Michael “Atters” Attree:
I shall be asking important questions about extraterrestrial life forms, time travel, the Goodies and the moon, if that’s agreeable?
Anything you like. If you could avoid the period from 1939 to 1945. General questions are fine.
You are an incredibly intelligent cerebral all-rounder.
Well you’re wrong on two accounts already. I’m not exceptionally intelligent, or an all-rounder.
Really? You seem to be quite versatile with music and…
Well, I can’t take a car engine apart and put it together again…
Do you have a car?
Yes, a 1947 Ford Prefect. It’s a lovely old car.
Lovely smell, inside. The smell of leather and brass. [dozens of clocks suddenly chime and bong in the background]
I wouldn’t know about the smell, I have no sense of smell at all. I was born without it. My mother’s sense of smell was extremely poor as well.
Sometimes it’s a good thing! Anyway, despite being incorrect in saying that you’re an incredibly intelligent all-rounder, I’m still wondering whether, over your many years, do you ever feel slightly isolated by a lack of conversation on your level with someone as experienced and wise as you are?
Have you ever sported facial hair?
Yes I have. I had a moustache with a beard. I’m very annoyed that it’s gone: is there anything that can make your hair grow again? Please let me know.
It’s not fair is it, Patrick? But then some people go bald in their 20s. So tell me about the moustache.
I once grew a moustache. My mother came home and said, “I’m so glad you shaved it off,” and actually I hadn’t.
[Laughing] Well frankly it sounds like that was a good idea then. I must admit I cheat a bit; I use mascara to thicken my follicular girth.
Mine went from here to here [holds finger in squewiff way]. It was definitely a failure. Didn’t last long – a few weeks.
Actually, that’s much better than I expected. What’s your opinion on moustaches and beards in general? Rather a trifle of a question I know.
It depends from person to person. Two of my best friends have both got beards
Do they do any grooming, or are we talking unkempt fishermen’s beards?
One is a geologist.
You met Einstein, didn’t you? Did you feel you were in the presence of a great man?
I met him in a curious way [chuckles] at the start of the War. I’d been in the Air Force and I’d lied my way in. I was underage. I was nowhere near the medical grade…there was a conference going on and I was invited. So I went there. I’ve got a picture of him somewhere. He was exactly what I thought he would be. Charming and old-world.
What would you have liked to have been if you hadn’t been an astronomer?
I made up my mind when I was a small boy that I wanted to be a writer. I followed the path I wanted to take. My education was completely washed out and it was no-one’s fault. When I was a boy I was at Eton. After the end of the war, I left the Air Force and my Cambridge place was still open …let’s not talk about that time. I’d written a book and it had gone down rather well.
Titled “Guide to The Moon” in 1952 and later upgraded to “Patrick Moore On the Moon”, I believe.
Yes, I decided that writing was fun. Then I could really live the life I wanted to. So that was that.
And you write children’s fiction, too?
I’ve written all this fiction [points at his extensive library].
I must admit Patrick, I’ve not read any of your fiction.
Well it’s up there [gestures to the laden book shelves] and you wouldn’t. It’s all for teenagers…
Your mother was quite an accomplished artist, I believe?
She was actually a singer, before the First World War. She went to Milan and was trained to sing opera. Before she finished her training she was offered a job at the Italian Grand Opera. But the war came along and she married my father and never did it. Mother wrote one book, [Mrs Moore in Space by Gertrude L Moore] I’ll give you a copy if you like?
Gosh, thank you! Would that happen to be the one with the aliens…?
Yes! [Sir Patrick beams]
So your mother had an interest in extra terrestrial life?
She mainly got that from me.
But she obviously had the interest already, before she met you? Was it your interest that fired her on?
No. She did some before I was born. The ones on the moon and mars were from her imagination. I was always particularly close to her, especially after my girlfriend was killed. Therefore I never married. I remember seeing her just after the War ended, and I said “You’ve got nobody and neither have I. I’m devoted to you and you to I. So why split up?” So we never did. [Sir Patrick sits back, clasps his hands together and looks at me with a fixed gaze of obvious contentment].
I remember 20 years or so ago, you said you thought the possibility of extra terrestrial life was very unlikely indeed.
Well you haven’t got it quite right. If you think there are 100 million stars in the galaxy… I’d always maintained that lots of life was not just on earth but millions of light years away. And will they want to contact us? I think they probably will.
A whole flight of UFOs came towards me. I thought, “My god, the Martians are here!” And then one day I found out what it was
One would think there must be enough advanced life out their savvy enough to contact us somehow, despite the assumed scientific laws and limitations, don’t you think?
Frankly I’d find it far more disturbing if there wasn’t life out there.
Yes. I quite agree. We can’t be alone.
In 1968 you discovered the transient lunar phenomenon of glowing areas on the moon?
Very mild outbreaks.
What, in a nutshell if possible, would you say they are? [At this point, a rather eccentric Cuckoo clock goes off].
