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Life on Earth

This article is about the tv programme Life on Earth. For the article on Earth's Life see Life

Life on Earth: A Natural History by David Attenborough (1979) is a groundbreaking 13-part television natural history series made by the BBC in association with Warner Bros and Reiner Moritz Productions. There was an accompanying book, and the series is available on DVD.

During the course of the series Attenborough, following the format established by Kenneth Clark's Civilisation and Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, travels the globe in order to trace the story of the evolution of life on the planet.

In order to obtain footage of rare and elusive animals special filming techniques had to be devised. One cameraman spent hundreds of hours waiting for the fleeting moment when a rare frog which incubates its young in its mouth finally spat them out. Another built a replica of a mole rat burrow in a horizontally-mounted wheel, so that as the mole rat ran along the tunnel the wheel could be spun to keep the animal adjacent to the camera. To illustrate the motion of bats' wings in flight they were filmed in slow motion in a wind tunnel. The series was also the first to include footage of a live (although dying) coelacanth.

The series took advantage of improved film stock to produce some of the sharpest and most colourful wildlife footage that had been seen to date.

The most famous sequence in the series occurs in the 12th episode in which Attenborough allows himself to be groomed by a group of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Attenborough himself was bemused by the iconic status that this television moment acquired, and subsequently appeared in a television commercial for after-dinner mintss parodying the conventions of wild life documentaries.

The series was a major international success and was followed by The Living Planet (1984).