Saturday, 17 August 2013

Sir Patrick Moore

On 9 December 2012, the great English astronomer and broadcaster, Sir Patrick Moore, passed away at his home in Selsey, West Sussex, aged 89.

On the same day, the BBC reported thus:
“Sir Patrick presented the BBC programme The Sky At Night for over 50 years, making him the longest-running host of the same television show ever. 
He wrote dozens of books on astronomy and his research was used by the US and the Russians in their space programmes… Sir Patrick presented the first edition of The Sky at Night on 24 April 1957. He last appeared in an episode broadcast on the Monday before his death. 
A statement by his friends and staff said… ‘Over the past few years, Patrick, an inspiration to generations of astronomers, fought his way back from many serious spells of illness and continued to work and write at a great rate, but this time his body was too weak to overcome the infection which set in, a few weeks ago. He was able to perform on his world record-holding TV programme The Sky at Night right up until the most recent episode’. 
Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore was born at Pinner, Middlesex on 4 Mar 1923. Heart problems meant he spent much of his childhood being educated at home and he became an avid reader. His mother gave him a copy of GF Chambers' book, The Story of the Solar System, and this sparked his lifelong passion for astronomy... 
When war came he turned down a place at Cambridge and lied about his age to join the RAF, serving as a navigator with Bomber Command and rising to the rank of Flight Lieutenant. But the war brought him a personal tragedy after his fiancee, Lorna, was killed when an ambulance she was driving was hit by a bomb. He never married. 
Sir Patrick, who had a pacemaker fitted in 2006 and received a knighthood in 2001, won a Bafta for services to television and was a honorary fellow of the Royal Society. He was a member of the UK Independence party and, briefly, the finance minister for the Monster Raving Loony Party, and attracted some controversy for his outspoken views on Europe and immigration… 
Queen guitarist Brian May, who published a book on astronomy written with Sir Patrick, described him as a "dear friend, and a kind of father figure to me". He said… ‘Patrick is irreplaceable. There will never be another Patrick Moore. But we were lucky enough to get one’… 
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: ‘Since I first met Sir Patrick when he dominated a UKIP stage in 1999, he has been a friend and an inspiration - not only to us in UKIP, but across the country and around the world. Today we have seen the passing of a true great, and a true Englishman’.”
On 16 December 2012, Rebecca Hardy said this in The Daily Mail:
“When Sir Patrick Moore passed away at the age of 89 last week following a short illness, the impression was of a solitary, eccentric soul who died as he lived - alone. A short statement released on his behalf told us his beloved cat Ptolemy was with him, along with the carers he relied upon in his latter years, but there was no wife, no children - in fact, no blood relative at all. 
How sad, it seemed, that this man who spent the greater part of his lifetime bringing the wondrousness of the sky into our lives should depart his own life so alone. But as with so much in The Sky At Night presenter's life, impressions are misleading. 'There couldn't have been a better way for him to go,' says one of those present as he slipped away last weekend in the house in West Sussex where he had lived for more than 40 years. 
One of his closest friends was playing a piece of music Patrick wrote on the piano and we put Ptolemy on the bed next to him in those final minutes. The rest of us stood there holding Patrick's hand, so he knew we were there stroking his hand as he fell asleep. We dabbed a good measure of brandy into his mouth in the final minutes and gave a toast to him, saying: 'One more for the road' - the same way he always pressed one last drink on us at the end of a convivial evening.' 
These are the memories of Ian Makins. The 'us' are three men - Makins, 52, Chris Doherty, 34, and Adam Corrie, 33 - whom Patrick had known as boys and loved as sons. They each lost their own fathers early in life. For Patrick, who had never married following the death of his fiancée Lorna during World War II, they were simply 'my family'. 
Following those poignant last moments, each of the men was inconsolable. Indeed, there are tears today as we speak. But, together, their stories provide an extraordinary insight into the man who was both as luminous and yet as mysterious as the skies he studied. 
However, among the many confidences he shared with the three were hints of working for British intelligence, including daring missions in Nazi-occupied Europe. It was during this espionage work, it seems, that he met Lorna, the nurse who was killed during the Blitz. 'Losing Lorna was a life-changer for Patrick,' says Chris. 'There was never anyone for him after her. If she'd survived the war he said they'd have been together and had a family of their own. 
Ian picks up the story: 'He said that he worked in an intelligence group of ten. One of them was Lorna and he fell instantly in love with her. They both knew they'd met their soul mate. After a whirlwind romance — we're talking days — they decided to get engaged, using a curtain ring as an engagement ring. He was dedicated to her and knew no one could ever replace her when she died in a bombing raid. He remained loyal to her memory throughout his life. 
As for 'The Ten' as Patrick called this intelligence unit, they all became incredibly close because they never knew if they'd see each other again when they went off on their missions to mainland Europe. They were like brothers and sisters to Patrick and when the last of the ten, a Greek chap, died a few years ago, Patrick was crushed. He was the last man standing. 
