Some of the first wildlife movies to be filmed by Sir David Attenborough are to be screened in colour for the very first time, as part of a week of television programming to celebrate the legendary broadcaster’s 90th birthday later this year.

The 1954 series ‘Zoo Quest’, for instance, was previously thought to have been shot in black and white, until a 16mm colour reel of film was recently discovered in the BBC’s archives. The newly-unearthed film will be broadcast as part of a 90-minute special of the series, along with four “passion project” films chose by Attenborough himself from his huge back catalogue of work.

David AttenboroughSir David Attenborough's 90th birthday is to be marked by the BBC with a series of special programmes

“I was astonished when someone said ‘we’ve got nearly all the film of the first three expeditions you did in colour’,” 89 year old Attenborough recalled about the discovery. “I said it’s impossible, we shot in black and white.”

Cameraman Charles Lagus, who was filming with him at the time, added: “At its best it’s as good as any colour you see now… quite staggering for the period that it was filmed in. I was astonished.”

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‘Zoo Quest’, compiling highlights from the 1950s series’ various trips to Western Africa and South America, will be shown on May 11th on BBC Four, three days after Attenborough himself marks his 90th birthday.

It was considered a ground-breaking series as it brought parts of the world previously thought of as extremely remote into the homes of the British people via the then-revolutionary medium of television.

For his four chosen programmes, Attenborough has selected: 1971’s ‘A Blank on the Map’, about a trek into New Guinea to search for a lost tribe; ‘Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives’ from 1989, which visited famous fossil sites around the world. He also chose ‘The Lost Gods of Easter Island’ from 2000, and 2009’s ‘Darwin’s Tree of Life’.

A special BBC One programme entitled ‘Attenborough at 90’ has also been commissioned, which will see presenter Kirsty Young chatting with the famous broadcaster about his long and illustrious career.

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