Wednesday, 12 December 2012

RIP: Patrick Moore

"I thought The Sky At Night would last only a few months. It's nobody's enemy. It's cheap and non-controversial. It is no skill on my part."

"Love the Clangers. They came on The Sky At Night once."

"Global warming? Don't believe it. The ozone layer? The jury is still out on that."

"Altogether, Pluto is a maverick, and there are grounds for doubting whether it is worthy of true satellite status."
"I'm hoping for a little sense among those who lead us, such as getting us out of Europe."

"I have met Albert Einstein, Wernher von Braun, Orville Wright among others, though Wright, the first airman, died 10 years before The Sky At Night started. Einstein was exactly the sort of person I expected - charming, courteous, and worldly."

 - Patrick Moore

The Independent had a suitable punning title: "Stars pay tribute to Sir Patrick Moore, the man who took us into space", on an article on the recent death of Patrick Moore at his home in Selsey, West Sussex at the age of 89.

Peter Elson described him as "a reassuringly unchanging entity", and perhaps gave on of the best pen-sketches I have read:

"The Prof Brainstawm hair, the crumpled and shiny old suit, the stumpy club tie and the monocle. He has a face like Venus, albeit not in the classical art sense, rather the fascinating planetary contour sense."

"Undiminished is that energetically plummy voice which seems to rush forwards in surges like the rhythm of an electric train stopping at all space stations to Ursa Minor. In spite of this, he's a figure of substance to be
cherished, not dismissed."

His monocle is also something he is well known for. Christine Smith asked him about it for the Mirror in 2001:

"He bursts into laughter and the monocle, hanging on a piece of red string, falls down. He has worn it since the age of 16. He has two others in reserve. 'There is no point wearing a pair of glasses when only one eye is bad,' he says by way of explanation. Patrick does not think he is in the slightest bit eccentric, nor does he believe he is particularly intelligent."

Much of his career is well known, so I'd like to focus on bits and pieces which might not be so well know. In 2004, listeners on BBC Radio asked him questions. Here are a few:

John Smith from Swindon asks: What do you make of all the conspiracy theories as to whether man did actually walk on the moon?

Patrick: How anyone can believe that I do not know if ignorance is bliss they must be very happy! I've never heard such utter rubbish. We did a Sky at Night programme about this a while ago it is just utterly absurd!

David Williams from Leighton Buzzard asks: When you went to talk to the first men who went to the moon, what did you say to them?

Patrick: Well I knew them beforehand as I was on their committee. After all they were going more or less into the unknown, the main question was, is the lunar surface safe? Which of course it was.

Liz Rodgers from Torquay asks: Looking at the marvelous design of the Universe, do you believe it all came about through evolution, God or something else?

Patrick: I don't know I wasn't there! There are three things I never discuss in public - football, politics and religion!

In the 1970s, Patrick Moore and Magnus Pyke did a song and dance on TV, but I don't unfortunately know which show. Rebecca Hardy, writing the the Daily Mail, also mentioned his musical ability:

"As with astronomy, Patrick is a self-taught musician who began playing the piano before he could talk. At the age of eight, he bought a sixpenny book and taught himself to compose. Waltzes were his favourite. The last piece of music he wrote was for the Parachute Regiment, 'before this hit me,' he says, lifting up his unresponsive right arm. 'They wanted me to write a new march.' We listen to the CD together and it is, as he has said, wonderfully light-hearted."

But his most recent performance musically with in 2011, when musician Carl Cape wrote a song inspired by the heavens above Northumberland.

Cape said: "Northumberland is one of the best places in England to watch the sky at night as it has less light pollution than many places. It's a beautiful glittering 'dark park'. Sir Patrick Moore is a legend in science because he is so knowledgeable and he is one of the greatest ever communicators. Working with Sir Patrick was great fun and his explanations about stars and planets have prompted much praise from listeners to my radio show on Lionheart Radio. As a musician, it seemed logical to ask him to contribute some of his wisdom to this song."

In the song, "Glittering Sky", Sir Patrick Moore speaks the following lyrics:

I can see a million stars,
Luminous, shimmering high,
I can see a million stars,
Way up in the glittering sky.
I'm going to let this dream begin,
Here with you by my side,
See in the darkness,
Suns born and died.
Who painted these pictures?
Heaven's foundation of love,
Our glittering cosmos,
Stretching way up above.

Patrick also played a memorable April fool's prank in 1976. As the BBC noted:

"A flood of calls resulted from fun-loving astronomer, Patrick Moore, making a BBC Radio 2 announcement that at 9.47 am, the planet Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, creating a stronger gravitational pull which could make people on earth feel lighter. Soon after the designated time the calls began. One woman reported that she and her eleven friends seated round a large table rose from the ground and floated around the room. Another complained that she had been jerked off her feet and hit her head on the ceiling."

