“It’s the beauty of it,” he tells us. “Usually I get 10-20 letters a day and during this series that will probably go up to 40. But the astonishing thing is the range of people who write.” From seven-year-old children asking him about dinosaurs to professors of economics quizzing him about the finer details, “that just shows you the breadth of the appeal.”
It’s now 65 years since a bright-eyed 26-year-old David Attenborough first appeared on our television screens with a brief 10-minute programme about the discovery of a prehistoric fish off the coast of Africa.
That was December 1952 and Attenborough had been working at the BBC for just two months, albeit as a junior producer as the head of factual broadcasting at the time thought his teeth were too big to make the grade as a presenter.
But then the coelacanth became headline news. Not only had it previously been thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs some 65 million years earlier, but the discovery had sparked tension between the French and South African governments, with France claiming that the African fishermen had caught the creature in its waters.
“I was told that given my university education as a biologist, it was my responsibility to put on and present a programme in the next week to explain to the public what all the fuss was about,” he recollects. “Ten to fifteen minutes they said.”
“And from there I’ve gone on to work for the BBC all my life.”