Ian recalls: 'Patrick was very proud of his intelligence work but he never boasted. He showed me a letter from his Major congratulating him on a successful mission behind enemy lines — saying he just managed to get out on time. He was on missions in parts of Europe and said there were several sticky moments when he was in mortal danger. 
Most of Patrick's injuries, losing his teeth, the damage to his spine, were from the war. We tried to persuade him to write his memoirs, but he refused. He felt he'd been given the privilege of working in an undercover group and that was something he was tight-lipped about to the end.’ Certainly, there have long been questions over his wartime career. 
In media interviews, he said that he joined the RAF after working as an ambulance driver. Yet he was an unlikely recruit for Bomber Command. Suffering with a heart condition from the age of six, he was tutored at home and not expected to live beyond 30 or 40 years. When war broke out, he said he 'fiddled' his age to be drafted in to the RAF at 17 (the required age was 18)… 
Adam, 33, now an engineer with a five-year-old son, was staying in Selsey when his father — Patrick's godson — died 13 years ago. Moore, who was away from home on a lecture tour, returned instantly. 'When my father died I was at university and using his house as a crash pad. He was away, but he dropped ­everything and cancelled all of his ­lectures. He just wanted to be back home with me. 
Patrick and my grandfather, Ian, grew up together as boys in East Grinstead. When my grandfather died Patrick became a surrogate grand­father and then a surrogate father when my dad died. Although Patrick never went to university, qualifications were very important to him. I suppose he was a snob in that respect. I wasn't 100 per cent about doing my masters, but as far as he was concerned that's what I was going to do — and I did. He was the one who had expectations of me.' 
He similarly encouraged Ian, who lost his father to a heart attack at five and his mother to cancer 17 years ago. Moore knew Ian's mother, an enthusiastic member of Keele's astronomy society, whose meetings he would sometimes address. 'Patrick helped me through my O-levels and A-levels. I hadn't a great degree of confidence, but he persuaded me to go to university and pushed me forwards through his advice and cajoling. I was studying landscape architecture and he hadn't got a clue about landscapes and ­gardens, but he typed up my thesis… 
Ian, now a landscape architect with three daughters, chuckles at the memory. He shows me a letter written on Christmas Day, 1993, congratulating him on a new job. 'Dear Ian,' it reads. 'Great news! No need to say how glad I am.' It continues: 'Well done … I'm proud of you …Ever, Patrick.' 
Ian was only too happy to be able to return the favour. 'When Patrick was knighted, it was a very proud moment for him, but he never got round to organising his coat-of-arms. So I got hold of 200 of his friends and we were able to pull enough together to pay for it. He was lost for words when we presented it to him.' 
In fact many of the memories of each of these men are full of laughter; memories of impromptu parties at his home, travels around the world and shared friendships with the likes of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, author Sir Terry Pratchett and rock star Brian May. 
His close circle of friends may have numbered as many as 200, but it was his adopted sons who spoke to him almost every day — relationships cemented by huge sadness as much as laughter. 'He was such a compassionate man,' says Ian. 'He was there in the ward the day my mother died with me and my brother and sister. I remember him saying: 'You've got to understand what you're looking at now is like a leather jacket that's been cast off. 
He always believed people he'd lost were still with him and that there had to be something beyond death. He was there for Chris when his dad Paul died, too. They were great friends.' Paul Doherty was, in fact, a talented artist who illustrated many of Patrick's books. Chris Doherty, who trained as a photographer, was 19 when his father died of cancer of the oesophagus. 'I'd known Patrick all my life,' says Chris. 
When I was 17 I was involved in an accident on a push bike and was unconscious for five days. Patrick just dropped everything and travelled up to spend time by my bedside. When my father was ill he did exactly the same. It was a very difficult time, but he was always there at the end of a telephone if ever you needed him. It's almost as if he felt sadness on our behalf and saw it as his duty to look out for us.' 
Just over a week ago, doctors, unable to treat an infection, released him from hospital to prepare for death at his beloved home as he had requested. Ian, who now works in Dubai, caught the first flight home. 'It was a bit of a rollercoaster at the end,' he says. 'He'd been in poor health for ten years, with a crumbling spine and had pulled through before, but it was clear on this occasion his body had had enough. 
We dabbed a good measure of brandy into his mouth in the final minutes and gave a toast. I flew back on Saturday and he was in and out of consciousness. He knew I was coming and he was waiting for me when he died. Adam had been there on Saturday and I was with him all through the night. Chris and I couldn't sleep. We talked to him. They say the last thing to go is hearing. 
He died on Sunday at 12.25pm. Peter Cattermole, his close friend with whom he had written books on Venus and the Moon, was playing on the piano a song called Matthew he'd written. The man he'd written it for, Matthew Clarke, the son of a wartime friend, arrived to see him in the last hour, so he was with us at the end.' Ian swallows. 
For each member of Patrick's self-styled family the impact of his death is still sinking in. 'He's just always been there,' says Ian. 'Would he have been if Lorna had lived? Who knows? Without those twists and turns in life we might not have known him which would have been a tragedy for the three of us’.”
Lee Jasper was Ken Livingstone’s principal advisor on race relations when he was London Mayor.

