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Patrick Moore and the fiancee he never got over: Stargazing eccentric couldn't forgive the Germans for killing the only woman he ever loved
The broadcaster died peacefully at his home in Selsey, Sussex, on Sunday
09:20 GMT, 10 December 2012
Patrick Moore approached the challenges of ageing with a characteristically phlegmatic attitude.
‘I do what Mark Twain did,’ he said. ‘I get my copy of the daily paper, look at the obituaries page, and if I’m not there, I carry on as usual.’
It is tempting to think of the eccentric astronomer, who died yesterday aged 89, still carrying on as usual somewhere out there in the universe he adored.
He was quite convinced there was life after death, just as he was convinced there were little green men in space.
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Hero: Patrick Moore, pictured left with his famous monocle and, right, in 1940 after he joined the RAF
He said if ever he met one, his first act would be to invite him in for a cup of tea, and his second to take him to the nearest TV station to share his discovery.
Moore’s wild ideas and gargantuan form made him into a hugely popular media figure who long ago took his place in a fine cast of British TV eccentrics such as Magnus Pike and David Bellamy.
Moore’s celebrity was assured with his popular astronomy programme The Sky At Night. In 2007, he celebrated 50 years of presenting it, the world’s longest-running programme with the same presenter.
He mesmerised the late-night audience with his overwhelming enthusiasm for scientific facts, and inspired many people who went on to become professional astronomers. Incredibly, he appeared on an episode of the programme only last Monday.
Moore himself remained doggedly old fashioned, and a man of intriguing contradictions: he never seemed to grow up — yet in other ways he seemed to have been born middle-aged.
He had smoked a pipe since he was 16 when he found his grandfather’s Meerschaum in the loft. At the same age, he started wearing a monocle.
Yet well into his 50s he remained a
fan of the children’s TV programme The Clangers — the little pink mice
who lived on the Moon. He was still typing at 90 words a minute on a
1908 typewriter in the computer age, and was still holding out against
metrification when he died.
goes to show the dangers of the metric system,’ he declared in 1999
when the Mars Orbiter spacecraft missed the planet due to a calculation
in kilometres rather than miles back at Nasa, costing 78 million of
unrepentant about his lack of political correctness, he loathed
bureaucrats and despised politicians — though he did join the Monster
Raving Loony Party as Minister for Extra-Terrestrial Affairs.
Starring role: Patrick Moore in his garden in Selsey, West Sussex, in 1989
Record breaker: Sir Patrick, pictured in 1961, presented The Sky at Night from 1957 – the world's longest-running programme with the same presenter
Naturally, he was against Britain joining the then EEC. He also thought the pro-hunting lobby beyond contempt: ‘What’s the point of talking rationally to someone who enjoys seeing an animal run down and torn to pieces’
And he was banished for 20 years from Radio 4’s Any Questions because of a perceived racist remark — but reinstated in the end. Although, as we shall see, he did harbour a deep hatred for the Germans because of the greatest personal tragedy of his life.
Moore was proud of his plain speaking on whatever subject. He thought mobile phones would ruin space research by trespassing on the frequencies used by radio telescopes, and had calculated that the Earth will be destroyed by the Sun’s expansion in about 3,000 million years.
Yet he made a serious contribution to space studies. In 1959, he helped the Russians update their charts of the Moon after they photographed its ‘dark side’.
As a result he was invited to become a member of the Soviet Astronomical Society. He also helped map the Moon for the American Apollo mission.
He did the live BBC commentary when Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon in 1969, and for the 1999 total eclipse of the Sun — the first since 1927. He was terribly disappointed when it was obscured by heavy cloud.
But there was more to him even than an astonishingly deep knowledge of the stars.
Moore also wrote more than 100 musical compositions, including a march in praise of Halley’s Comet, and once listened to a Viennese waltz on his car radio before realising he had written it.
Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore was born in Pinner, Middlesex, in 1923, the son of a chartered accountant who had won an MC in World War I.
