CHRISTMAS LECTURES Past: Sir David Attenborough
About this video
The master broadcaster reflects on his Christmas Lectures experience.
Sir David Attenborough looks back almost four decades to the week in 1973 when he took up the mantle of Royal Institution Christmas Lecturer.
Billed as the "One hundredth and forty-fourth course of six lectures for young people" the series was made up of six hour-long lectures and filmed live between Friday 23 December 1973 and Friday 4 January 1974.
Speaking in the Faraday Theatre, Sir David describes the difficulty of working with animals in a live broadcast and the trepidation he felt on taking on the project.
- Sir David Attenborough
- London, UK
- Filmed in:
- The Theatre
The Royal Institution
- Collections with this video:
- CHRISTMAS LECTURES 1973: The Language of Animals
Licence: Clips courtesy of BBC
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My name is David Attenborough and I gave the Christmas Lectures on animal behavior in 1973.
You might think that the orangutan would be a very good subject to try and teach to talk. Actually, not so, and for quite interesting reasons. But the orangutan is, in the wild, a very solitary animal.
This is a mantis. And he says beware by putting up his forelegs. His forelegs have got barbs on them. You see?
Would you like a bit of a grape? Yes.
I think the Royal Institution champion ear-waggler for 1973 is -
- Good Lord!
So he, too, is ferocious. Now... there we are. Now I regret to have to tell you - ow!
In those days, they were all live. I found it an extremely difficult thing to do, partly because I tried to remain true to the traditions of the lecture, which is that if you make a statement, you have to prove it. Now that's OK when you're talking about producing carbon dioxide by pouring hydrochloric acid on marble chips. That's fine. But when you want to say something about animal behavior, animals aren't just chemical substances. They have minds of their own. And also, not only that, but they have to run to time. So you had to produce a series of experiments in which animals were going to do things. And if they didn't do it in the time allocated, well then you just had to move on to the next thing.
On his wrists, he has... he has... little, little...
Well, I don't think it's going to work. No, I don't think it is.
You know, I never liked mice!
Oh, I suppose five weeks to go, four weeks to go, I actually rang up the producer and said, "Look, I will pay a lot of money. I'm just going to break my contract. I really can't do this." And he gave me a strong cup of coffee and told me not to be silly.
If I get the gain turned up on this apparatus...
Indeed, quicker than I thought. That noise is produced by an egg.
There he is. It is a porcupine, as you can see. Now, he's got a little alarmed, you see. You see, he has erected his quills. When he gets really angry, he lifts them up as though he was raising his hairs so he looks even bigger and even more formidable.
Knowing my luck, these two champion Indian hill mynahs will now, from this moment, be as silent as the grave. But there we are.
(SINGING) Polly put the kettle on.
(BIRD SINGING) Polly put the kettle on.
I gave the lectures way back in 1973. It was a hair-raising experience, but I'm sure they're just as good today as they ever were. And I hope you'll enjoy them.
Collections containing this video:
Exploring the varied and wonderful world of animal language.