In the week running up to the 700th episode of The Sky at Night airing on 6 March 2011, we’re releasing some of our interviews with the show’s producers and co-presenters, which reveal fascinating behind-the-scenes insights into what it’s like to work on one of the longest-running shows in TV history. Here’s our recent interview with former producer Paul Vanezis.
What’s it like filming with Patrick?
The unique thing about Patrick becomes apparent when you come to planning an episode. He doesn’t really work from a script. He has more of a ‘treatment’ that he puts together – a running order to get the structure right.
When we were filming, he always felt that his first take was the best take. We sometimes had to do more than one take, very rarely because of Patrick – usually for technical reasons or for guests perhaps not getting the information over as clearly as you would like.
And he has a really good way of charming the guests. He says with a smile, “It’s a great honour for you to be here.” And clearly it is!
Do you have a favourite guest?
I remember a programme we did called ‘The Universe From Atlantis’ about the Shuttle astronauts. Patrick got on incredibly well with the astronauts Piers Sellers and Commander Ken Ham.
Piers Sellers had been on the programme before, but Patrick had been a bit unwell and we were trying to arrange an interview with the two astronauts.
Piers was influenced by Patrick to become the scientist that he became, and we’d arranged to do the interview at the Royal Society in London, because that was the only time that the astronauts were available to talk to and it was a location that they could easily get to.
But when they realised that Patrick would have to travel from the south coast, they said, “No, we’re not going to do that, we’ll come to him,” so Patrick didn’t have to travel.
So the Shuttle astronauts came to Patrick’s house to do the filming, because they didn’t want to inconvenience him.
There was a really good chemistry between them because they were really pleased to be there and Patrick was so happy for them to be there.
What was it like to begin work on a programme with such a long history?
When I started on The Sky at Night the first thing I did was to have a meeting with Patrick. We listed subjects that he wanted to cover and then I went away and worked on those and we came up with a plan.
Patrick is a very generous person, he will always offer something new to whatever you’re working on and I know that I could always ring him up and ask his opinion and he would offer his opinion and his advice. He’s very generous in terms of imparting his knowledge.
What’s your favourite prop on the show?
My favourite prop from my time on the show is Patrick’s 3-inch refractor. It’s a beautiful brass telescope and it appeared in all of the programmes I produced, either being used or in the background. It just looks the part and is an excellent telescope.
What do you think is unique about the Sky at Night?
Being on The Sky at Night is a great honour for scientists – it can be a highlight of their careers.
Scientists know the track record of the people that have appeared on the programme, from Neil Armstrong (pictured, right) and Buzz Aldrin to Frank Drake and Carl Sagan.
It is very special for them to be interviewed by Patrick, who has interviewed many great people and is a fountain of knowledge. And to have been a part of that myself is very special.