Sir David Attenborough’s writing

This letter written in May 2016 by Sir David Attenborough shows a man of amazing vitality for 90 years of age. He is famous for bringing the natural world into the homes of millions, and for inspiring the conservation of endangered species the world over. But what drives this man whose voice we know so well, and how can this simple letter reveal the character behind the words on the page? What we can see is that his writing could almost be compared to the field that he studies – one of invisible boundaries and patterns, and unconscious instincts that seek expression – let’s take a closer look at what all of this means.

Sir David’s writing is lively and literally bounces across the page. He looks for novelty and excitement in his life, and there’s no mistake that a life travelling the world and exploring different environments inspires and energises him. His intensely restless nature has him seeking out new areas of inquiry and places to visit, with a forward vision that complements his broad outlook and impressionable nature. We can see by his broad letters that vary greatly in size that he’s adventurous and inclined to be unpredictable. He’ll be focused on a particular field of endeavour one minute, and then become distracted with a new project or line of interest that will capture his attention. Keeping up with so much information to take in is both challenging and inspiring, it’s a delicate balance that he manages well most of the time, but is also wearying.   

The long lower zone formations tell us of his intensely physical nature. A well of nervous energy drives Sir David, and we can see how this fluctuates by the different forms he makes. While he’s practical and down-to-earth, he can also be moody and anxious, surprising those around him with a sudden change of plans. His strong instincts look for expression, and he finds this in connecting with others and sharing his knowledge. This impulse is strong, seen in the connected letters and even between words on one occasion. He’s able to reach all kinds of people, as he’s versatile and naturally warm. He’s also intensely individual, but with an appreciation of tradition and conventions, so he knows how the world works and how best to adapt in different settings. However the distinctly changeable nature of his personality brings challenges. 

There’s an element of frustration evident within his character, even though he is highly celebrated and with a wealth of achievements to his credit. Privately his self-confidence can falter despite how he appears. In the large capital letters we can see that he presents as self-assured and proud, however the small and variable middle zone letters reveal that on a personal level he can feel quite changeable and uncertain. For a man of 90 the nature of these changes and the myriad of forms on the page speak of his profound zest for life, and how he is still striving to accomplish a great deal. His mind races ahead seeing more that needs to be done and more places he wants to explore, with a sense of urgency. Accepting his limitations is difficult for Sir David because despite his advancing years, his mental agility and desire to achieve is as strong as ever, but he perseveres and combats fatigue with a strong will and a balanced outlook.

Those who work with him will know him to be engaging and colourful, with a wonderful sense of humour and a dry wit. He is curious and analytical, and can easily lose himself or become carried away with a project or cause. He connects best with those who share his passion, as they touch a chord deep within him. This finds expression in the exchange of ideas, and he feels a keenly responsible and protective of his chosen field. We see this in his generally upright slant and formal layout, with t bars that often extend across the next letter. He has a distinct code of ethics, but is also flexible and realistic in his appreciation of reality, shown by the tall upper zone formations and lack of rigidity. A sense of adventure is prominent in his writing with the large and broad forms, but he also exercises just enough restraint to remain within acceptable boundaries. 

It is no wonder that conservationist Kate Snowden was thrilled to receive this letter of support and encouragement from Sir David Attenborough. We can see his respect by his enlarged capitals and clear spacing, however there is no mistaking his enthusiasm and exuberance in his lively forms and impulsive rhythm. His ability to achieve so much could be greatly accredited to his restless nature and strong drive being integrated with a sense of balance and coordination. He almost mirrors the creatures he studies so intently, with his ability to adapt to what life presents and a strong survival instinct. We can really see his life force on the page, and how he is constantly striving to make a difference. It is a true picture of a man whose life’s work has personified himself, and we are all the richer for it.

Image source: https://kateconservation.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/a-conservation-conversation-with-sir-david-attenborough/