David Attenborough’s career highlights: best shows from BBC broadcaster - from Planet Earth to Wild Isles

Career highlights from nature documentary star David Attenborough as he celebrates his 97th birthday

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Veteran documentary maker David Attenborough new project Wild Isles was filmed over three years at locations across the UK and showcases the country’s breathtaking natural landscapes.

Attenborough has been involved in more than 100 documentaries over his career, many of them for the BBC. He joined the BBC as a trainee in 1952 and has a TV career which has spanned more than six decades.

Over the course of his career, he has made scores of definitive documentaries covering every aspect of the natural world, taking in every continent, and exploring the oceans, the skies, and every conceivable habitat on land.

Now as the biologist and national historian celebrates his 97th birthday on 8 May, it's as good an opportunity as any to take a look at his best work from over the years. Here is everything you need to know.

What are David Attenborough’s best shows?

David Attenborough's best shows as he celebrates his 97th birthday - Credit: GettyDavid Attenborough's best shows as he celebrates his 97th birthday - Credit: Getty
David Attenborough's best shows as he celebrates his 97th birthday - Credit: Getty

Life on Earth (1979)

By the late 1970s, Attenborough had already worked on more than 30 TV projects, but it was Life on Earth that established him as a major figure in British television culture. The 13-part series was filmed over three years and was shot at beautiful locations across the world.

Life on Earth was an ambitious project - it explored the evolution of life on our planet. The best known part of the show came in the penultimate episode when Attenborough was interacting with a group of gorillas - he was able to get very close to the animals and spoke off the cuff about the similarities between them and humans.

David Attenborough with gorillas on Life on EarthDavid Attenborough with gorillas on Life on Earth
David Attenborough with gorillas on Life on Earth

The Private Life of Plants (1995)

The Private Life of Plants is an in-depth study of the growth, reproduction and survival of plants across six episodes. The series was filmed using time lapse photography to show how plants grow and move over long periods of time.

The series was shot at many exotic locations, including Mount Roraima on the borders of Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana. Attenborough shows how plants navigate many challenges including hostile and changing environments, competition, and threats from animals and humans.

The Private Life of PlantsThe Private Life of Plants
The Private Life of Plants

The Blue Planet (2001)

Attenborough’s Blue Planet remains one of the most well-known and important documentaries exploring ocean life. Eight episodes looked at different aspects of the Earth’s oceans, from the deep ocean, to the Arctic ocean, coral reefs, and coasts.

The series gave audiences views into life in the world’s oceans on a scale not seen before, making use of special underwater photography. A second series, Blue Planet II was made in 2017 and a third series was confirmed last year.

Blue PlanetBlue Planet
Blue Planet

Planet Earth (2006)

Planet Earth is one of the most popular TV shows of all time - it is the third highest rated show on review site IMDB, behind only Breaking Bad and its own sequel Planet Earth II. It is another project of great scope, attempting to encompass animal life across the entire planet.

The series took more than four years to film and was shot across 64 countries and on all seven continents. Different environments explored in the eight-part series include rugged mountain ranges, the Sahara desert, large caves, deep jungles, and the Great Plains.

Planet EarthPlanet Earth
Planet Earth

Africa (2013)

The six-part documentary goes deep into ‘the world’s wildest continent’. Attenborough explores the diverse habitats including deserts, savannas, and jungles and showcases the incredible mammals that live there.

This was another big project, with filming taking four years to complete. The show is also accompanied by a series of 10-minute behind the scenes shorts which show how certains parts from each episode were filmed.


The Hunt (2015)

Eight-part series The Hunt follows the relationship between predators and their prey, and the strategies predators adopt to catch their dinner, and how their prey have adapted to escape the hunt.

The Hunt is a change of pace from some of Attenborough’s earlier projects - the show often had viewers on the edge of their seats as they watched the battle between predator and prey play out in front of them. The shows the brutal reality of the animal kingdom.

The HuntThe Hunt
The Hunt

Wild Isles (2023)

Attenborough’s newest show looks at the natural world closer to home as he explores the enviornments and wildlife of the British Isles. The five part series looks at places including woodlands, grasslands, fresh water and marines across the UK and Ireland.

Even as Attenborough approaches his 97th birthday, the broadcaster is showing no signs of retiring any time soon. He is due to appear in Our Planet II, airing later this year.

Orca whales in the ShetlandsOrca whales in the Shetlands
Orca whales in the Shetlands

The diverse landscape and wildlife of the British Isles

Life on Earth, The Private Life of Plants, The Blue Planet, Planet Earth, and Africa are available to watch on BBC iPlayer now. The Hunt is available to buy on Amazon Prime. Wild Isles is airing weekly on BBC One on Sundays at 9pm - episodes will be available on iPlayer shortly after they are first broadcast.