Sir Alfred Patrick Caldwell-Moore, CBE - British eccentric, amateur astronomer, 1923 - 2012.
"At my age I do what Mark Twain did. I get my daily paper, look at the obituaries page and if I'm not there I carry on as usual."
When I was aged about eight, this man was my hero. I remember seeing him on BBC television, reporting on (I think) a mission to Mars. Maybe it was Venus, it was all a long time ago. He was energetic, enthusiastic, evidently somewhat eccentric and other words beginning with "e". He's one of the last of the true oddball English characters, and despite his advancing age, still manages to be at the same time a television personality and cult hero. He also plays the xylophone.
He was born in Pinner, Middlesex on 4th March, 1923. His mother was an artist and singer, his father a captain in the army. Educated largely at home due to health problems, he developed an interest in astronomy from a 1898 copy of a book about the solar system, which he read at the age of six. By the time he was eleven, he had been elected to the British Astronomical Association, and at age 19, was a navigator in the RAF, having lied about his age to join. He served through the Second World War in RAF Bomber Command, after which he settled in Selsey and began investing time in his real passion, studying the Moon. Whilst working at his first "real job" teaching at a local prep school, he constructed a telescope at home and built up colossal amounts of information about the moon's surface, including data about the "dark side" and the transient lunar phenomena, those areas which appear to change in brightness.
The Sky At Night
He was also writing. Articles and books began to pour out, brimming not just with information but with enthusiasm for his subject. In 1957, one of these books, Sun, Myths and Men, was to change his life forever, and create a new star in the TV heavens. Paul Johnstone, a producer for the BBC, was on the lookout for someone to present a TV programme about astronomy, and having picked up this tome, invited Moore to front the show. Originally, the programme was set to run for an experimental three-month period, as it was felt that it would have a very small audience. The first show was broadcast on 24th April, 1957, when I was just 14 months old. I didn't see, but I know that the experiment worked. Patrick was a great success and everyone was happy, but no-one could have predicted that the programme known as The Sky At Night would still be running in 2008, 51 years later.
It was shortly after this that the Russian space program was seeking detailed lunar data, and found that the professionals were sadly lacking. As has so often been the case, it was an amateur astronomer that would come to the rescue. Someone suggested that Patrick Moore might have what they wanted, so off they hied to his home, at which point he invited them in, offered them a small pile of exercise books packed with the data they needed. In addition to this, he worked with NASA during the lead-up to the Apollo space program, as well as being a celebrity guest on many television programmes during the missions.
Now (at the time of writing he was still alive) he's still hosting the Sky At Night, albeit now from his home rather than the studio. Old age has caught up with him in the form of arthritis.
The Man, Moore
He's a powerhouse of a man. In the hundreds of broadcasts of The Sky At Night, he has missed just one, making him a record-holder. In addition, he's written over a hundred books (both scientific and science fiction novels) and, yes, played the xylophone, having taught himself. His only other real job was as the director of the Armargh Planetarium from 1965 to 1968, although he admits that had it not been for his fascination with astronomy, he would have studied music composition. He's a self-taught musician and composer, and as such, has appeared on the telly, once even in front of the Royal Family playing one of his compositions at a Royal Command Performance. He is also known to a generation of computer gamers, having taken the role of Gamesmaster on the British television show of the same name.
As if this weren't enough, he's a keen cricketer, having played for the Lords' Taverners on many occasions, he's the subject of a delightful Flash animation at http://www2.b3ta.com/patrickmoore/ and he's a champion of both the monocle and the high trouser waistline. His trademark monocle he's been wearing since he was 16, the result of what he described only as "problems" with his right eye. I have no explanation for the high waistline, unless it's an anti-fashion statement. He is still single, having lost his one true love during the war, "murdered by Hitler".
Decorated? Oh, yes. He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, was appointed OBE in 1968 and granted the CBE in 1988. He was knighted in 2001, "for services to the popularisation of science and to broadcasting" and finally, he has also won a BAFTA for services to broadcasting. He's still one of my heroes, a delight to watch and listen to. Delightfully irreplaceable, he continues to inform and entertain, and will ever be remembered as the face of British astronomy.
Finally, Patrick Moore died at his home on 9th December 2012 following a series of illnesses. He was a great man, an inspiration to generations. Guitarist and astronomer Brian May
said Patrick was "the last of a lost generation, a true gentleman, the most generous in nature that I ever knew, and an inspiration to thousands in his personal life, and to millions through his 50 years of unique broadcasting". I cannot help but agree, and both celebrate and mourn a man who has entertained and informed me all my life.