Founded by Robin Rees in 1999, Canopus Publishing is a UK-based scientific publishing company with a reputation for developing and producing popular astronomy titles, including a number of bestselling books by high-profile authors. We are actively looking for new astronomy authors at both academic and popular levels. If you have a project you would like to discuss, please get in touch. In addition to popular science, Robin is also developing and producing photography titles for the London Stereoscopic Company, and commissions aerospace titles for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Sir Patrick, a tribute by Robin Rees
After nearly 90 heroic years, my friend and long-time author Sir Patrick Moore ‘handed in his pail’, to use the phrase of an author we both enjoyed enormously, and who I believe was influential in developing Patrick’s effortless prose – P. G. Wodehouse.
The first time I met Patrick was on behalf of Cambridge University Press, for whom I was copyediting a book entitled Exploring the Night Sky with Binoculars; like so many of Patrick’s books this one has remained continuously in print, in this case for 26 years. He had a housekeeper named Woody, who chain-smoked and left half-finished cigarettes everywhere, and a small, scruffy black cat named Bonnie, who used to live on the fax machine, and dispatched regular unscheduled missives to random addresses. Woody packed Patrick off on his lethal bicycle to buy some crab from “Honest Bill”‘s seafood shack by the Selsey Lifeboat Station, and we had a delicious lunch in the summer sunshine in the rose garden. The character I had previously only seen on TV and heard on the radio – in the 80s he was still ubiquitous, not just seen on Sky at Night, but a participant in Any Questions, Just a Minute and a regular on chat shows like Parkinson – turned out in real life to be profoundly kind, generous to a fault, and utterly democratic.
At his much-loved home on Selsey Bill, Farthings, the staff were taken out to lunch with visiting dignitaries, orphans were adopted, both feline and human, the postman brought the mail, read the mail, and sometimes even answered the mail. Everyone was commanded to abide by Iremonger’s rules – named for Colonel Edmund Iremonger, a friend of Patrick’s whose largesse was legendary; it meant help yourself to whatever you want to drink. There were no restrictions as to how many could stay at Farthings – once the entire Cambridge University cast and crew of a comic opera Patrick had composed (Galileo) bedded down for the night – around 50 of them according to Farthing mythology.
In this happy spirit of bonhomie and with countless visitors drifting in and out for an hour, or for a week or more, it never seemed to matter, he churned out many books for whichever imprint I was working for at the time. Our modus operandi was simple. Patrick would pour out massive scotches, which had no effect on him, but would render me incapable of further participation other than cheering from the sidelines while Patrick, unhindered by editorial interference, pressed on and wrote/edited/proofed and indexed the book on his own at top speed. Over the years I learned to dilute the scotch, and even occasionally substitute it with ginger ale, and for our last few projects had to help Patrick with the writing process as he cruelly lost his ability to type. The bitterest blow was when Patrick could no longer play the piano, a dreadful frustration for him every day.
Patrick’s constitution had oxen stammering to excuse their fragility. He would man the telescopes in mid-winter wearing shirt and sports jacket, while I, or other visitors lost fingers to frostbite and shivered so much that whatever we were looking at was reduced to an unidentifiable blur. During the war, this constitution had been more severely tested – the missions he undertook, which would now be termed special operations, placed him in situations which, had he been caught, would have led to torture and certain death as a spy. It is not just the astronomical community that owes Patrick so much, it is the whole country. I know a vanishingly small amount about his exploits behind enemy lines, but under interrogation (by me!) he would occasionally release a tantalising molecule of information, and then clam up – “I made a promise”. And he has never broken that promise he made to his commanding officer back in 1940.
Of course, he was a man with an exceptional mind; he all too often obscured this through humorous self-deprecation – he was a genius in astronomy, music, chess, and as a TV presenter and author. But it was as a teacher that he really had no equal. He would unhesitatingly take on any stumbling or disadvantaged pupil and magically ignite their enthusiasm, which often turned into a lifelong passion for astronomy, and frequently led to high academic achievement.
The last time I saw him was three days before his demise; in his moments of wakefulness he was the same razor sharp, warm, playful personalty, only now in a body that was fading fast. I will miss him, his TV and publishing colleagues will miss him, every amateur and professional astronomer will miss him; from the tributes received it looks as though most of the population of Britain will miss him.
But we need not be sad on his behalf. He has always made no secret of his spiritualism – he told me so many times how he was looking forward to seeing his wartime sweetheart Lorna, his beloved mother, and all the cats that have “owned him” since the first Bonnie back in his boyhood days. Patrick, adieu!!!
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