Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Attenborough's Still on a Learning Curve; SMALL SCREEN

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Attenborough's Still on a Learning Curve; SMALL SCREEN

Article excerpt

HE'S the intrepid 87-year-old who's hung out with gorillas in Rwanda, sat in a crowd of penguins in South Georgia and been scuttled over by a gang of female land crabs on Christmas Island.

Now modest programme-maker Sir David Attenborough's latest TV quest, a two-parter called Rise Of Animals: Triumph Of The Vertebrates, sees him trace the evolution of backboned mammals.

In the show he heads to the Far East to discover more about dinosaurs.

"There have been enormous discoveries about fossils in China over the past 20 or 30 years, and the most dramatic was that they found dinosaurs with feathers," he says, gently edging forward - an endearing sign of his unending enthusiasm for all things related to the natural world.

"That answers some of the questions about the evolution of birds, so I was hugely looking forward to seeing that."

And despite his enormous bank of knowledge, there was plenty that the broadcaster - a widower since losing his wife Jane in 1997 - learned on his trip.

"The Chinese also discovered the oldest animal with any sign of a backbone," adds the veteran presenter. "We used to think that was a tiny little worm-like creature found in the Rocky Mountains, and the Chinese have found one that was 20 million years older than that.

"It was just one of the most breathtaking little fossils I've ever seen. It's only the size of a piece of gravel and you might think, 'How on earth would anyone notice that?', but when you put it under the lens you can see it has a skull, teeth, everything. It's perfect. It's the most beautiful little fossil."

Attenborough also spent some time in London's Natural History Museum, where he came across a familiar-sounding creature. That's because the legendary naturalist has a plesiosaur named after him.

"A plesiosaur is one of those swimming reptiles which was around at the same time the dinosaurs were rampaging around the Earth," he explains.

"It's called Attenborosaurus, I don't mind telling you, and it's at the Natural History Museum. We've been filming there for the last few weeks and nobody ever looks up and says, 'Oh, is that you? …

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