display | more...
'The Sky at Night' is a long-running astronomy series on BBC1, shown monthly since 1957 and hosted continuously since then by Sir Patrick Moore. The programme is highbrow, very serious and sombre, and each twenty-minute episode usually consists of an astronomer or physicist discussing the cosmological constant (for example) with the aid of graphs and charts, whilst Patrick Moore feeds him or her leading questions. At the end, there is some asteroid-spotting information for amateur astronomers and maybe a photograph of a comet, and that's about it.

The programme occupies a similar place in the nation's hearts as the long range shipping forecast on the radio - it caters for a relatively tiny specialist audience, but works as 'ambient viewing', especially given that it's always shown very late at night, just before what used to be closedown. Disembodied reports about gales in the North Sea are enormously comforting to listen to whilst tucked up safely in bed; in the same way, it's nice to know that an anonymous European space probe is doing well whilst one is putting on one's pyjamas. The thought that the universe is in fine shape goes well with toast and hot chocolate.

The programme is a unique relic of a gentler age, and would not be commissioned today, as it is too much of a public service for the BBC. So far the programme has resisted attempts to 'jazz it up' (Patrick Moore has not gained a female co-presenter, for example, and the theme tune ('Pelleas and Melisande' by Sibelius) has nothing to do with drum'n'bass), presumably because Patrick Moore would leave, and people would stop watching the programme. Quite what the BBC is going to do after Moore retires is not clear; presumably the programme would end or be shoved onto digital, and News 24 would start twenty minutes earlier.