David Attenborough on possibility of BBC 'vanishing' in 2016

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Sir David has worked with the BBC for nearly seven decades both in front of and behind the camera and on the radio. The TV star is best-known for his wildlife documentaries, which have awakened many to the beauty of nature and the threat of climate change. But amid debate about the BBC’s future, the 94-year-old took a swipe at the corporation for not having a variety of content. 

Sir David, whose new series Attenborough’s Life In Colour airs on Sunday, explained how the BBC could survive during a TV debate.

The star supported the licence fee, which costs £159 from April 1, and has been the subject of scrutiny over the past few years.

He described it as “the biggest possible bargain in Britain” because of the number of radio networks and TV stations available to the public.

Not everyone feels the same, as pointed out by the BBC’s Media Editor Amol Rajan, who claimed there was a “ticking time bomb” under the corporation.

He told the corporation’s former Director General, Lord Tony Hall, “the BBC cannot compete” with the likes of the streaming giants.

This year, the BBC raised the TV licence by £1.50 – but over the last decade, it has risen by £13.50 or nine percent.

Before that increase, Sir David argued “a lot of people were delighted to pay for what they get” from the corporation.

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However, the naturalist felt the BBC needed to change in order to continue.

In 2016, Sir David told the Royal Television Society there were “too many actuality shows”.

While he admitted they were “important”, the star felt the BBC needed a more varied TV diet.

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Sir David said: “There are other things – such as cooking and so on, and gardening, which are very good and certainly should be on the network – that we are doing rather too much of.”

He also believed the corporation was “doing a lot of drama” and “personally” felt they were “doing too much”.

Sir David’s claims five years ago were countered by the results of the most-watched shows on BBC iPlayer from 2020.

The novel-turned-TV-drama Normal People topped the list after it was watched more than 62 million times by audiences. 

It was followed by Killing Eve, a drama about a serial killer, with 39 million views and MasterChef, which had 22 million views.

From the top 10 list, only three shows were not dramas, Attenborough’s documentary series Life, reality show MasterChef and the sitcom This Country. 

Others in the rankings were The Split, Silent Witness, The Secrets She Keeps, I May Destroy You and The Nest. 

While Sir David was critical, he admitted there was not “anything wrong” with dramas and felt they were “excellent in their own way”.

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He added: “But we are nudging out and we are not exploring enough new things and new subjects.”

The cost of the BBC has come under fire in recent years following the annual increase of the TV licence fee.

Lord Hall defended the move as being “in-line with inflation” but some believe, in the wake of streaming services, it is not justifiable.

In 2019, the BBC raised £3.7billion from the licence fee, which accounted for 76 percent of its total income of £4.9billion.

Last September, they reported that 250,000 fewer people had paid the annual sum – which was blamed on fee evasion and an increase in streaming service subscriptions.

Sir David believed it would be a “terrible thing” if the BBC’s funding was cut or reduced because the corporation would “vanish”.

He claimed that “ministerial” friends told him “the BBC keeps us honest” and that it was a vital service.

But Sir David called for changes within the corporation and said: “The BBC has to be there.

“[It] has to do things that others don’t tackle because they don’t think it’s worth it commercially at the moment.”

He cited “big, serious programming” like documentaries, which “require three years” or longer to produce and cost a considerable amount of money.

Sir David said: “There’s a great reluctance elsewhere to do that sort of project.”

Attenborough’s Life In Colour airs at 7pm Sunday on BBC One.

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