Thursday, 30 September 2010

Life On Air

I doubt there are many people who don't think Attenborough is God. Certainly, I think he's as close as we'll ever get to a higher being. On the environment and conservation, he makes more sense than virtually anyone else. For entertainment value, his programmes simply cannot be beaten. In light of this, Life On Air could be considered disappointing, simply because it is not the greatest book I have ever read - indeed, it's not even the greatest autobiography I've ever read. It is a little dry, a little "this happened, then this happened..." and there is a distinct sense of restraint that permeates the pages. However, it does do what it says on the tin, and it is most definitely not without many merits.

The focus is, as the title suggests, on the television side of Attenborough's life. There are brief insights into his personal life and the animals he has kept at home (a whole tribe of bush babies at one stage), but it is very much about what happened in the office, as it were. This, however, gives us a very interesting insight into the early days of television, and into BBC production values. On his new position as Controller of BBC2 in 1965, Attenborough says:

"...we were not in the business of producing carbon copies of programmes that were already being shown on other networks. Nor would we accept mindless programmes... We would present single gigantic productions that occupied an entire evening on subjects of particular importance that needed examination in depth... Following this came stylish serials based on novels such as Henry James, Sartre, Tolstoy... Music?...analyses of difficult modern works using scores with notes that animated as the music sounded so taht even viewers who were not accustomed to raeding musical scores could follow the structure of the music."

It sounds like dream television to me, but I'll not depress myself considering where it all went wrong.

Life On Air is absolutely an enjoyable read - how could it not be? Look at the author! It is written in Attenborough's distinctive voice, and is full of humourous anecdotes, history, archeology, zoology... The hardback is rammed with colour photos, an aspect lacking in the paperback. If this man holds any interest for you whatsoever, Life On Air is a must read - just don't expect it to be as groundbreaking as his tv programmes.

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