Esther Rantzen's favourite memory is watching The Sky at Night, and there was a fly that buzzed too close to him. She wrote:

"Sir Patrick opened his mouth to speak, the fly buzzed in, and viewers watched in suspense as he decided whether to swallow or spit. A lesser man might have hesitated. Without a tremor he bit, and gulped. He'd be terrific in the jungle."

In an interview in 2007, he looked at his possessions, including his typewriter:

"I have written over a hundred books, including science fiction novels, on this dear old Woodstock typewriter. I bought it for half a crown when I was nine. The first book, just after the war, wasn't mine at all really. It was
a book about Mars by a French astrologer that I translated. Then I wrote Guide To The Moon - amazingly it's still in print. I've abandoned the typewriter now because of a spinal war injury. I can not only no longer walk, my hands have given up, too."

"The Data Book Of Astronomy is my latest book. My interest began when I read my mother's copy of G.F. Chambers' The Story Of The Solar System. I've still got it. I acquired a pair of binoculars and then saved up for a little telescope and joined the British Astronomical Association at 11 - its youngest member. I have presented The Sky At Night every month since 1957, bar one. I don't consider it work. My hobby and my job are the same."

Tanya Gold, writing in the Daily Mail in 2007, spoke of her visit to his house:

"THE asteroid named after Sir Patrick Moore is hurtling through our galaxy, somewhere between Mars and Jupiter."

"There is a sign by the doorbell. 'Patrick's cats are fiendishly clever masters of escape,' it says. 'Please observe the airlock procedures'."

"A Spanish television executive, he says, hoped the path of eclipse totality could be moved for the convenience of a camera; one director wanted to show some oxen falling asleep during an eclipse, because animals are said to slumber when it happens - because they think its night. The camera duly pictured the oxen, who were all wide awake. 'It looked silly,' he moans."

"He has publicly supported the Monster Raving Loony Party, and its policy of having cats as political leaders. I am sure he prefers cats to people. He thinks we are 'pretty low' on the intelligent life scale. 'No intelligent
being would fight each other the way we do,' he says."

Colin Wills, writing in the Sunday Mirror 1999 noted that:

"Patrick may be everyone's idea of the loopy professor, but his eccentricity hides a degree of bravery that leaves you lost in admiration. When he joined the RAF at 16, he became a navigator in Bomber Command, reading the maps as his plane dodged the flak and the fighters over Germany."

Rebecca Hardy writing in the Daily Mail 2001 told how he cheated to get accepted for duty in the war:

Patrick was 16 years old when he 'emerged', as he puts it, into the world. War was breaking out, so he 'fiddled' his age to be drafted into the Air Force.

Astonishingly, he was able to fiddle his physical too. 'When I joined up as a flier, there was a fitness course. I could do most of it, but I couldn't do the two-mile run or the assault course, so I had a friend who covered for
me. Did it in my name. I was found out eventually. 'My commanding officer said, "You fiddled your age and your medical. You are now 18. You were a commissioned officer when you were just 17. Oh well. Gin and tonic?"'

Speaking in 1999, he told of the tragic loss of his beloved fiancé:

"My fiancée was killed in the war during an air raid, which is why I didn't marry and have no family. It has been very difficult for me, but I've got used to it. I have always been conscious of sensing my fiancée's presence
since her death. Nothing concrete, but I'm certain that she is here. It is harder to be sure that, when I die, I shall actually see her again, but I don't believe partings are forever."

"I don't know whether I would consider going to a medium. There is so much charlatanism about, and it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. But I am certain that psychic healing works. I have experience of this myself."

"I always carry my organ donor's card with me. On it, it says: `You can have the lot.' I have carried a card since I was a teenager and have made arrangements in my will, and with my doctor and solicitor, for the disposal
of my remains. If my organs are to be used, they have to be taken out fairly quickly. Anything they don't want, they can chop up for dissection and throw the rest away. Why bury it?"

"The last act on earth of the great astronomer Edmund Halley was to pour himself a glass of wine and drink it. I think that also sounds like an extremely good way to go."

"I won't have a ceremony, but I will leave a bit of cash so that people can have a party - a couple of hundred pounds for my close friends to come and have a drink. Why not? And when my friends die, I'm sure that I shall be waiting at the pearly gates with a glass of nectar and soda or ambrosia and soda, whichever they prefer."

And in the 2001 article by Rebecca Hardy in the Daily Mail, he again returned to his funeral arrangements:

"'I shan't have a funeral,' he continues. 'They can take my bits and use them for experiments and chuck the rest away. In my will I've left a sum of money to have a party when I've gone. 'Quite a show. Plenty of drink. There'll be a tape and a candle. I've left instructions: "Light the candle, play the tape and I will blow the candle out. I'll do so if it kills me."' He chuckles again - Patrick is not the sort of man to dwell upon the punches that life throws."


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