They come... and they go,” quipped Sir Patrick Moore’s as he looked back at 55 years of presenting much-loved television programme The Sky At Night.
Selsey’s best-known resident was taken back in time on Saturday when friends at the South Downs Planetarium in Chichester gathered to raise a toast to mark the broadcasting record and also his 89th birthday on Sunday.
The celebrated amateur astronomer, who counts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin among his regular contacts, was treated to a special show put together by the Planetarium’s principal lecturer and lifelong friend of Sir Patrick, Dr John Mason.
Addressing Sir Patrick planetarium trustee Ann Mill said: “You have been our patron right from day one and been a constant inspiration to us and we wouldn’t be here doing what we are doing without your statesmanship and leadership over these years.”
Dr Mason said there was no-one who could rival Sir Patrick’s career and that while comparisons were made between him and Professor Brian Cox, they were both very different in their focus, Sir Patrick being an unparalleled observer of the sky while Prof Cox was a theorist rather than observer.
“Sir Patrick has brought a subject into the minds of people in a way which captivates people and enthrals them and makes people think about things in ways they might not otherwise have done so,” said Dr Mason. “One of the things Patrick has always done is tell people what’s going on in the sky at the moment.”
Sir Patrick was then taken back to his first programme on April 24, 1957, which featured Comet Arend-Roland. The programme started at a time of great excitement, just as the space race was hotting up.
“Patrick always says he was in the right place at the right time, there is a certain degree of truth in that,” said Dr Mason on the programme’s success. “In the first four years the programme saw the comet, the first dog in space, the first chimp, the first man, but that alone would not have generated Sir Patrick’s longevity.”
Mr Mason said like Sir David Attenborough, it was Sir Patrick’s way of presenting and talking about a subject that made him popular.
“People could understand every word he said, he explained complex things in a way ordinary people could relate to and that is the reason he is still on television 55 years later. He didn’t need an elaborate set or complex props, people would concentrate on what he was saying.
“As he says, they come and they go, and we hope this man never goes.”
After the show, guests enjoyed refreshments while Sir Patrick was presented with a birthday cake.
He said the show was ‘splendid’ and that he had just tried to bring the subject to a lot of people.