Education: Passed / failed: DAVID ATTENBOROUGH

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The Independent Online
Sir David Attenborough, who is 72 tomorrow, is a broadcaster, writer and naturalist. His television series have included `Tribal Eye', `Wildlife on One', `The Trials of Life' and `Life on Earth'. He was the first controller of BBC2 and afterwards became director of programmes for BBC Television. His many honorary awards include a doctorate from Leicester University. `The Life of Birds' will be launched in October as a BBC1 series and book.

Primary habitat? Wyggeston grammar school for girls - the boys didn't have an infants' - in Leicester. One of the reasons why my father took the job of principal at what was then University College, Leicester, was because of the very good Elizabethan grammar school. My parents were great supporters of grammar - as opposed to boarding - schools and took the view that they had not brought a child into the world to send him off into the care of strangers. I took the 11-plus, except that it wasn't called that; we sat "intelligence tests". They had just come in, and nobody quite knew what they were.

Secondary location? At Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys, if you were extremely bright, you took classics; if you were extremely thick you did woodwork. In between was science, then modern languages. I was in the science stream.

Rock of ages? I was a deeply committed fossil-hunter. The Leicestershire rocks are very rich in fossils, which are thrilling things to collect, even now. I made a series about geology a few years ago and it was still a thrill: hitting a rock, splitting it open and seeing what had not been seen for 150 million years. I wanted to be a geologist and climb Mount Everest. A very nice physics master, who had done some sort of geology papers at university, gave me private tuition. At 16, when everyone else was doing Latin, I got on a train and went to zoology classes at the University of Nottingham. Also at 16, I taught at slum schools - this was during the war - in Leicester.

Am I my brother's straight man? We did Gilbert and Sullivan. My brother [Richard Attenborough] was the great star and it was expected that I would do the same thing. We were both in Iolanthe, when I think that he was a fairy - or maybe I was the fairy. He was always putting on shows in which I was recruited as a feed for him.

Life on Cam? I took a scholarship to Cambridge; my father's view was that if you didn't get a scholarship, you didn't deserve to go to university. You had to pay in those days, and as the principal of a small red-brick college it would have been a great sacrifice. I got an open scholarship to Clare. The course was only two years. I would like to think that the two-year intensive degree course didn't cut too many corners. You worked in the vacations. If you read science, you didn't laze around on the river with girls - like people reading English and philosophy - but it was a paradisiacal time. I got a 2.1 in natural sciences. I found the three-dimensional crystallography inscrutable and I'm sure it let me down.

Trials of marine life? Then I did my National Service. It was thought the Services needed scientists - though what they wanted with a geologist ... I wanted to go abroad, so I went into the Navy and became a lieutenant; they sent me to the Firth of Forth.

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