If I live to be a thousand there will still be people asking me about those gorillas. I can’t say I mind – it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. But I have done things other than be sat on by a female mountain gorilla.
My middle name’s Frederick. Does anyone call me Fred? Not to my face.
I’d like to come back as a two-toed sloth. Hanging around, doing very little very
slowly – I think I could make a success of that.
The one thing I would never do is advertise. I never have done, and I never will.
I’ve “dragged-up” before. When I was young, my brother and I often staged plays and one or the other of us often ended up wearing a stole and lipstick. Heaven knows what would happen if the photos ever got out!
My brother will never retire. I often hear that he’s done with acting or directing but he isn’t. He hasn’t got enough money to retire!
I don’t like all of Richard’s movies. I’ve never seen 10 Rillington Place – I have no desire to see my brother playing a depraved sex killer [Reginald Christie]. Which of his films do I like? Gandhi of course is a work of genius. And who doesn’t love The Great Escape?
Richard Dawkins was kind enough to say I was one of his seven wonders of the world. What would my seven wonders be? I don’t know but I guess Richard Dawkins would have to feature pretty prominently.
I liked Steve Irwin. Of course, his audience was rather different to mine, but what he was doing – communicating enthusiasm for the natural world – wasn’t that different to what I’ve always tried to do. No, I didn’t always approve of his stunts, but it was such a tragedy, his death. I was very touched when his wife Terri presented me with my National Television Award. It wasn’t so long after Steve had died but there she was.
I do get hate mail from time to time. It’s virtually always from people who are angry that I don’t mention God’s role in creating the wonders of our planet.
Why don’t I thank God? I’ve said it many times before but I suppose it’s worth repeating. If I thank God for creating, say, butterflies or hummingbirds, then what am I supposed to say about the parasitic worm that’s infested the eye of a young African child? The worm is every bit as remarkable and specialised as the butterfly – the only place it can thrive is the human eye. So am I to thank God for that? I tend to think not.
I haven’t always made wildlife films. Just the other day a young man came up to me in the street and said how much he’d enjoyed Civilisation, a programme I’d made with Kenneth Clark for the BBC in 1969. I can’t imagine this man was alive when we made the show but his enthusiasm was very charming.
I was especially proud of the series we did on inverterbrates. Life In The Undergrowth proved that those people who are interested in looking for alien species need only go to the end of their garden. And if you want to find a species of animal unknown to science, you’ve got as good a chance of discovering one in suburbia as in the Amazon.
I’m not good with heights. When we were making The Living Planet, I was hoisted into a rainforest canopy. I was dangling several hundred feet off the ground and it appeared as if I’d been left there by the ground crew. I don’t mind telling you I swore my head off.
Fossil hunting is one of life’s great thrills. To split open a rock and find an ammonite and to realise you’re the first person ever to lay eyes on this creature that died millions of years ago – it makes the hairs on your neck stand on end.
People of a certain age remember me for Fabulous Animals. It was a programme I made in the 1970s about mythical beasts and mysterious creatures like the Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster. Do I believe in such things? Come on – I think we’re all too grown-up to believe that there’s a Loch Ness Monster.
The greatest ever piece of wildlife television appeared in Planet Earth. A cameraman, Mark Smith, had been stalking snow leopards for months – they’re by far the most elusive of the big cats. Mark’s footage of a snow leopard hunting will be talked about as long as people are still making wildlife documentaries.
I’ve always found being very British a good way of getting on in the world. You can be encountering the most remote tribes, people who’ve never met a white person before, and yet the offer of a firm handshake and a quick, “Hello, my name’s Attenborough, nice to meet you” is still a pretty good ice breaker.
Would I have been happy if I’d kept my desk job? [Attenborough was Controller of BBC2 between 1962 and 1969] I’m sure I would have been. I loved some of things I was working on back then and feel very privileged to have had a tiny hand in getting programmes like Monty Python’s Flying Circus on air. But I’ve no regrets.
When I look at the BBC today, I find it sad to see very similar programmes scheduled against one another. That was the point of BBC2 – to provide variety. Now there are four BBC TV channels and still programme clashes are very common.
Public broadcasting is one of the best things about Britain. It makes us stand apart from other countries and it’s one of the main reasons I want to see out my days here. And no amount of appalling reality television will force me to change my mind.
I doubt I’ll ever really retire. That said, I could probably have given things up ages ago if I’d have had a quid for every time a journalist asked me “When did you first become interested in animals?” The answer, by the way, is the very moment I became aware of the natural world.