How we met: Patrick Moore & Norris McWhirter
Sunday 05 September 1999
Norris McWhirter was born in London in 1925. He is the founding editor of the 'Guinness Book of Records', MD of Guinness Publishing and was the co-presenter of 'Record Breakers' for 23 years. He represented Great Britain at athletics, and chairs the Freedom Association. He has two children and lives with his second wife, Tessa, in Wiltshire
PATRICK MOORE: I first met Norris when we were filming the television programme Record Breakers - many years ago now, because that's been going on for almost as long as The Sky at Night.
This one was an edition about Clyde Tonbaugh, and afterwards Norris asked me to write a book about it, which turned into the Guinness Book of Astronomy. At that first meeting he struck me as someone on completely the same wavelength as me. And it turned out that I was right. As we got to know each other I found he had very similar views. I think that's the best way I can explain it, that we're on the same wavelength. We've remained in close touch ever since and see each other when we can, although mainly we correspond by letter and phone.
We're both members of the United Kingdom Independence Party, which will be a force in British politics I think, and the Freedom Party, which we laid the cornerstone of - Norris is the chairman. I regard Norris as rather left-wing actually. But then, as far as I'm concerned, Enoch Powell was Britain's most dangerous left-winger!
Norris is one of these people who are prepared to stand up and be counted. He believes passionately in Britain, as I do; we don't want to see it submerged or taken over. And he's one of the few people in the public eye prepared to say what he thinks. That's why he'll never be a politician! I'd like to think I'm the same but I've got a far lower profile than he has.
So together we are trying to save the Britain that we've had for the last thousand years, and I have great admiration for that. There aren't enough dedicated people like him who are prepared to speak out and not worry about being politically incorrect, but Norris and I are both politically incorrect.
With a friend like Norris, I feel almost like I can see into his mind. I know how he thinks. And he's got a very, very good brain, far better than mine, and he's a first-class organiser. Although I probably know more about the moon than he does. And I'm a better bowler than him. Just don't ask about my batting.
NORRIS McWHIRTER: I met Patrick in 1972, when I did a segment about Pluto, the most recently discovered planet, with the American who'd discovered it, and Patrick, who was a friend of his. Then I commissioned him to write the Guinness Book of Astronomy Facts and Feats, an amazing book that had at least six editions. I didn't work with him particularly closely on that, but he used to come to all our launches.
My first impression was of how fast he speaks and then of how genial he is. He's also very eccentric. We live in an age with very few eccentrics, but he is one. He used to live alone in his big old house in Selsey, but now his godson lives in the house along with his fiancee, and they have a dog, so he has better company now. He used to have a marvellous old housekeeper who lived to 90; his mother lived to 94, and their cat lived to 19, so it's a great place for longevity.
He's a member of his local village cricket team - he says he's a medium- paced bowler, but I think slow- medium is generous. But in golf, he has the local club record of 231, including a memorable 43 on the third hole. He also used to have a marvellous reinforced bicycle - he must weigh 20 stone. And he works on a typewriter that is dated 1908.
He's a consummate author. He's so meticulous and works so hard and honours deadlines, which a lot of authors these days never do. He's definitely increased my enthusiasm for astronomy - he's so infectious. He's also that very rare thing, a populariser of a subject who is also greatly respected by the professionals. He's been the sole presenter of The Sky at Night for 42 years - it's a world record. He's having an operation on his knee this week so he'll do one episode the day before he goes in, and the next on crutches. He wouldn't let anything like that get in the way of his programme.
He did a wonderful one-man concert at the Theatre Royal in Bath, combining music and astronomy. The combination of astronomer and xylophone player is quite surprising. He played 21 pieces of music, 19 he composed himself - tremendously thumping, hearty military pieces. And he'd talk about astronomy and slip in naughty things, like about his new club, Halley's Club (after the comet). It's a very singular club, he said, no rules, no subscriptions, no aims or objects, in fact you could call it the second most useless club in the world. Then he added, after the European parliament of course.
His dislike of Europe and Brussels is based on the simple view that you ought to be ruled by people you can dismiss. We went to a Eurosceptic meeting in Chichester recently, and he was marvellously uninhibited and said exactly what he felt. On the whole, we share very similar views, although Patrick's passionately opposed to fox-hunting (so much so that he cancelled his subscription to the Telegraph).
He goes to immense lengths to encourage and help people who are in trouble. I remember a time we met up in Cambridge and he nipped off to the hospital. It turned out it was to visit a young teenager who had cancer. He's not young or even very mobile now but he's got a tremendous sense of duty and charity. I think being a bachelor means he has a lot left to give.
He enjoys life, mainly because he has such a passion, and has been able to turn it into a profession. I think I've done a similar thing. I'd like to be able to spend even more time with him - he knows so much. We met up a couple of weeks ago and he was telling me all about someone who claimed to have discovered an English inventor who invented the telescope.
'Norris McWhirter's Book of Millennium Records' is published on 21 October (Virgin, pounds 20). 'Patrick Moore on Mars' was published last month (Seven Dials, pounds 10.99)
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