Sir Patrick Moore, 1923-2012

Astronomer Patrick Moore, who presented the BBC's The Sky At Night for more than 50 years, died Sunday at his home in England. Moore turned me on to stargazing as a youngster, and he was the eccentric and enthusiastic embodiment of science for my generation--and for so many other generations that I was sure he'd live forever, always popping up for a near-silent late night science segment, cyberpunk videogame show or xylophone performance.

It's tempting for us to dwell on his dark side: though an opponent of bloodsports and a tireless debunker of conspiracy theories and pseudoscience, Moore was also a sexist, homophobic, xenophobic dinosaur. What you want to take from it all is, of course, up to you.

Here he is watching a total eclipse with Queen guitarist Brian May. And here he is chatting with Carl Sagan about extraterrestrial civilizations:

Sir Patrick Moore, astronomer and broadcaster, dies aged 89 [BBC]


    1. Doubt it would have mattered to him since he was talking to Brian May who is now Dr. Brian May, astrophysicist. Guess May was merely a grad student at the time.

    2. Brian May started his PhD in 1972 and completed it in 2007 – the longest gap year in history. Obviously he went back to it for love of the subject, as he didn’t exactly need the career and the huge sums of money that astrophysicists earn.

      FWIW, he’s married and has three kids from a previous marriage.

      I’m just saying…

  1. Patrick was a primo-grade internet troll before they (we?) were invented; his best work in the oeuvre was – a slim volume of tactics to drive the officious to confusion or worse.

  2. Some words of wisdom from the recently departed:
    “We are being swamped by parasites. Call me a racist but I would send them all back to where they came from.””Homosexuals are mainly responsible for the spreading of AIDS (the Garden of Eden is home of Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve).””The trouble is the BBC is now run by women. And it shows: soap operas, cooking, quizzes, kitchen-sink plays.”

      1. A BBC spokesman described Sir Patrick as being one of TV’s best-loved figures and said his “forthright” views were “what we all love about him”.

        I wonder if that spokesman is currently under investigation for fucking children.

        1. It’s the sort of statement you’d expect from a spokesperson for an organization he’s worked with for so long. He’s a national treasure who came out with embarrassing statements at times, so the best thing to do is brush them off as a charming idiosyncrasy, much as you would with the ‘charming’ comments of your racist uncle.

          As a context to the statement by the spokesman, it was in response to Moore’s comments about the way the BBC was changing to appeal to more popular tastes. It’s got to be pretty frustrating to see the budget for educational programs being cut or science programs being moved to after midnight while other programs of very little educational merit fill the schedule.

  3. When I was three I was given a copy of The Observer’s Book of Astronomy by Patrick Moore. It’s seen better days, but 37 years later its still sitting on my bookshelf. I’ll hang on to that until the day I die.

    1. For me it’s the (translated to Finnish) “Patrick Moore’s Pocket Guide to the Stars and Planets”, that was my go-to book in my teens. I had written the address of the national astronomical society in it, and I joined it in -84, so I would guess that’s the year I also bought it

      What I’ve learned through the years is that all of the people that I admire have faults, some more, some less, so I take the parts that I admire and… well… try not to be too disappointed by the rest. Because, really, we are all people, we all have faults.

  4. I’m not going to claim it justifies some of the sexist views, but, from his obiturary:

    The war also brought a personal tragedy. His fiancee, Lorna, was killed when an ambulance she was driving was hit by a bomb. He never married.

    “That was it,” he said. “There was no one else for me. Second best is no good for me. I would have liked a wife and family, but it was not to be.”

    That’s got to screw you up. Personally I feel sorry for him rather than angry at him.

    1. Moore was a man of his age. We should all remember that before those of us who grew up in more enlightened times seek to judge him. Fortunately we’ve moved on socially (well at least most of us have) from the views that were commonplace when Moore was young.
      Moore held unpleasant views but he did little to push his agenda. Socially his influence is just about zero.

      By contrast his influence on science and engineering in Britain is enormous. Tens of thousands of people were introduced to science and technology through his programmes and writings. Some of them have gone on to make new discoveries, build new artefacts or teach the next generation. 

      Let’s be generous to him, there will be plenty of time for the historians to make their judgement later.

      Glad to see that I’m not the only one here with an Observer book of Astronomy on the bookshelf.

      1. Moore was a man of his age. We should all remember that before those of
        us who grew up in more enlightened times seek to judge him.

        That is privileged, self-serving bullshit and you should be ashamed of yourself for puking it out.  Change happened because not everyone was a worthless piece of hateful shit like Mr. Moore.  Apologists like you are the reason that garbage like him think that it’s acceptable to be hatemongers.

          1. Apologizing for evil IS evil. How many gay teenagers have killed themselves because people like him make a world that isn’t worth living in? How many have been beaten to death because people like him create a world where gay people’s lives aren’t given full value? When you’ve had to have your face reconstructed after a gay bashing like I have, Mr. Apologist, then I’ll consider your advice.

          2. As I said, I am a gay man.  I KNOW what you are talking about. I have lived the fucking terror. But I have learned stuff. Believe me that I will scream at people when it seems necessary. Have done it within the past week in fact. But I have learned to back off also. It is called, I think, growing up. Be angry. But figure out how best to use that anger.

        1. Hatemonger? McCarthy was a hatemonger, people like Glenn Beck are hatemongers.
          Moore may have been a prejudiced old buzzard with a fondness for mischief, but his prejudices were often contradicted by his generosity. His criticism of ‘women running the BBC’ is matched by the many women his correspondence encouraged into the sciences. His statement that Britain was being swamped by parasites was while talking about Government and National Lottery spending on the elderly, which remains a shoddy afterthought.

