Frederick Attenborough

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The University of Leicester, with the Attenborough building in the centre

Frederick Levi Attenborough (4 April 1887– 20 March 1973) was a British academic. He was principal of University College, Leicester, and was the father of Richard Attenborough, actor and director, and David Attenborough, T.V. naturalist.

Early life[edit]

He was the son of Frederick and Mary Attenborough of Stapleford in Nottinghamshire. He was educated at schools in Long Eaton. He became a teacher at the Long Eaton Higher Elementary School in 1913. This school was founded by Samuel Clegg, the headmaster, in 1910. He married the headmaster's daughter, Mary Clegg, in 1922. In 1915 he went to Emmanuel College, Cambridge as a Foundation Scholar and Choral Exhibitioner, and gained a first class degree in the Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos. From 1918-20 he was a research student and a fellow from 1920-5. From 1925-32 he was Principal of the Borough Road Training College (became the West London Institute of Higher Education in 1976) in Isleworth.

University of Leicester[edit]

Attenborough was principal of University College, Leicester from 1932 to 1951, and lived with his family on campus in College House (which now houses part of the University's Mathematics department).

He was married to Mary Clegg (died 1961), of New Sawley. They had three children:

During the Second World War, the Attenboroughs took in two Jewish refugee girls who lived with them in College House. One of them encouraged son David's fascination with the natural world by giving him a piece of amber.[1]

University recognition[edit]

Under Attenborough's guidance, the University College grew in size and reputation and eventually became the University of Leicester, receiving its Royal Charter in 1957.

The university's Attenborough Building, which includes an 18-storey tower and is the tallest building on the campus, was named in his honour. The building was opened in 1970. Attenborough was by this stage quite frail, so the building was opened on his behalf by his youngest son John.


  1. ^ BBC documentary The Amber Time Machine, BBC 2004