David Attenborough: Cutting the licence fee would “weaken” the BBC

"People would make easier programmes which don’t require so much investment, so much endeavour and so much ambition. That’s the danger” said the veteran broadcaster at the launch of his new natural history show Life Story

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David Attenborough has warned MPs against cutting the television licence fee saying that the BBC would be “weakened” and programme quality impossible to maintain.

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His comments come after a Conservative MP charged with reviewing the way the BBC is funded said it was becoming “steadily harder to sustain the licence fee.”

Attenborough’s intervention, which will cheer those inside the corporation fighting for the retention of the £145.50 a year levy, came at the premiere of the BBC’s new wildlife epic Life Story.

The series, which is narrated by Attenborough and airs next week on BBC1, took four years and many millions of pounds to make. But he told the audience in Bristol that any changes to the licence fee would jeopardise comparable series being made in the future. Indeed, he suggested, this might be as good as it gets.

“We may be seeing a particular peak because to do this takes a lot of time – this was four years – a lot of concentration by a lot of talented people and that means a big investment.

“The BBC can do that because it has the security of the licence fee. And in the end it pretty well gets its money back because these (series) go everywhere.

“If it were to be the case that the BBC didn’t necessarily lose the licence fee but had a reduced licence fee that strength would be weakened and people would make easier programmes which don’t require so much investment, so much endeavour and so much ambition. That’s the danger.”

The MP who suggested that the licence fee was under threat was John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture select committee that’s carrying out a review of the future of the BBC ahead of charter renewal in 2016.

He could get to hear more about the subject on Thursday when Attenborough attends a London screening of the series and is due to be interviewed with the BBC Director General Tony Hall. Observers will be keen to see if the issue gets another airing then.

In the meantime the 88-year-old presenter says we should sit back and enjoy what Life Story has to offer.

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“In this series there are stunning things that absolutely blew my mind. What they’ve produced takes my breath away and it’s a privilege for me to put the words to them.”