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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 December 2006, 12:02 GMT
Greatest Living Icon
On Sunday 17 December, Andrew Marr interviewed Sir David Attenborough

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Sir David Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough

ANDREW MARR: If there is a single programme that's caught people's attention and imagination this year I would suggest it isn't the obvious celebrity or game shows, but it's the sumptuous Planet Earth narrated by Sir David Attenborough.

During the course of his 50-year career Sir David's probably seen more of the planet than any other human being and he shared his enthusiasm for it in those familiar hushed tones [clip from David Attenborough film].

Now last night Sir David was named as Britain's greatest living icon, beating the likes of Sir Paul McCartney and Kate Moss in a viewers' poll organised by the BBC 2 Culture show.

And he is with me now. Welcome, I don't know to address an icon! Welcome icon! DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: That's better! Thank you. ANDREW MARR: It's been a fantastic hit, Planet Earth, partly I guess the technology that lets us get there. But I felt that it was a poignant programme in many ways too, because the whole time you're looking at the bears, or the floor of the rain forest, wondering for how much longer is this going to be there?

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Yes. And I think perhaps we would have been irresponsible if we had not left you with that feeling. Because certainly all those things are in danger, and certainly there will be less of them next year than there was last year. And some of them are on really the brink. I mean polar bears, for example, there's very little chance that they're going to survive for 50 years.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm. Now, one of the things that we're told is that we shouldn't travel so much. Does that mean you think that increasingly most of us should get our understanding of the world around us, the natural world around us, by watching it on television, or on the Internet or wherever?

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Well, I mean, what we should do to reduce the amount of consumption of energy. That's what we should do and we could do it in all kinds of ways. And it would be fatuous to suggest that nobody could turn on a Christmas light, we've all got to stop breathing, that's rubbish obviously.

But we ought not to be wasteful, that's the main thing. And we ought not to use more energy in travelling about than is necessary. And we ought not to go mindlessly to some other side of the earth to do exactly what we do on this side of the earth.

ANDREW MARR: This week you talked about there needs to be some kind of crusade, that all of us need to be thinking differently, can't come from politicians.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Yes. I'm old enough to remember the war and in the war you ate up the food on your plate. It wasn't that you thought that if you ate that little rather nasty unpleasant piece of tripe you were going to thereby defeat Hitler immediately. But it was wrong to waste food.

Well now it's wrong to waste energy, and the stakes are just as high if not higher. And if people everywhere thought it is wrong to waste energy, I won't use that huge great car if a small one will do, and then I can afford it. I won't leave the light burning all night, I won't... If you can do those things we can take an awful lot of the speed at which the earth is warming out of it. But it's going to warm, there's no doubt about that.

ANDREW MARR: It's incredibly warm at the moment actually, it's been an extraordinarily warm year. But so what we're talking about is a shift in attitudes so, for instance, it's unacceptable that you drink and drive at the moment. You want to be in a position where it's unacceptable to admit that you leave lights on, or you don't turn your television off at night?

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: That's right, that's right.

ANDREW MARR: I suppose the trouble at the moment is that because we're getting lectures, or we're getting legislation in some cases from politicians, there's still a kind of wary resentfulness about all of this.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Well I can tell you I think that attitudes have changed already, quite profoundly. And of course it comes from the younger generation, it comes from kids. I mean kids are telling their parents off for being wasteful.

And that's the way these things start. And so I'm not unhappy about that proposition, I mean I do think that there is beginning to be a change.

ANDREW MARR: And is that going to be reinforced do you think, in due course, by penalties from politicians, is it going to be necessary that it costs us more to drive, or fly?

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Well, that's one. I mean we have to use every way we can. Because, let's not mince words. I mean, things are going to get worse whatever we do. But they will get very much worse unless we do something.

I mean it's likely that large sections of East Anglia could be under the water in 20 years' time unless we do something about it. We can't build walls round the whole of East Anglia. If the sea level rises by seven metres, which is one of the estimates, for example, whole sections of that wonderful part of England...

ANDREW MARR: Just gone...

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: will disappear. OK, do we think that's important or not?

ANDREW MARR: Yes, yes. One other institution that might be threatened a little bit, some people say, is the one that you've worked for, I think all your life, BBC. Any thoughts, any reflections on the condition of the BBC at the moment?

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I don't know about its condition. I do think it's one of the most crucial factors in our lives, of this country. And that it's irreplaceable. And there's no beating about the bush - if you get rid of the licence system Britain will lose a very, very valuable element in its life.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm. Sir David Attenborough, thank you very, very much indeed for joining us. Living icon, as you are.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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