The Sky at Night and the Red Button

This Sunday marks the fiftieth anniversary of monthly astronomy programme The Sky at Night. The same presenter, Patrick Moore, has appeared in every edition but one, which he missed through illness, having, the legend goes, consumed a dodgy goose egg. The show, for me, represents a continual late night comfort, a combination of the cosily familiar and the majesty of the unknown. I find it the most relaxing possible show. It's probably my favourite ever TV programme. (Doctor Who is more of a lifestyle choice.)

When I was very small, my Dad took me to visit Patrick Moore, in the seaside town where we were on holiday, where everyone knows where he lives. His housekeeper told us that he was about to set off for London to record a show. So we left. But then Patrick himself came running down the lane after us, calling 'wait a moment!' Very swiftly, he showed us round the telescopes of his garden, and gave me a copy of his latest book. He encouraged the young me to pursue the life of an astronomer, which I did until I stumbled at degree level and started writing instead.

This Sunday's edition shows off Patrick's sense of showmanship: John Culshaw from Dead Ringers plays the young Moore, while Brian May of Queen (a regular guest, being another astronomy student who got a bit diverted) presents an episode from fifty years in the future. I look forward to it enormously. It's him being willing to be a populariser and entertainer, combined with stunning factual work (the new Mars exploration edition a couple of months back being a great example) that's kept the show fresh for so long.

Of course, Patrick's politics were, the last time anyone heard about them, the sort of thing that one can only sigh at. But last time anyone heard about them was some time ago. And I'm one of those people who, not being a young firebrand anymore, is minded to let the old and non-pontificating off the hook.

So that's the second thing on television I'm excited about this weekend. The red button trailer for the new season of Doctor Who is on almost continual rotation in my house. 'WE ARE THE FAMILY OF BLOOD!' Ooh! I have learnt to dance to that. And my lovely scarecrows. Thank you Charles and Ed. I want action figures.

I haven't decided yet, but I may well pop along to Jeremy Bentham's launch night party in London. I'd turned down the invite a long time back, when it clashed with Caroline's Faringdon Singers concert last weekend (Rutter, and all that lovely quiet choral Lent stuff, thanks for asking), but I just realised I could go, and, hey, it'll be the start of a whole summer of seeing this show with as many people as possible. Doctor Who as a communal thing. What could be better?

Finally, a nice chap from Creative Screenwriting magazine did an interview with me a while back, and its's now online. Some of the content will be terribly familiar I'm afraid (there's a translation of 'french fries' for 'oven chips') but there's new stuff here. You can tell I can't say the words 'Human Nature' at this point:

If I'm here tomorrow night, I'll pop in to share the general squee for a great opening episode. Cheerio.

18 Response to "The Sky at Night and the Red Button"

  • Stuart Ian Burns Says:

    Crumbs, Paul. I've got the 'Debut on Two' book. I bought it years and years ago before I even became a Doctor Who fan again and I was an aspiring fiction writer. Hold on, let me find it.

    ... gosh, there it is. 'Poppylands' Page 97. It's got the old multi-coloured BBC2 logo with the letters TWO in red, green and blue on the cover. I can't wait to read it.

  • Stuart Ian Burns Says:

    I really like the dialogue -- there's a wrongness to it but the syntax is perfectly legible so you can't quite understand why it's not quite right. Actually, if you were attempting to extrapolate on how language might be in the future, sixteen years later it's probably pretty accurate in places.

    Emily's a great little character -- reminds me somewhat of Joss Whedon's Faith, a kind of confused understanding of what power is and what it can be used for and also how the world works. The voiceovers work really well in eccentuating that attitude and I particularly love the bit which would appear over waves when she says: "the gap between people is forever and ever, and death is death, and if you can fool yourself into feeling" etc -- great rhythm in there, and distinctive too.

    Well done on giving Cromer a mention. Actually, as the comments in the introduction notes, there's a great sense of place. You can really smell the age of the snack bar, exactly the kind of place you find at the sea side which hasn't been refit in decades and hasn't changed its menu in just as long.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    That's very kind of you. I'm not sure how highly I rate the play these days (it went out under a different title, 'Kingdom Come', because Poppylands turned out to be copyright to a lot of firms in that area). It feels rather adolescent to me. But it is real SF. I got to know Rita Wolf, who played Emily, quite well. Or rather, she was very friendly and outgoing but back then I was too shy to deal, really. I do love the countryside around there.

  • Stuart Ian Burns Says:

    Yes - I know all about how that works (there's a long story relating to a French girl called Katarina (no really) from when I was at university).

    Which character did Pete Postlethwaite play? Was it Mitch?

  • Jason Says:

    The french fries translation and similar "American-friendly" insertions were my editor's additions to the piece. Personally, I was of the opinion that anyone who couldn't figure out oven chips should just be allowed to imagine some arcane UK delicacy their American tastebuds would never savor.

    Thanks again for the interview, Paul. I look forward to viewing that which could not be named at the time when the US Sci Fi Channel gets round to airing it.

  • nexstarman Says:


    After all that about 'The Sky at Night' I'm hard pressed to remember what else is going out tonight :-)

  • Reactor Says:

    What was/is wrong with Patrick's politics?

    Were they not correct?

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    SIB: I can't even remember the characters. Pete was the older, more down to Earth one, not the young aggressive one. Jason: hey, no problem, I didn't take those things as negatives (my joke was about how many times I've told the oven chips bit). Thanks for a great interview. And thank goodness I can name it now! Next: ah, but wasn't it great?! Reactor: indeed. I don't want to go on about them here. You can find the details elsewhere should you want to. I vaguely regret having mentioned it. You know, it's a bit wrong-headed of me to say 'let's forget that' and then to go on about it.

  • Chas Says:

    I am staggered at your casually pompous comment about Patrick Moore's politics. I manage not to sit in smugly complacent judgement of you as a shameless New Labour supporter of the war in Iraq and fundamentalist christian when enjoying your work as a writer. The Sky at Night 50th anniversary programme was brilliant.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    I can see you're managing to do that, Chas. I'm not a 'fundamentalist', however you define that, I'm a very very liberal Anglican.

  • John Toon Says:

    Is it my imagination, or did Brian May get the same beard and wig Tom Baker had in "The Leisure Hive"?

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    They were probably still in a cupboard somewhere.

  • John Toon Says:

    Tom Baker and Brian May?

    The same cupboard?

    Tom and Brian,
    Sitting in a cupboard at the BBC...

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Oh hush.

  • Dee Says:

    Hi Paul, this is a first for me though I often catch up on your blog from time to time (more through fear of a mention having read in the past your comments on Martin, Guy etc, accurate as they were!)

    Just wondered if you had read the Folly news paper recently?

    There was an interesting article in the section which deals with past news. It was concerning a little Cake/Tea shop that used to be in the town just around the corner from you (where there is now an eatery named Dill or Basil (or something to that effect..)

    Apparently Patric Moore visited once, small world. Just thought you might like to know!

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    I do need to get the latest issue of the Folly. I'm glad we were once blessed by a visit from Patrick!

  • John Toon Says:

    Still 'n' all, if Patrick Moore's going be downloaded into a computer and turned into a floating disembodied head, presumably we can draw up a single continuity for 'The Sky At Night' and 'Games Master'?

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    This topic's been mad enough without starting a debate about canonicity.