David Attenborough's successor being sought

14 November 2005

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH, the doyen of television naturalists, has announced his retirement from major documentaries and named Charlotte Uhlenbroek , the 37-year-old primate specialist and presenter of Going Ape and Jungle, as a potential successor.

The broadcaster believes Uhlenbroek has the knowledge and skills required to take over as anchor of the BBC’s big-budget nature series.

Attenborough, who has been making natural history programmes since 1950 and will be 80 next year, believes Life in Cold Blood — an examination of reptiles and amphibians due to be shown by 2008 — will complete the most important part of his life’s work as a presenter of nature programmes. He may, however, continue to present one-off documentaries.

This month the BBC will screen his penultimate full-length series, Life in the Undergrowth, which looks at insects and other invertebrates.

“Once I have completed the reptiles series . . . that will be enough,” he said. “It would complete the survey for me. I will have given a series to every group of animals and when that is done there would be 100 or so hours of DVDs on the shelf.

“Obviously it is sketchy to deal with the whole of the natural world in 100 or so hours, but I can leave it and say there is a picture of how it looked at the end of the 20th century and I would be pleased with that.”

The BBC acknowledges that Attenborough, whose programmes have earned the corporation millions of pounds, will be difficult to replace.

However, the presenter believes Uhlenbroek would be among the best candidates. “I would be happy to see Charlotte take on a big presenting role like this,” he said. “She knows what she is talking about and is an excellent presenter. But I am also an enormous admirer of Bill Oddie and Simon King.”

Attenborough began making nature programmes in 1950 before becoming a producer two years later. He then moved into management, rising to be controller of BBC2 in 1965 and director of programmes for BBC television in 1969. He returned to nature programmes because, he said, he was tired of bureaucracy.

The cycle of big series for which he is famous began with Life on Earth in 1979, watched by an estimated 500m people worldwide. Others have included The Blue Planet, Life in the Freezer, The Life of Mammals and The Life of Birds.

One of his most memorable moments came in 1957 while filming in New Guinea after he had been warned about cannibals. Fifty men burst from the bushes brandishing knives and axes and charged his film crew.

“Within seconds they were upon me, grabbing my hand and slapping me on the shoulder,” he said.

“They were simply delighted to see me.”

Attenborough’s programmes have won many awards and earned him a knighthood, the Order of Merit and a fellowship of the Royal Society, Britain’s pre-eminent scientific body. He is also widely liked for his self-effacing manner.

Attenborough’s programmes are money-spinners for the BBC. The Blue Planet made more than £15m from foreign sales, DVDs, videos and books, more than twice the £7m spent on producing it.

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