Patrick Moore used to say his father was everything he was not — strong, athletic, practical and not a bit interested in the stars.
It was his mother Gertrude, who had trained as an opera singer in Italy, who gave her son his twin loves for music and astronomy.
When he was six, Patrick found a Victorian volume, The Story Of The Solar System, in her library. ‘It was not a children’s book, but it fired my imagination enough for me to devour it and its companion volume straight afterward,’ he remembered.
At the age of 11, he became the youngest ever member of the British Astronomical Association. ‘I shook hands with the Astronomer Royal,’ he said, ‘and 50 years later, I was the Association’s president.’
At 13, he delivered his first paper to assembled members. It was on the Mare Crisium, a crater on the Moon.
Star-gazer: Patrick Moore pictured with a telescope in 1989
A sickly lad with a heart condition, Moore was often bedridden which wrecked his formal education but gave him lots of time to pursue his interests. He was only seven when he started to use his grandfather’s 1892 Remington typewriter, and a year later was given the 1908 model Woodstock typewriter on which he eventually wrote more than 170 books.
He bought his first telescope, a 1910 Broadhurst Clarkson with a 3in refractor when he was 11, for 7 10s and, around the same time, a cherished 17th-century orrery — a clockwork model of the solar system — which he always planned to leave to the Science Museum.
Despite his illness he managed to join the RAF aged 16 as a Bomber Command Navigator at the start of the World War II. He lied about his age, ‘fiddled’ — in his words — his medical, and turned down a place at Cambridge University to join up.
It was during the war years that he met
Lorna, a nurse. The pair fell deeply in love and became engaged. But
three years after they met, she was killed in London in a German
The loss was to leave him heartbroken —
he remained a bachelor for the rest of his life — and sparked in him an
enduring loathing for the Germans.
Last year, in an interview with the
Mail he revealed that rarely half an hour went by without his thinking
‘It’s a long time back now. She was in London when one of Hitler’s bombs fell. That was it for me. It went too deep. There couldn’t be anybody else. She wasn’t there and there was no one else for me, so you make the best of a bad job.
‘We didn’t have enough time. And now we’re making friends with the Germans. If I saw the entire German nation sinking into the sea, I’d push it down. There may be good, courteous, friendly Germans, but I haven’t met them.’
The death of his father, Captain Charles Trachsel Caldwell-Moore, in 1947 from the gas he had inhaled back in the trenches of the Great War, fuelled his hatred.
Animal lover: Sir Patrick, pictured with one of his beloved cats, at his home in Selsey
A lifetime of star gazing: The astronomer, left, pictured when he was aged approximately 3 or 4 years old, and at Jastrebac, pictured right in 1961, after watching a solar eclipse
‘I’ve had to visit Germany a few times during my career,’ he once said, ‘and as soon as I get there I’m in enemy territory. It’s absurd because I don’t feel the same about Japan.’
While he was open about his resentment towards Germany, he was less than forthcoming about his role during the war against the Nazis.
Some have questioned whether this sickly teenager was an unlikely candidate for the RAF, and suggested he actually worked as a spy. Tantalisingly, he let slip that the war meant he learned ‘enough Norwegian to get by’.
‘I got involved in things one doesn’t write down or talk about. Things All right, intelligence. I’ll say no more than that,’ he admitted last year.
After the war, he began his life as a freelance amateur astronomer. He used to describe it as his hobby because he loved it so much.
To the end of his life Moore lived in the same 17th-century house in Selsey, West Sussex, that he had shared with his mother Gertrude until her own death aged 84 in 1981. Eventually, he had four observatories in his back garden and was devastated when they were damaged in a storm in 1998.
SIR PATRICK'S WIT AND (VERY UN-PC) WISDOM
Sense of humour: Sir Patrick with impressionist John Culshaw
'The trouble is that the BBC now is run
by women and it shows; soap operas, cooking, quizzes, kitchen-sink
plays. You wouldn't have had that in the golden days.'
