Review: David Attenborough’s Life on Air

08 Jan
Review: David Attenborough’s Life on Air

Greetings and salutations dear reader(s)! I hope the New Year started well for you, and if it hasn’t I hope it will get better. 🙂 Today’s review, if all goes as planned, is the first of many more book reviews to come on the blog. I’m not a person who makes New Year’s resolutions, but this year I decided to make one regarding reading. Last year while I was reading Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads, which took me quite a while to read, I noticed that during the gaps in reading I forgot what I read a few chapters earlier. Since I was reading for the pure joy of reading I wasn’t making any notes; neither did I anticipate that I would be reading that book for such a long time. Those damn endnotes will be the death of me. 🙂 So this year I decided to do a more focused reading – keeping a reading journal where I’ll make notes about the reading material etc. I also decided to do a book review on the blog about the books that I read this year, or a book series review if that’s what I’m reading. Keep your fingers crossed that I manage to do this and wish me luck. 🙂

The 1st book of 2018 is Sir David Attenborough’s biography Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster. I bought this book when I was in London in August 2014 visiting the Natural History Museum. It was August 6th (I checked the credit card receipt, my memory’s not that good 😀 ) and as always the que to the Museum was quite long. But the museum had an exhibition on butterflies (Sensational Butterflies I think it was called, I shall post some photos for your viewing pleasure 😀 ) that I wanted to see, so my friend and I dutifully stood in the que and waited to get in. The Museum itself was spectacular and the butterfly exhibition was amazing! We had a wonderful time and latter we browsed the Museum’s shop, something that I love to do at every museum I visit. Among many of Sir David’s books at the Museum I picked up Life on Air with the intention of reading it when I get back home from my holiday in London. Needless to say life got in the way, but 4 years latter here we are. 😀

David Attenborough and his documentaries have been an important part of my childhood. I still enjoy watching them now and Sir David’s voice never fails to mesmerise me and bring me back to the time when his BBC documentaries were first broadcasted in Croatia. The whole family gathered around the television set in the living room and watched with awe and such sheer joy whatever nature series he was presenting. We taped many of his documentaries on our old video recorder and I remember watching those documentaries recorded on a video cassette over and over again in my free time.

In 29 chapters of his autobiography Life on Air David Attenborough writes about his fascinating career at the BBC. In chapter 1 entitled Joining Auntie (as the BBC was referred to by the press) he describes how he started working for the Television. Well firstly he applied for a job at the Radio when he was 26 years old, but was turned down. Latter he got a call from Ms. Adams from the Television Department who asked him would he be interested to work for Television. Sir David said yes, and the rest as they say is history. 🙂 Although the bulk of the book is dedicated Sir David’s work on various documentaries and which he is famous for, few chapters describe his work the BBC’s administration. Sir David was a Controller for BBC2 from 1965 until 1969 when he became Director of Programs for Television. He stayed in that post until 1972 when he returned to program making, something that he confessed he loved more than sitting behind a desk. And honestly who can blame him?

However, Sir David’s writing about his work as a Controller and Director of Programs for Television doesn’t just include his responsibilities, he also endeavours to include funny anecdotes as well as an explanation of the many acronyms the BBC used. He mentions that on one occasion his wife Jane came to the Television Centre for a social occasion she was greeted with “Good evening, Mrs D.P.Tel.” Sir David wears his achievements lightly, you can see from his writing that he is proud that he did good work, but he never brags or boasts about it. His memories on working as a producer of the Queen’s Christmas message in chapter 22 are a perfect example of that.

But the chapters where Sir David writes about his work on the nature documentaries for the BBC and traveling around the globe to make them is where his writing is at his best. His fascination and love for animals, along with his endless enthusiasm for nature combined the sheer joy of the adventure of traveling to a foreign country, searching for those animals and filming them in their natural habitats burst from the pages. The reader is so immersed in Sir David’s memories that you never want the story to end. All of the chapters include some funny anecdote or comment, but I really loved a comment from one newspaper that was written about David Attenborough’s fitness after an episode of Life on Earth:

It was unkind, they said, to send a presenter of my advanced age on such arduous trips. It was time I was given lest demanding jobs more appropriate to my antiquity. (309).

Ha! Sir David is still working as a presenter, his last documentary Blue Planet II was shown in 2017 and it doesn’t look like he’s going to stop working anytime soon.


Reading journal

Even though the book primarily deals with Sir David’s career he does make a few rare mentions about his family and his childhood; that are all the more precious for that. At the end of chapter 12 Lions and Lemurs he writes how he amassed a collection of animals from his travels with Zoo Quest.

Theoretically, these creatures were there for the interest and education of the children; formally I was the one who was in charge of them; practically, needless to say, it was Jane who cared for them. (163).

He describes how his wife Jane was a natural with the animals and how she was the one who took care of the Attenborough animal menagerie. This was undoubtedly my favourite part of the book, and in a few pages where he wrote about his wife you could see the love and affection. The short passage he wrote about her illness and death in 1997 was so powerful and sad it moved me to tears. Sir David stated that without his wife Jane and her support he could never do the things that he did.

Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster is a fascinating read for anyone who grew up listening to Sir David’s voice while watching one of his documentaries. Of course, it’s a fascinating and amazing book to read even if you didn’t grew up with those documentaries. 🙂 Sir David is a truly mesmerising person, the love and enthusiasm he apparently possesses in abundance and manages to transmit to his audience is a marvel indeed. The book itself is enthralling and you’ll find a lot of wonders and much joy in reading it. Thank you very much for reading this review and sticking with me to the very end. I hope you liked it and that we can chat in the comment section or on Twitter. Until next time dear reader(s)!

1 Comment

Posted by on 08/01/2018 in Literature


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One response to “Review: David Attenborough’s Life on Air

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