Patrick was Moore than a stargazer

By Keith Newbery

Friday, December 21, 2012

 

Patrick was Moore than a stargazer

Patrick Moore.

THIS ISLAND LIFE IINVITE you to cast your eyes over this letter (at the bottom of this column), because in many ways it sums up a man I was privileged to call a friend for more than 30 years — Sir Patrick Moore.

He will have clattered it out — as he did all his correspondence — on a 1908 Remington typewriter, which sounded like a Gatling gun when he pounded away ferociously on it in his study.

Whether talking or writing, he always favoured the machine-gun approach.

He wrote it in 2006, upon learning that illness had led to my early retirement as editor of his local newspaper, the Chichester Observer.

The offer of help was not an empty one; if there had been anything he could have done to help cure my pancreatitis, he would have done it unhesitatingly.

And note the fact he did want me to bother with a reply, because he felt my indisposition at the time may have made that something of a chore.

This completely ignored the fact that a few years earlier, he had awoken one morning to discover his right side was virtually immobile because of complications caused by an old back injury.

Merely putting the paper in his typewriter (let alone writing the short letter) would have taken up far more of Patrick’s time and effort than I deserved — but that was typical of the man.

He was immensely generous, unfailingly considerate and always concerned about the welfare of friends and colleagues, whom he numbered in their many hundreds.

People far more qualified than I have already detailed at length the debt the scientific community owes Patrick, so I would like to tell you about the man rather than the astronomer.

I will always remember his gregariousness, his love of a party (literally any excuse would do, like his cat’s birthday for example), his old-fashioned courtesy, his modesty and his humour.

He was totally unaware (and cared little about) his fame. I recall walking through Chichester with Patrick one summer’s morning, while he was chuntering on at length about the EU, which he loathed with a passion.

He was oblivious to the fact passers-by were doing double-takes with virtually every step he took, and seemed surprised every time someone approached him for an autograph.

He provided it willingly, of course, with a cheery word and a characteristic chuckle for young and old alike.

I like to think the Chichester Observer played a small part in getting Patrick the knighthood he so richly deserved — and which he should have received many years earlier.

It all began when a trainee reporter back in the mid-nineties referred to him in a story as 'Sir’ Patrick, and was surprised when I told him the Queen had not yet done the business with the sword and the bent knee.

"Well" he replied, "if he’s not a knight, he should be!"

So the Observer’s "Knighthood for Patrick" campaign began, and it was supported by the young and the old, the great and the good —and especially by the residents of Selsey, who were rightly proud of their most famous resident.

However, the morning the first article appeared, the phone rang in my office and the conversation began with the unmistakable chuckle.

"Good try, but you haven’t a hope."

"Why?"

"Because they all hate me. Blair hates me because I’m always writing him rude letters about not going through with his promise to ban hunting - and Hague hates me because I’m always writing him rude letters about the fact the wretched Tories actually support animals being torn to bits in the name of sport."

"Well, we’ve started it now and we’re going to continue."

"I’ll bet you a case of wine it never happens."

"You’re on."

Patrick used to delight in ringing me every November to pose the same question: "Has there been a postal strike in Chichester? Only I don’t seem to have received my letter from the palace! Shall we make it double or quits?"

"You’re on."

Then one day, the conversation took a slightly different tack.

"If you’re not doing anything this evening, pop down for a drink."

I turned up at the appointed hour and as we entered Patrick’s study I noticed some important-looking correspondence on his desk.

It was the official letter informing the sage of Selsey that Her Majesty was minded to make him a knight of the realm, if he had no objection.

He looked justifiably proud, and I looked justifiably smug.

"Whatever you do," he said to me in tones as conspiratorial as he could manage while glinting through his monocle, "don’t tell a soul. They have the power to withdraw the offer if word gets out, you know."

"Trust me — I’m a journalist."

"Hmmm. Now what was our wager? A bottle of wine, wasn’t it?"

Thus sworn to secrecy, I passed a pleasant evening while he tried, yet again, to tutor me in the rudiments of backgammon.

The following morning I arrived at work, and in the first hour received at least a dozen calls from people saying — isn’t it wonderful about Patrick and his knighthood!’

He must have told almost everyone he knew — and I suspect Ladbrokes soon stopped taking bets.

Sir Patrick Moore was an astronomer, a composer, a musician, a broadcaster, a cricket fanatic, a fervent anti-blood sports campaigner and one of the last in a short line of genuine English eccentrics.

But more important than any of this, he was a unique human being who knew his faults and scarcely acknowledged his many virtues.

It was an honour to have known you, my friend.

Letter from Patrick Moore

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