Glimpses of the young David Attenborough from the University Archives

Dr Simon Dixon from the University's Special Collections has written an article providing glimpses into the childhood of Sir David Attenborough during the time he lived on the campus of what was then University College, Leicester.

The article outlines information about Frederick Attenborough contained within the Archives, as well as reveals insights about his sons - David is mentioned in a handful of his father’s letters dating from 1941-1944, which can now be read on Special Collections Online.

In one letter, sent by Frederick in September 1944 to Professor (Henry) Swinnerton of University College, Nottingham, he spoke of David's aspirations in areas that would one day define his career, including Zoology:

"My second son David hopes to be a geologist. He has just taken a Higher Schools, London, and has gained exemption from Inter by passing in Geology, Botany, Zoology and Chemistry. He wants to sit for a scholarship to Cambridge in March in Geology, Biology and Chemistry. The Biology and Chemistry he will do here in Leicester, but I should like him to come to you for his Geology. There are, however, certain complications and I should like an opportunity to talk them over with you."

The following year David was successful in winning a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge. He continued to visit his father in Leicester, until Frederick’s retirement in 1951. However, he has retained a special connection with the University, returning on numerous occasions, most recently earlier this year to open the new Attenborough Arts Centre extension.

While the letters only show fleeting glimpses of his early life here, they provide an insight into his early interests and the role of his father in supporting his son’s career aspirations.

Sir David shares his memories on living in Leicester in an interview earlier this year:

Both Richard and David Attenborough received honorary degrees from the University in 1970, and then returned to be awarded Distinguished Honorary Fellowships in 2006 – the highest honour that the University can bestow.

Sir David's speech upon receiving his Distinguished Honorary Fellowship: