The Sky at Night

1954 | United Kingdom

In the often neglected area of factual television, few programmes can lay claim to have had such an unquestionable impact on the field it chronicles than The Sky At Night.

For an astonishing four and a half decades since its debut on BBC television in April 1957, the series has become the cornerstone for the television presentation of the science of astronomy, successfully nurturing an ardently dedicated following of space enthusiasts, whilst winning deserved professional acclaim. Over the course of its landmark history, the series has succeed in not only effortlessly explaining complex astronomical theory to a layman audience, but has also inspired many to enter future careers in the science, leading to many remarkable discoveries about the nature of the universe itself.

But the real key to The Sky At Night's longevity lies firmly with it's presenter; the inestimable Sir Patrick Moore. The monocle sporting, endlessly knowledgeable and totally eccentric Moore was arguably the last great example of that dying English breed, the "gifted amateur". Although in this particular instance, the "amateur" was universally recognised and feted as one of the world's leading authorities on his chosen subject by the formally trained members of the astrological academic world.

What made Moore's contribution even more remarkable was the staggering fact that he hosted every single transmission, each month from the show's inception in 1957 until his death on 9 December 2012 at his home in Selsey, West Sussex, England. From early space flight to the astonishing intergalactic views afforded by the Hubble Space Telescope, Moore's continuing presence had assured the programme's unique place in the annals of television history as the longest-running TV programme in the world to be fronted the same presenter. During the course of the show's run our view and understanding of the Universe we inhabit has deepened considerably. The Sky At Night has been the interested viewer's fixed point and chief guide to greater understanding throughout one of the most invigorating periods in the science's long history. 

Beginning with the 3 February 2013 edition, the show was co-presented by Lucie Green and Chris Lintott. In September 2013 the BBC announced that the programme's future was under review, prompting speculation that the corporation would end it, and a petition from the public was raised asking for the show to be retained. In 2014 it moved to BBC Four, ending a 54-year run on the BBC's flagship channel.

From the musical gravitas of Jean Sibelius' Pelléas et Mélisande Suite [1955], Opus 46. 'At the Castle Gate' performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham during the show's credits, through to Patrick Moore's boyishly enthusiastic, captivatingly clear explanations and extrapolations, The Sky At Night is undoubtedly one of the brightest stars still burning undimmed in the firmament of factual television.

Published on January 31st, 2019. Written by Peter Henshuls (2002 - updated 2019). for Television Heaven.