While at work today we heard the sad news of the passing of Sir Patrick Moore aged 89. It dawned on me that we have lost another great British institution. Sir Patrick was a perfect example of the quintessential eccentric, sharp of wit, extremely learned and multi talented.
As the sole presenter of BBC’s long running tv programme “The Sky at Night” since the 1950’s he set a world record for the longest ever running host. But more importantly he has played a significant role in bringing the events of space exploration and introducing the wonders of the night sky to generations of viewers.
In an age where TV has become wall-to-wall reality & talent shows, the Sky at Night stood out as a programme that actually tried to educate the viewer. All this was happening before the explosion of TV channels we see today, and all done with a paltry budget from the BBC.
We all expected Sir Patrick to go on forever but silently knew that one day the end would come. Over the years there had been speculation as to who would take over the host the show. At one point fellow astronomer Heather Couper had been a frequent guest and was more than capable of taking on the role but went onto a career in broadcasting and astronomy outreach events.
In “700 not out” he celebrated the 700th episode of the programme and looked back over the past 50 years. I was surprised at how frail he was looking and thought of Yoda talking to Luke Skywalker in the Empire Strikes Back “when 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not!”.
So what does the future hold for the Sky at Night..? Well with a monthly magazine on the newsstands, a website and user forum I’ll tell you one thing, it won’t be the same. My hope is that the BBC won’t use Sir Patrick’s passing as an excuse to cancel or “dumb down” the programme with a presenter that lacks credibility.
In a year that that saw the passing of Sir Bernard Lovell, the man behind the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope and Neil Armstrong who first set foot on the moon I’d like to think that he is in good company. When they made Patrick Moore they broke the mould and threw away the blueprint. He was truly one of a kind! And today marks the end of an era of an extraordinary man.