On the notion of life on other planets: 'Somewhere in the universe there could a complete carbon copy of Anthony Wedgwood Benn – although I sincerely hope not.'
When being awarded Pipeman of the Year in 1963, he said: I regard two classes of people as being beyond the pale. Weight-watchers and those who have just given up smoking.'
While visiting Utah, a local said: 'Welcome to the Mormon state. We are quite different from the rest of America. You will find no swearing or drinking or wild women here.' Moore replied: 'It's hardly worth coming, is it'
When asked what sort of underpants he wore he replied: 'Ask me about the Moon and I will be able to tell you something, but pants are not by speciality.'
On Britain being part of the European Union: 'In the war, the Germans tried to beat us, the French did nothing and the Italians made good ice-cream. Out of Europe!'
On his loathing for the Germans after World War II: 'We must take care. There may be another war. The Germans will try again given another chance. A Kraut is a Kraut is a Kraut. And the only good Kraut is a dead Kraut.'
On the soap opera Eastenders: 'I suppose it's true to life. But so is diarrhoea – and I don't want to see that on television.'
'It won't interest the Martians.' Moore's unimpressed reaction to the news that a Damien Hirst painting will be attached to a Beagle spacecraft to be launched next year to to Mars.'
He still kept most of his old possessions, too, including the famous xylophone he learned to play when he was ten (he played the instrument as a guest musician on a number of television programmes), the piano he started playing as soon as he could talk and the same old bike he had ridden in the Thirties.
In Selsey, where he was membership secretary of the local cricket club, he was a familiar figure, usually astride his bike.
He used to say he had been quite a dangerous medium-pace leg-break bowler in his time, and that his unfulfilled ambition was to take all ten wickets in an innings and make 100 runs in a season.
He also dreamed of being launched into outer space in a custom-made reinforced rocket suitable for his portly form. His philosophy, he said, was to have a go.
VIDEO: Sir Patrick gives a tour of the telescopes in his garden…
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Television viewers had an opportunity to appreciate his footwork when he danced memorably with Morecambe and Wise on the comedians’ famous Christmas show. ‘I didn’t dance much, as I am so clumsy. It’s the curse of my life. Once when I danced with my fiancee I backed her into a cactus. But we were made for each other.’
Moore always said he would have liked to have a family, but in his later years lavished his affection instead on an adored stray cat, Bonnie, who lived to be nearly 20.
‘She appeared in my garden as a kitten, saying: “I am a black and white kitten without a home and you are a home without a black and white kitten.” There was no arguing with that.’
When she died in 1999, he was completely bereft, though he found solace with a more recent recruit named Ptolemy.
Smoker: Sir Patrick Moore with the pipe he was presented with in the shape of a telescope for being Pipeman of the year, an award given to honour a famous pipe-smoking individual
Honoured: The astronomer was given a special award at the British Academy Television Awards in 2001, left, and was knighted by Prince Charles in the same year, right
Ten years ago, his health took a turn for the worse. A spinal injury that dated back to his time in the RAF meant one morning he woke to find the right side of his body was immobile, and so he became dependent on a team of carers.
As befits a man who thought he would be watching from above in the after-life, he had made careful plans for his own death when it finally came.
Funerals are a waste of time, he thought, but he made a will leaving a couple of hundred pounds for close friends to have a party at which one of his compositions would be played — Out Of The Sky, which he wrote for the Royal Paratroop Brigade.
In return, he promised to welcome them all at the pearly gates with a glass of ‘nectar and soda’.
Meanwhile, he always carried his organ donor card with him. On it, it said simply: ‘You can have the lot.’
But while that must have tickled his particular sense of humour, he also admitted that his death offered him one other possible second chance.
He was asked whether he envisaged that his passing could see him reunited with his beloved fiancee Lorna.
‘I don’t believe partings are for ever. If we die when our bodies do, then everything would be pointless. And the universe is not pointless.
‘The next stage Oh, I’m sure she’s there.’