Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster

David Attenborough

BBC 2003
A book review by Danny Yee © 2005
David Attenborough starts his autobiography with his fortuitous employment by the BBC in 1950, and throughout offers only a few scattered glimpses of his childhood and family life. The larger part of Life on Air is devoted to his travels around the world making television programmes, notably the "Zoo Quest" series, a series on tribal art and the "Life" documentaries; it also covers his work as head of BBC2 and then as programme controller for the BBC. Some natural history is included, but there's little duplication with his other books; the focus is on the challenges he faces and the people he meets.

Fitted into a career spanning fifty years of television production and broadcasting, Attenborough's stories and anecdotes give a feel for broader changes. In the 1950s, even zoos carried out fairly slapdash collecting, giving him quite general commissions. Fifty years later many of the out of the way places he visited are popular destinations and ecotourism is booming. The primitive camera and broadcasting equipment available for his early documentaries, requiring improvisations and workarounds, has been transformed by technological progress. And there's something magical about the sheer informality of Attenborough's early adventures, often carried out with minimal planning.

Attenborough is urbane and genial, and Life on Air is easy reading. While it could be read just for pleasure, however, it will appeal most to those who are already fans and want some background on his television programmes, and to those curious about the history of television and the BBC.

September 2005

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%T Life on Air
%S Memoirs of a Broadcaster
%A Attenborough, David
%D 2003
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0563487801
%P 384pp