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Patrick Moore, eccentric genius

A tribute to the late great amateur astronomer, to inspire students to strive for the top.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

A tribute to the late great amateur astronomer, to inspire students to strive for the top.

Preparation and Materials

  • Download some pictures/video of Patrick Moore (see BBC i-player, The Sky at Night).

Assembly

  1. He was ‘the last of a lost generation, a true gentleman, the most generous in nature that I ever knew, and an inspiration to thousands in his personal life . . .’ The epitaph for a government minister, or a prince, or a great artist?

    The words were spoken by Queen guitarist Brian May on the death of the television astronomer Patrick Moore, who passed away on 9 December 2012.
  2. Moore had a unique career: astronomy was a niche interest in the UK, yet his programme, The Sky at Night, ran for 56 years. That made the programme the longest-running show with the same presenter in television history.

    That alone is a very impressive achievement, but what really made Moore a unique figure was that he was an amateur. He turned down a scholarship from Cambridge, not wanting to accept charity from others. He taught himself astronomy, as well as other skills, including the piano, xylophone and musical composition.
  3. This amateur style was a part of his success. Moore portrayed himself as a traditional gentleman, appearing on television wearing a monocle and refusing lucrative deals with other networks because of a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with the BBC.

    In a rapidly changing nation, Moore’s refusal to change with the times was appealing to many and he became a national institution, easily recognized and yet happy to laugh at himself.
  4. This success allowed Moore to live a very interesting life: he claims to be the only person to have ever met the first man to fly, Orville Wright; the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin; and the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong.

    The secretive Soviet Union allowed him to show on his programme photos from Soviet moon probes, and he was invited to tour the Soviet Union to meet important figures from her space programme.
  5. Despite his success, he was reported always to be happy to show visitors around his private observatory, and responded to every question himself, an impressive feat, as politically he held some controversial opinions, particularly on the subject of immigration.
  6. Towards the end of his life he received many decorations. As well as national honours, he was given an honorary degree and doctorate from the University of Leicester, and became a member of the Royal Society, an elite group of scientists.

    Nevertheless, he remained and still remains an icon for amateur astronomers everywhere.

Time for reflection

The story of an amateur achieving greatness through hard work is impressive. The story of an amateur achieving greatness while maintaining humility and remaining true to early values is inspiring.

You may never have seen The Sky at Night, but for some of us here today, the programme remains a ‘must see’ as it is unique among the other tempting attractions on television.

Today, I wonder if you think Moore wise to turn down a Cambridge scholarship? To always show people round his private observatory? To answer letters himself?

And I wonder how many of us have the strength of personality to remain true to ourselves, even when that means we are perceived as a ‘one-off’, and possibly teased, even bullied, for holding to our uniqueness and refusing to conform?

And would we have the stubbornness needed to succeed at our passion, even if we were never doing that as a professional?

Prayer
Lord God,
we thank you for the people who are the one-offs, the eccentrics,
those who are themselves, no matter what.
May we be inspired by such people to go all out to achieve our ambitions,
and remain committed to those ambitions,
no matter how difficult that might be.

Hymn

‘It’s me, O Lord’ (Hymns Old and New (Kevin Mayhew), 256)

Publication date: March 2013
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