Celebrating Selsey stargazer Sir Patrick Moore’s momentous anniversary, the 700th episode of Sky at Night
When asked to think of a British astronomer, most people would immediately come up with Sir Patrick Moore, even now, more than eight years after his death.
That is probably even more true for our area, as Sir Patrick’s home was in Selsey and, in fact, it was less than two years ago that a blue plaque was unveiled at his former home in West Street by Queen guitarist and keen astrophysicist Brian May.
Going back further to ten years ago, it was a momentous time for the stargazer, as he celebrated the 700th episode of Sky at Night, which he had presented since the 1950s.
At the time, he was the longest-running TV presenter, a position now held by Sir David Attenborough, and he was looking forward to his 88th birthday on March 4, 2011.
During an interview at his home, he told the Observer time was precious and, quite bluntly, he said: “I am nearing the end of my run. I could die before March 5. I used to wake up early in the morning, before my illness, and had time to do things.”
Before anyone could dwell on what he had just said, friend John Reeve joked Sir Patrick could not pass away because he still had so much to do that year.
In fact, he lived on another 21 months before dying peacefully at home on December 9, 2012, at the age of 89.
The main crux of the interview in February 2011 was Sir Patrick’s love for astronomy and his incredible achievement with his programme, which first aired on April 24, 1957.
He said: “I had absolutely no idea when I started working with the BBC what was going to happen. I was commissioned for three programmes to see how it went.
“Streaming it live, there I was. I remember thinking my entire career depends on what I do in the next 20 minutes.”
Mr Reeve said Sir Patrick had never failed to answer a science question, though admittedly the man himself spoke up to point out he was stumped on one question he was asked on television, ‘where do clothes moths come from?’, about which he had absolutely no idea.
Asked what triggered his passion for astronomy, Sir Patrick said: “I was nearly seven years old when I was given a little blue book. It wasn’t a boy’s book. It was called Story of the Stars – The Solar System.”
This book was published in 1898 and written by G.F. Chambers, part of a small set of books which Sir Patrick went on to collect.
After serving with the RAF in the Second World War, Sir Patrick had kept his place at Cambridge and wanted to become a writer. His first book was Get to the Moon, published after the Sky at Night had taken off.
He went on to produce a whole library of astronomy books, historical books and even children’s books.
Another side to Sir Patrick was his music. He was a good singer when he was younger, a fine piano player when he was older and often played on his xylophone, which sat next to his study room.
He said: “My mother had the music and the art. I had the music but not the art. I never had a piano lesson.
“When I was a boy I had a good voice but when my voice broke it shattered.”
The 700th Sky at Night programme was broadcast on March 6, 2011, on BBC One and on March 8, 2011, on BBC Four.