I managed to examine its spectrum…
OK, I probably should not have attempted that question, but that’s how you analysed it – through your observations?
Through my observatory…
You refused to take the Sky at Night to other terrestrial channels, despite their lucrative offers, due to a gentlemen’s agreement at the BBC, I believe?
Again, that shows your strength of character and dignity.
I had a great contract from the BBC. When I was young and in my teens we made an agreement, but in those days that was quite sufficient.
Why do you think the majority of people in business today reject such values? It’s a difficult question to answer. Is the world just moving too fast for such niceties?
It’s a different kind of world.
It’s a shame. Out of survival, one ends up not being the gentleman one desires to be, and could be, to avoid being completely walked over.
Oh, I know that…
I can’t imagine anyone walking over you Sir Patrick…
So a gentleman’s agreement simply can’t be trusted anymore?
Although I was once filling my car at a petrol station in the early hours and two large thugs came to try and beat me up. And I know judo.
So you sorted them out? I bet they didn’t get near your wallet.
I laid them both flat. During the War, we had to learn self-defence for various reasons. I learn it from a Japanese-American I met. He threw me around.
You learnt the hard way
Yes. I had to learn. Physically, I’m not particularly strong, and he was. And I’m clumsy. He’s dead now. He said, “You’re no good. I will make you good.” And he did.
Did you ever get to use it professionally? Oh sorry, I shouldn’t ask that…
Well, I got to use it once during the war and twice after.
As for those post-war thugs, you may not be here now if it were not for that training.
They would have beaten me up.
So that Japanese American may have saved your life
Do you like any pop music? You did a cover of Anarchy in The UK by the Sex Pistols on your xylophone didn’t you?
I am a xylophone player, yes. I played that at a Royal Command Performance . Just before this thing hit me [holds up arthritic hands]. I also composed the March Out of The Sky for the band of the Royal Parachute Brigade. “We want a new march,” they said, “Can you make us one? And I said, “Ok, give me a week or so.”
How wonderful. I understand you often play the villain in pantomime?
Until this hit me, yes [gestures to his wheelchair]. We always have a local pantomime around here and I’m always the demon.
Who was your favourite Doctor Who?
The first one.
William Hartnell! Did you like John Pertwee? He’s one of my heroes. You must have met him…they’re all bloody gone now Patrick!
Yes, I know [he says in a sympathetic yet forlorn tone].
It’s rubbish isn’t it! Well, Hartnell was a very interesting and private character wasn’t he?
Yes he was.
I think its time for a drink don’t you? There’s loads of choice.
I’d quite like a sherry, thank you.
Yes, I’ll have a sherry too. I wrote two operas. I didn’t quite keep to the story [one being the comedy opera “Galileo”].
Why does that not surprise me? How was it received?
It was on at Cambridge [Playroom] for a fortnight. And another fortnight. And a week somewhere else.
So it kept on rolling.
This was the last thing I wrote before my hands went.
I think we’ve regressed from the time of the Greeks.
Actually I wanted to ask you this because you’re qualified: Do you feel humanity is progressing intellectually? It seems humanity learns nothing from the past as if we have to live our own mistakes to a conclusion.
I think we’ve regressed from the time of the Greeks.
You probably get asked these sorts of things all the time, but UFOs – have you ever seen anything that you have questioned?
I’ve seen one thing that I couldn’t explain, with my telescope. A whole flight of UFOs came towards me. I thought, “My god, the Martians are here!” And then one day I found out what it was: pollen. Magnified by the telescope.
You penned a book once where you had a poke and josh at the Ufologists?
Not one of my most serious books. Can you speak Venusian?
Well, a spot of Swahili, perhaps, but I’m happy to try, Patrick…
The title of the book.
What was the book about then, in a nutshell?
All the various cranks.
So you were actually writing about crank theories? You’ve had fun with this haven’t you? I bet you love astrologers too don’t you?
I wrote a book about it.
Well it’s a put-down obviously.
[Laughs] I was going to say! [Atters and Moore take more sips of their sherry] Mmm yes, splendid… You know most pubs these days don’t even sell it.
If there’s one thing I do not like it’s beer.
Well, I’d like to like it – but it doesn’t like me.
We’re very similar there.
So this book is a factual book about the various cranks. [weird clock/electrical noises start happening].
Right, I’ll grab your nurse and ask her to take a photo of us both together, if I may [Atters leaves the room and returns with the new nurse who has just taken over the shift. She is young, blonde and pretty and clad in her white private care uniform]
Nurse: [to Sir Patrick] Hello handsome man, how are you? [kisses him]
I want to be Patrick Moore! [All laugh]
I always ask for a present from my interviewees, and without my even having to ask, you’ve given me a copy of your mother’s precious work. [Atters looks at Mrs Moore in Space and comments on a bogey alien featured in the story] I wonder if her aliens knew the Clangers?
I love the Clangers. My favourite was the Soup Dragon.