Here's something he twittered on 9 January 2012:
"Lesson no 1. Black people in the UK cannot be racist."
This was Jasper's Twitter reaction to Sir Patrick’s death:
“Patrick Moore passed away. I'd offer my condolences but I can't mourn one less racist in the world.”
Thus spake a true racist. Perhaps Jasper said what he said because Sir Patrick had ‘not the slightest wish to integrate with anybody’. Here are some delightfully truthful things he said along the way that may have got up the PC Crowd's nose:
"I may be accused of being a dinosaur, but I would remind you that dinosaurs ruled the Earth for a very long time." 
“Just look at the world now and look at it when we had a bigger say in it. The English are best. Stand up for England!“ 
“People... come here because we are a soft touch... Everything we do for them takes away from what we can do for ourselves.” 
“We are being swamped by parasites. Call me racist but I would send them all back to where they came from.”
There aren't many celebs who would dare to cross the PC fashion of the age in such a frankly ostentatious way. Patrick Moore's ad hoc presentational skills were beyond parallel. He was, quite literally, never stuck for a word. He was a very observable genius.

In the 50s we used to switch the sound down to see his eyebrows move. In the 60s we grammar school lads cheered him to the rafters on Speech Day.

One last thing: throughout the course of his life as a national treasure Sir Patrick replied personally to the vast majority of those who got in touch with him. I wonder how many Jaspers do the same?

RIP Superman.

1 comment:

  1. R.I.P. Sir Patrick, a great patriot and Englishmand. Lee Jasper, you're not fit to polish his boots.