'Sir Patrick Moore was a true legend and inspiration', say North Staffordshire Astronomical Society members
IF YOU let anyone know you are interested in astronomy, there is one question you will be asked: "Did you know Patrick Moore?"
Here in North Staffordshire, Sir Patrick will always hold a special place in the hearts and souls of many amateurs.
You only have to visit the observatory at Keele University to be met with a life-size bronze bust of the man himself, dominating the entrance.
As a frequent visitor to Keele, Sir Patrick, who died last December, gave many talks over the years – and even treated his audience on one occasion to a demonstration of his musical ability.
However, his long association with North Staffordshire was not just limited to the university.
A founder member of the North Staffordshire Astronomical Society Paul Doherty produced astronomical artwork which appeared frequently not only on the BBC's monthly Sky at Night TV programme but also in some of Sir Patrick's many published books
In 1984 an episode of The Sky at Night was filmed at Paul's Rode Heath home, in which he showed his observatory and demonstrated his artistic skills.
Over the years Sir Patrick gave many lectures at various venues in North Staffordshire including the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, The Regent theatre and the Jubilee Hall in Stoke.
He would hold the audience's attention during the lecture with his trademark "machine gun" delivery.
If anyone asked him a question, rather than address the audience he would look straight at the person asking the question and deliver his reply.
Even after talking for hours he still engaged people in conversation during autograph sessions.
When The Sky at Night celebrated its 35th anniversary in 1992, Sir Patrick held a book-signing event at Webberley's bookshop in Hanley where, again, he engaged in conversation with the many people wanting his autograph.
Very recently, despite being in ill-health, Sir Patrick lent his support to a proposal to The Sentinel for the reintroduction of the monthly guide to the night sky.
This column had last appeared in the 1990s, written by Paul Doherty.
Before his death, the North Staffordshire Astronomical Society was in the process of informing Sir Patrick that the proposal had been accepted.
For many society members, Sir Patrick is directly responsible for piquing their interest in the science.
Chairman Martin Farmer, aged 51, of Newcastle, said: "As a young boy I was given a book written by Sir Patrick. It was this book that got me interested in astronomy.
"He was the typical eccentric British stereotype, yet during the moon landings NASA asked for his advice – a self-taught English astronomer."
Fellow society member Martin Kessel recalls meeting the great man almost 40 years ago after he had been to a play at the Victoria Theatre.
Mr Kessel, aged 53, of Weston Coyney, said: "I was a paperboy at the time, and we talked about sky watching as I did my Sentinel deliveries.
"He promised to send me one of his books. A few weeks later Naked Eye Astronomy arrived with a note, 'As promised, Patrick'. I still look at that book now and wonder how many more he helped guide into a fantastic hobby."
Similarly, members Duncan Richardson, pictured left, aged 41, of Halmerend, and Jon Hicks, aged 48, of Huntington, Cannock, also credit Sir Patrick with aiding their interest.
Mr Richardson said: "Sir Patrick Moore is one of a small number of people who's a true legend in their field."
Mr Hicks added: "Sir Patrick inspired me to look out at the stars and ask some fundamental questions about who we are and where we come from.
"His regular programmes on the BBC spanning many decades served as a reminder that despite the wars, troubles or politics of the day, something much greater than ourselves is waiting to be discovered."
Society member Derek Wilby, aged 52, of Shelton, recalls an encounter on holiday in California.
"I had the chance of visiting Mount Palomar Observatory, between Los Angeles and San Diego, home of one of the largest telescopes in the world, the 200-inch Hale Telescope.
"On entering the visitor centre we were greeted by a well known piece of music followed by the voice of Sir Patrick.
"Here, in a world-famous American observatory, an edition of The Sky at Night filmed a few years earlier was being used to inform visitors about the observatory – such was the standing of this modest astronomer from the UK."
Keele Observatory is open to the public. See www.astro.keele.ac.uk/Obser vatory. For further information on the North Staffordshire Astronomical Society visit www.northstaffsas.co.uk/