David turned 90 on Sunday 8 May 2016, and I have to say I wish I'm that switched on, alert and full of passion at that age. Frankly, I'd be satisfied with still being alive at that age. I first encountered David Attenborough on 16 January 1979, when I was not quite eight years old, as the first episode of his landmark natural history television program Life on Earth first aired. I remember being transfixed by what I saw, and I had this over-riding sense of wanting to be like David Attenborough, I wanted to go and see the amazing sights of the natural world that he was seeing, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of life.
|David Attenborough in his trademark blue shirt with|
freshwater crocodile (lower right), Erin Britton (left)
and Adam Britton (middle).
Several months later, in October 2006, we were there at last. Meeting David Attenborough had Erin and I both rather nervous. What if he didn't get on with us? What if we didn't get on with him? Perhaps he was nothing like the person we imagined? David Attenborough, it turns out, is even more remarkable in real life as he is on the screen. He's not a big fan of hero worship, so we had to rein that in, but he's just a normal, humble, down-to-Earth kinda guy who is incredibly smart and possessed of a razor-sharp wit. We fell in love with him immediately, and he got on with Erin in particular like a house on fire. We spent an amazing week filming crocodiles, almost like something out of a dream, with David standing about 15 m in front of dozens of extremely large and extremely hungry wild saltwater crocodiles, capturing a sequence of them cooperatively hunting in a way that hadn't been shown on television before. That sense of relief, when it all worked, and David nailed his pieces to camera without getting eaten... phew!
We did several more sequences with him, although not all of them made the cut. Perhaps the best, which I'm still sad didn't make it on screen, involved a freshwater crocodile. This was actually our crocodile, and it was a simple piece to camera where David was talking about how the crocodiles became dominant freshwater predators after the majority of dinosaur groups disappeared, and this little freshwater crocodile got up on his four legs - precisely on cue - and began walking in front of David. I always imagined the crocodile thinking "Wow, that's David Attenborough! I'd better get this right..." It was awesome, and we have a copy of it somewhere, but it never made the cut for reasons of flow. Such is life in television.
When it was time to leave us, David gave Erin an big hug, something she'll never forget. When David gives you a hug, it's genuine, they had such a great time. I was satisfied with a warm handshake. He offered us perhaps the best compliment he could have, that he'd never seen anyone handle crocodiles with as much respect and care as we had. That meant a lot to us. He even wrote us a letter a couple of months later thanking us.
We always hoped to work with him again, despite realising just how unlikely this is. At the time of filming Life in Cold Blood he was seriously considering retiring altogether; this was to be his last series. We're glad that he's still chasing his passion. For us, we got to spend a week with this remarkable man who he continues to inspire us to this day.
Happy Birthday David.