Friday, February 15, 2008

The Attenborough heirlooms

IIPM Mumbai Parables - Stories that change life

Brothers in caste, creed & deeds...

They Old is the new young: David (left) and Richard (right)are perhaps the most famous brothers in the living memory of the British; where one was labelled as the most trustworthy public figure in a poll; the other claims the same faith among his peers and admirers of his school of work. Though their life’s work has been dedicated to subjects as different as chalk and cheese, their single-minded obsession with the same, is a direct give away to the fact that these two stalwarts are kinsman in spirit as much in body.

While Richard Attenborough, born on August 29, 1923, was the eldest of three siblings, David Attenborough was three years his junior and the middle child. Their father, the principal of University of Leicester, set high benchmarks for his three sons. Where Richard, a laggard in studies, wished to pursue acting, he set him the challenge of winning the much sought after Leverhulme drama scholarship from The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. David on the other hand faced the test of winning the open scholarship in order to attend the natural science trips at Cambridge. And so they set forth upon their journey uphill, though opting for two entirely different trails.

An 18-year-old Richard made his professional debut on stage and a year later in 1942, he enacted the role of a deserter in, In Which We Serve. From there on he would go on to epitomise the English wimp in the chunk of his films of the next two decades. He pursued roles of darker hues too, such as that of Pinkie the Hoodlum in Brighton Rock (1947). He also starred in Satyajit Ray’s 1977 movie – Shatranj Ke Khiladi. In 60s, he divided his attention between acting & production and along with writer/actor Bryan Forbes, he set up Beaver Films. In the late 60s, he began to direct movies too and his very first – Oh, What a Lovely War! – garnered much acclaim. Three more directorial ventures followed in the 70s followed by his magnum opus Gandhi (1982), which bagged three Oscars, including one for Attenborough as the Best Director.

Unlike his brother, David showed no inclination in getting in the front or at the back of the camera and completed his graduation in 1942 in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University. He started out editing children’s science text books & in 1952 he moved to BBC. Initially, he became a producer in the Talks Department; the head of his department disapproved of his teeth, which discouraged him to get in front of the camera but it wouldn’t be long before he managed to produce and present the three part series – The Pattern of Animals – during the making of which he met Jack Lester. The result of that association was Zoo Quest, which upon Lester’s illness, Attenborough would go on to anchor. As the show steadily rose to become Britain’s most popular wildlife show, so did Attenborough’s career graph. In 1952, he became responsible for introducing his countrymen to colour television as Controller of BBC2. Eight years after he took on editorial responsibilities of both the BBC networks as Director of Programmes, he grew jaded of his routine and decided to introduce some colour into his life too – he resigned and returned to making programmes! Based on South Asia’s natural history, Eastwards with Attenborough became the first of several series that include the 1979 13- part series, Life on Earth, his ode to Antarctica – Life in the Freezer (1993) – among many others.

Old age hasn’t slowed down the Attenborough brothers at all. In his 70s, Richard starred in movies like Jurassic Park (1993), Miracle on 34th Street (1994) & Elizabeth (1998). Going strong in his 80s too, his latest directorial offering, Closing the Ring, will premier on September 14, at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. Equally robust, 2000 witnessed David Attenborough in State of the Planet, which focussed on the environmental crisis and more recently in Sharing Planet Earth that aired on June 24, 2007.

The Attenborough brothers have received many prestigious honours too, where Richard was knighted in 1976, Sir David was awarded the Order of Merit in 2005. On the face of it Richard & David Attenborough are siblings who couldn’t be more disparate and though their routes differed, their final destination was the same – the hearts of their audiences and the minds of generations to come.

Edit bureau: Anu Gulmohar

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Source :
IIPM Editorial, 2007

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