Ahead of the 700th episode of The Sky at Night on 6 March 2011, Patrick Moore recalls some of the memorable episodes that he and the producers of The Sky at Night have shared during more than 50 years of filming.
I find it somehow hard to believe that The Sky at Night has been going on now for more than half a century. I was quite young when it started!
At least the programme is a record for longevity and this seems to be an appropriate moment to say a brief word about my four main producers over the years.
A programme depends on its producers, and at this particular moment I am very anxious to pay tribute to them.
The programme was started by Paul Johnstone, now, sadly, dead. It was he that thought the idea of the programme up and invited me to present what was originally called Star Map. After three years he was moved on to higher things.
He was succeeded by the first of my ‘great producers’, Pat Owtram, who produced the programme for 10 years. She was an absolutely great producer, and we thoroughly enjoyed our Sky at Night time.
We had some very memorable adventures – as for instance the episode in America on a small internal airline, when part of the wheel was found on the runway after we had taken off! At least we got down, albeit rather roughly.
My second ‘great producer’ was Pat Wood, who took on The Sky at Night after Pat Owtram was asked to take on another programme.
Under the guidance of Pat Wood for another 10 years, the programme went on as before and she too was splendid in every way.
Again there were some curious episodes – as for example the time when a Russian astronomer came into the studio to take part in a live programme. Followed by the floor manager bearing a large placard that read, ‘he doesn’t speak any English’!
What to do? I asked a question in English. He answered in Russian. I said in English what I hoped he was saying in Russian. Pat Wood very quickly picked up the situation and directed the cameras accordingly.
Russian, English and French
Luckily I got things right. At the end of the programme I wondered how we had been corresponding as my Russian is no better than his English. Then the penny dropped, we had been corresponding in French, which we both spoke!
When Pat Wood moved onto a new programme she was succeeded by number three on my list, Peter Morpurgo. He stayed with me for 20 years and again, he was a magnificent producer.
These were exciting times, because so much was happening in the world of astronomy and space research.
I was very sad when he had to leave the programme and after him we had several more producers who stayed with me comparatively briefly.
Producing the 700th programme
Then came Jane Fletcher, who I am glad to say is still with me and still producing. It is she who is masterminding our 700th programme.
How long I shall be able to go on doing the Sky at Night I know not. I will carry on as long as a feel I can and as long as I am wanted, and I am glad to say that Jane is still with me.
So I am grateful to all my producers, particularly the four greats. Thank you!