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HomeBBC WatchThe different natures of the Attenborough beast

The different natures of the Attenborough beast

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RICHARD and David Attenborough are national treasures: the former as actor and movie director; the latter as a BBC nature presenter. But the deceased Richard had a very different attitude to humanity than his younger brother, who is now 97. Whereas Richard had a profoundly positive regard for the ordinary people, particularly the poor and disadvantaged, David believes that there are too many ordinary people.

The eldest of three brothers, Richard was born in Cambridge in 1923. At the age of 17 he won a scholarship to RADA. In 1945 he married the actress Sheila Sim and they stayed together till death did them part. The young actor Dickie, as he was known, played the psychopathic young thug Pinkie Brown in the film of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock

Richard mixed acting with making movies, and his finest achievement was the epic Gandhi (1982). His directing debut was Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), a cinematic version of Joan Littlewood’s musical. This satirical look at the First World War portrayed the futile and callous slaughter of a generation of young men, with General Haig at the end of an English seaside pier repeatedly demanding another big push against the German lines, the death toll mounting by tens of thousands each time. Oh! What a Lovely War changed public attitudes to a conflict that the British had supposedly won. As the Guardian critic Michael Billington observed, ‘although we may have read the poetry of Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, we had never before seen popular entertainment express the disenchantment felt at the time by the average soldier’. 

Like GandhiOh! What a Lovely War expressed Richard Attenborough’s regard for the browbeaten. As a Labour peer in the House of Lords, he wrote a Guardian column in 2005 on his political slant: ‘I believed passionately in the principle of mutual responsibility for the common good.’ Having supported Labour since he first voted in a general election in 1945, he explained his lifelong socialism thus:

‘I believe in certain immutable principles. First, that everyone has the right to live without the fear of violence born of poverty, prejudice or persecution; and second, that we strive for a more equitable balance between the haves and the have-nots.’

The Fabian outlook of the Labour-voting Attenborough parents was passed to their sons, but David took this in a different direction from his older brother. 

Born in 1926, David attended Clare College, Cambridge, gaining his master’s degree in 1947. In 1952 he completed a BBC training programme and in 1954 presented the popular series Zoo Quest.  His renowned BBC series on nature include Life on Earth (1979) and The Living Planet (1984) which were made into highly popular books. 

While another nature presenter, David Bellamy, disappeared from television screens after expressing doubts on climate change, David Attenborough has been increasingly shrill, casting humans as a ‘plague on the Earth’ in an interview with Radio Times in 2013. In his book Watermelons the previous year, James Delingpole saw a misanthropic motive for protecting the natural world from human exploits:  

‘With his whispery, caressing voice and gentle manner, Attenborough exudes kindness, sympathy and grandpaternal warmth. But that’s because when we see him on TV he’s usually communing with gorillas and the like, which he obviously adores. Yet his views on his own species we can infer from his position as a trustee for the Optimum Population Trust – an organisation which, until 2011, argued in its website that the world’s 6.8billion population must, at the very minimum, be reduced to a more ‘sustainable’ 5.1billion. Attenborough tacitly endorses the view, in other words, that there are at least 1.7billion of us on this planet who just shouldn’t be here.’

On becoming a patron of OPT, Attenborough asserted an obvious solution to the ecological crisis: ‘I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people.’

The Georgia Guidestones, before their destruction last year, included among the ten commandments a global limit of 500million people, and ‘guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity’. David, indeed, does not want a random reduction in the global populace. He is a contemporary advocate of eugenics, a pseudoscientific elitist endeavour. The depopulation agenda is as much about quality as quantity. Nepotists of the master class can procreate as much as they like. Boris Johnson has had his eighth child, but his eugenicist father Stanley would not mind. Curbs are not for them, but for thee. 

The Attenborough brothers have displayed contrasting philosophies of life. Richard was humane, expressed through egalitarian and socialist idealism. David has turned against Homo sapiens and would countenance a cull with similar rationale to that advocated a century ago by George Bernard Shaw (strangely, as I told the Daily Mail, Shaw continues to be celebrated while the great polymath Sir Francis Galton is persona non grata).  

Civilisation is built on an ethical foundation; indeed, the survival of the human species depends on it. But whose ethics? Common to Dickie and David is a collectivist outlook, and herein lies the problem. Rather than individual autonomy the Attenboroughs – for better or worse – chose utilitarianism. And a means to an end can be justification not only for the greater good but for the greater evil. 

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