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Sir David Attenborough and The Open University

Updated Thursday, 5 May 2016
Sir David Attenborough and The Open University have had a long-standing relationship since the university's birth. David explains how that relationship came about and how it has developed over the years.

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David Attenborough

When I took over BBC2 I had the responsibility of turning Jennie Lee’s concept into practicality and working with The Open University as it was established, and looking back on it now the insuperable, the major problems that worried us all the time have simply evaporated, they don’t exist anymore. For example, The Open University lectures, I remember saying actually to Jennie Lee <chuckles>, I didn’t see her many times but I saw her a couple of times, saying, ‘One of the problems about this is that you’re trying to tuck it in on BBC2; it’s like saying that you’re going to do all the courses that you can imagine and you only have one lecture room which you can use, and it’s all going to have to go in there. That’s not practical.’ And that led to the realisation that the television was a valuable icing on the cake, but it wasn’t the cake. And the problem would be how you would get Open University lecturers and make them available as teachers to the whole audience who wanted to listen to them. Even with the whole network devoted to that, you couldn’t really do it. Well, that problem has disappeared now, of course, because of course everybody can record things and distribute things and the network, so that problem has absolutely gone. And you have all the facilities now that you have to speak to everybody, all the time, whenever you want, and everybody has to listen to you. Well that is a fantastic opportunity and it seems to me, I mean I watch The Open University’s proceedings with amazement and admiration, and with the little pique of pleasure to think that I saw something of its birth. And it’s getting better and better and better, and learning for its own sake is really taking off to all sorts and kinds of people, which is wonderful, which enriches lives.

I know that I think The Open University is one of the great institutions that this country should be very proud of.


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