LIFE ON EARTH (1979)

Named as the No.1 TV show of all time in 2013 by experts at the MIPTV Trade Fair, Life On Earth was the very first of David Attenborough's 'Life' series, and was also highly praised by the TV critics of the time. The series was a study of evolution on Earth and featured rare and groundbreaking footage, and there was one very memorable sequence that became an iconic part of the 1970s.

There will be a great many of you who reading this who will, no doubt, remember when Attenborough encountered a group of mountain gorillas in Dian Fossey's sanctuary in Rwanda, which  took place in episode 12 entitled "Life in the Trees".

These gorillas were quite used to human contact (I would imagine it would have been virtually impossible to film up close with truly wild gorillas), although even Attenborough hadn't bargained on getting quite as close as he did to a gorilla family. The naturalist suddenly found himself with an adult female gorilla literally staring him in the face, which led to him dumping his scripted dialogue and resorting to going ad lib instead. You can see this in the official BBC video clip above.

Now, although this was a pretty incredible moment, there was more mouthwatering footage to come. The following day the broadcaster revisited the same spot and, quite remarkably, the female and her two young gorillas began to groom and play with him.

Overall, Life on Earth was a fascinating documentary series and the camera work was just stunning. At the time, the colourful and sharp imagery was like nothing seen before. David Attenborough has a special skill in not preaching to us in a condescending manner, but relying more on obtaining top quality footage (often from more than one location for each species) and describing it in an accurate, yet fun style without sounding like a children's TV presenter.

It's no surprise that around 500 million people across the globe have now watched the series. Originally airing from 16th January to 10th April 1979 on BBC1, there were 13 episodes in total, each lasting for 55 minutes.  

It would be five years before the follow-up series, The Living Planet, was broadcast, and that's because it was five years in the making!


 

David Attenborough up close with a female mountain gorilla in Life On Earth (1979)

 

         List of episodes;
  1. The Infiinite Variety
  2. Building Bodies
  3. The First Forest
  4. The Swarming Hordes
  5. Conquest of the Waters
  6. Invasion of the Land
  7. Victors of the Dry Land
  8. Lords of the Air
  9. The Rise of the Mammals
  10. Theme anad Variations
  11. The Hunters and Hunted
  12. Life in the Trees
  13. The Compulsive Commiunicators
LIfe On Earth (first edition) hardback book (1979)
Life On Earth first edition (1979) hardback book

 

 

More British TV Gold