition to any fan of the natural world’s collection. It’s less a memoir than a love letter to an extraordinary life, and it’s a joy to share in such a remarkable journey.