In memoriam: Patrick Moore, a man of letters
As well as teaching would-be astronomers via the TV, the late star-gazer would respond to every note he received – including one from Simon Usborne's father
Most striking among the tributes to Sir Patrick Moore are the many which recall his dedication to inspiring new generations of amateur astronomers. There are hundreds of them at BangUniverse.com, a memorial site set up by Brian May, the Queen guitarist and astrophysicist, who describes Moore as a father figure.
When my brother was nine, my father wrote to Moore. He had been impressed by a lecture Moore had given at his university, and my brother, also Patrick, was going through a big space phase. I was eight and don't know what the letter said (my father has since died) but it earned them an invitation to Moore's home in Sussex, drafted on his battered Woodstock typewriter. The visit became Patrick's 10th birthday present. He's now 32.
"I remember sitting in his study opposite a big mahogany and leather desk," he recalls. "Dad did most of the conversation while I stared at his books on astronomy. He gave me a couple, which I still have, and later he showed us his homemade telescopes in the garden, most of which weren't working."
Moore was renowned for responding to every letter he received, and for speaking to anyone who telephoned him. At May's tribute site, a man called Terry recalls acquiring Moore's number and dialling it with friends, expecting the astronomer to hang up.
"Instead, a conversation ensued with Patrick for over half-an-hour about what was in the sky at that moment," Terry writes. "He answered all questions and the initial laughter that was heard upon him answering the call immediately subsided to awe."
Rob Manuel, a web designer, recalls on his own blog writing to Moore to ask where he might find recordings of his xylophone playing, for which Moore was well known. He wanted to use it in a novelty dance track he hoped could do well in the charts. "It was the early days of the internet and there was a Sky at Night email address on the BBC site," he writes. "I pinged an email off [asking him] how to get a recording. I was stunned to get a C90 in the post." The cassette included a typed track listing on its card sleeve and a letter. Manuel later used the recording, though it never troubled the charts.
Moore played his beloved xylophone to my brother and father, and entertained them for hours while his old housekeeper prepared lunch. Patrick went on to study astrophysics at Bristol University, later becoming an architect. "I remember being slightly intimidated but it was a huge privilege," he says. "I also remember being quite proud of Dad for having written the letter."
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