          That his actions were often better than his talk, that he attacked one shockingly treated minority by trying to champion another does not excuse his words, these or others; but Moore only let slip his prejudices in a couple of interviews and an autobiography he put out at eighty. That’s a damn sight better than most hatemongers.

      2. There were plenty of “men of his age” who were not rancid misogynists, homophobes, etc. There are plenty of men of our age who are.

        I’m with Antinous.

  5. Fancy knocking poor old Patrick Moore. Next thing you know they’ll be trying to rubbish the reputation of some other much loved media figure, like Jimmy Saville or someone.

    1. I don’t think it’s fair to compare a bigot to a child rapist. It’s not particularly illustrative and it turns the suffering of Savile’s victims into a punchline. 

      A better comparison, clearly, would be Hitler.

    1. It really is terrible when bigotry is denounced.

      And surely, it’s important to consider what’s supposed to be wrong with “PC”. After all, much of what’s called “PC” is simply the idea that you’re really not supposed to be a dick to and about other people. Where the criticism of “PC” becomes more-or-less valid is that sometimes people imagine bias where none exists, or they get so awfully enthusiastic in denouncing the thoroughly denounceable that they insist anyone who ventures into displays of bias must be treated as a worthless nonperson for their offense. And yet, take a look at this post: Patrick Moore was unquestionably and vociferously terrible on the value of women, ethnic and sexual minorities, etcetera – but this post takes great care to remind us of the tremendous contributions he nonetheless made to our society.

      Or, in a lot fewer words: you are full of it.

    2. How terrible, to give a damn about the well-being of anybody but straight white men.

      Cry me a river, neckbeard.

  6. Patrick Moore encouraged women to get involved with science and corresponded with a young student who’d asked if “being female was a handicap” to which he replied that it wasn’t – so at least one non-sexist incident took place in Moore’s life – Sexism is a boorish blemish in the attitudes of many octogenarians – we’re talking about people who grew up in an age where views were different and homosexuality was illegal. I think that “ideas don’t change, people do” – meaning that the old ideas die out with the generation that grew up with them.

    I read Patrick Moore visited the concentration camps at Daschau during his service in WWII; I’d be surprised if someone who had seen that first hand would harbour genuinely xenophobic views. I imagine he’ll be judged as on the whole a positive influence.

    1.  The school student you refer to is probably Heather Couper, who was on TV this evening showing off her letter from Moore telling her being a girl was no handicap (but she would need maths). She studied astrophysics and went on to become an astronomy populariser on TV and in books (and public lectures, once of which I went to in the 1980s) and at one point she was head of the British Astronomical Association.

      On Moore’s very last Sky At Night on Monday one of the guests was Katherine Joy talking about Apollo moon rocks. She’s one of those people who looks like an enthusiastic 14-yo school student herself, but turns out to be a postdoctoral research fellow with the Isotope Chemistry and Cosmochemistry research group at Manchester University.

    1. Because the post had “Here he is watching a total eclipse with Queen guitarist Brian May. And here he is chatting with Carl Sagan about extraterrestrial civilizations,” I was going to post it as “And here he is, playing the xylophone.”

  7. I love Wagner’s music, but I’m not a big fan of his political philosophy. But he never used his operas to directly promote any views (although some opera directors have had a good go!)
    The same goes for Patrick Moore – I have watched The Sky At Night throughout my life (40+ years) and never once saw him suggest e.g. that locking up three men in a capsule for two weeks would inevitably lead to certain activities…  Living in the middle of a city where “real” astronomy is next to impossible, Moore was my virtual guide to the universe, for which I will always be grateful.

    1. Yeah, I think that is it. He was passionate, and it seemed to me, infinitely patient in his love of science and did not use this as a means of propagating any particular philosophy nor as a means of covering up any sort of heinous behaviour.
      I’d have to err on the side of saying that if we could all see ourselves as others see us, few of us would be so hasty to judge.

  8. I think Moore was very much a product of times. He lived longer in the public eye than all but a handful of people and so his views (pretty standard for much of the 20th Century) have been remembered unlike those of countless Grand Dads and Grand Mothers.

  9.  That is one awesome little piece of History right there. I love learning about connections like that, where time is condensed into a single person. Two seemingly unrelated people who both shook the same hand.

  10. “Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night”RIP

  11. Patrick Moore talks here of various people he has met, including Orville Wright, Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong – a trio of aerospace Firsts I imagine not many others managed to collect.

    Although he said “”if I saw the entire German nation sinking into the sea, I could be relied upon to help push it down”, he also met Wernher von Braun and got on well with him. He no doubt gives von Braun an easy ride in his piece (though of course in the 1940s as an RAF Bomber Command navigator he might well have been sent on a mission to Peenemunde to try and destroy his work and kill him) but on the other hand Moore wasn’t someone who knew all the background details and yet still gave him an actual powerful position in the US rocket programmes.

    Moore was anti-immigration and Little Englander but not exactly a xeonophobe – he appreciated various foreigners, from Albert Einstein to Alexei Leonov and Buzz Aldrin to Fritz Kreisler and Sergei Rachmaninov. Their foreignness and indeed ideological framework (it won’t have escaped his notice that Yuri Gagarin was used in part as a  Soviet propaganda tool) was broadly immaterial in him appreciating the things they did.

    I remember on TV he was shown a photo of some long-haired rock band and shivered with distaste, until someone pointed out that one of them was his good friend Brian May.

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