it is easy to forget how attitudes to wildlife have changed since Attenborough began his career in 1952 on programmes such as The Pattern of Animals and, later, Zoo Quest. Wild creatures were still viewed from a Victorian perspective in those days. They were there to be tracked, captured, tied up and brought back to Britain to be goggled at. Attenborough was no different from other naturalists at the time, he admits.
Zoo Quest was certainly made in that mould, he believes. For the nine years it aired, Attenborough would travel with staff from London Zoo to a tropical country to capture an animal for the zoo’s collection, a practice that was considered to be perfectly acceptable at the time. Attenborough’s first assignment was to track down a white-necked Picathartes in Sierra Leone on the grounds that no other zoo in Europe had one or even knew what it looked like. “I thought: ‘Oooh, a bird that no one has ever even seen. I must become the first European to get one.’ It was very childish really.”
Today Attenborough, like the rest of us, has a far more respectful attitude to animals, as the new series makes clear. Indeed, if Attenborough: 60 Years in the Wild has a theme it is that of transition. How attitudes to the natural world have changed and how knowledge of living things has been transformed by modern science. Not to mention the leap that has taken place in the film technology bringing the wonders of the world into our front rooms, from clockwork, wind-up cameras to stop-frame photography and thermal imaging.