on 16 October 2015
I joined the British Astronomical Association in 1959 and have, over many decades, enjoyed Patrick Moore's books and television programmes. When I read his autobiography "Eighty Not Out" I knew from my many encounters with Patrick that there was much missing and - frankly - wrong with his account of his own life. Martin Mobberley has produced the ultimate biography of Sir Patrick Moore. Despite being over 600 pages long it is an easy and entertaining read which I found difficult to put down. My wife was driven to distraction by my frequent "Hey! This is brilliant! You just have to read this part!" For over fifty years I was a witness to all the arguments, acrimony and back-stabbing that went on within the British Astronomical Association. I personally knew many of the characters mentioned in this wonderful book - J Hedley Robinson, Commander Henry Hatfield, Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest. It was wonderful to read about them in such a sympathetic yet 'warts and all' book. Although this book will appeal most to those who have been involved in the British amateur astronomical scene it deserves a wider readership on account of its encapsulation of the amusing eccentricity that amateur astronomers seem to have worldwide.
on 24 June 2015
While probably too long (655pages) and detailed for anyone with only a casual interest in Patrick Moore, for those (like myself), who have followed The Sky At Night since its inception, this is the ultimate biography of Britain's best known astronomer. Martin Mobberley has done a fantastic job, painstakingly assembling the details of PM's life and career, documenting not only his admirable strengths but also his all too human weaknesses. The writing is lively and there are several laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Patrick is filling-in on live TV while awaiting the arrival of a foreign guest only to discover when he does eventually appear that he speaks no English!
I only wish that the author had spared us some of the undignified detail of Patrick's physical decline in his last years when all the ills of old age began to afflict him; an eye for detail need not mean revealing everything that is seen.
Otherwise a fascinating and hugely enjoyable read. I especially appreciated the period leading up to the moon landings. It brought all that back to me and more - or rather, Moore!
on 22 August 2013
What a magnificent biography! Nothing turgid here. Martin Mobberley has written a "warts and all" life of one of our greatest citizens, one who graced our screens and whose works lined our library shelves for over half a century. It was always going to be difficult to balance the private life of an individual with that persona known to millions. However, as Martin accurately informs us in his biography, Patrick's life was an open book. He was the most generous of human beings, whilst never concealing his beliefs and attitudes. Be prepared for some revelations,some of which may not be flavour of the moment, but at the end of this read, Patrick is still the Patrick we loved over the years. Accurate and thoughtful revelations do not damage a reputation built on such a secure footing. Just take in what Patrick did for charities over the years. The author mentions them throughout the book. Also, Patrick's outstanding generosity, even to complete strangers, rises to the surface so often during the story of his life.
Martins's wonderful book is the result of over a decade of careful research, during which time he managed to interview many of those whose lives were touched in some way by Patrick. I know, I was one of them. Patrick for me was a hero of the first magnitude. His generosity was legendary and his influence far greater than he could ever have known. Martin's reports are always humorous, when appropriate, and as far as I can tell, they ring true with the Patrick known to so many.
The book is nicely produced, but why there is not a hardback option I cannot fathom. It contains some good photographs, covering the decades of Patrick's life very well. The front cover illustration is also well chosen. It captures Patrick's presence so perfectly.
The author's writing style is very relaxed and clearly, always that of a dedicated fan, who only wants to place before his readers the most accurate account of a life lived to the full, one which we all loved to read about at the time, but one that has now been set out in such a masterly fashion. Martin has filled in many of the gaps for so many of us who encountered Patrick over the years. We could not possibly have known so much about the man, but the author has managed to produce a engrossing account of the life of our greatest astronomical communicator, in chronological order from birth to his last days.
The author gives due attention to the influence of the British Astronomical Association on Patrick over the years, and his relationship with that respected organisation. We all know that "The Sky at Night" was a driving force in Patrick's life, but Martin carefully assures us that many of Patrick's BAA friends were key players, as guests, on that long-running (and still running) programme. It was a pleasure to read about the many astronomers who graced our screens over the years, jogging memories buried by years of constant advances in the fields of astronomy and space exploration.
Particularly valuable are Martin's lists of Patrick's favourite expressions, and the Appendix listings, notably that of Patrick's publications.
For any who have Patrick's books on their shelves, this is the time to dust them off (yes,some of them date from the 1950's) and enjoy that style of writing that launched so many of us into the void and prepared us for the Apollo era in particular. Martin's accurate account of Patrick's writings over the years is part of the chronological sequence in this book. As a result of the author's account, I ordered a tiny volume of Patrick's not on my shelves. There will be more added over coming months and years.
Be prepared to place on hold anything else you have planned for the near future, as you will not want to put this book down. You many wish to ration yourself to so many pages per day as, at over 650 pages, with index, you should be prepared for a good, long soak in the incredible life of Sir Patrick. I would not suggest rushing it. It took me ten days and I was not looking forward to finishing it. Given a suitable break from the immersion, I will read it again. It is nice to encounter a book that places other "pressing" duties on hold!
After reading this book, I would like to suggest the following as appropriate follow-up publishing ideas; a) a fully illustrated scrapbook format publication, featuring many of the tens of thousands of photographs in collections across the world featuring Patrick, fully annotated of course and b) a portfolio selection of Patrick's many observational drawings and notes across the decades, so that from wherever Patrick is now in this vast universe of ours, he could still exert an influence on generations to come. For the moment, however, inspiration can be yours if your read the book under review. I am sure that many will have their memories jogged by this biography and one would wish for a follow-up volume under the general heading "Patrick Remembered". Martin should write it! As it stands at the moment, this is a biography worthy of praise and comes highly recommended.
on 3 September 2013
I'm sure that there will be several biographies of Sir Patrick Moore, the long-time presenter of the BBC's Sky at Night programme, who died in December 2012. Martin Mobberley is first off the mark with "It Came From Outer Space Wearing an RAF Blazer!: A Fan's Biography of Sir Patrick Moore" and I'm pleased to say Martin's book stakes a good claim to be the definitive volume. Martin, an ex-president of the British Astronomical Association, was a long-time friend of Sir Patrick, and a fellow lunar observer. There are few people better qualified to assess Patrick's legacy in the amateur astronomical community.
But the real strength of the book is that Martin has cut through the mythology which has built up around a very public figure. Patrick was a great raconteur, never short of a story, and over the years the tales he told of his earlier life have grown; he was also mischievous and not above creating fictitious alter-egos. Many of his stories - to take one example, Patrick accompanying on the piano as Einstein played the violin - were repeated uncritically in his obituaries. Martin carefully examines the claims one-by-one and debunks the myths; and there were a lot of them. It may be that Martin has unfairly dismissed a true story here or there, but I'd be surprised if that happened often.
This book is not a hagiography, but nor is it in any way a hatchet job. Patrick was a larger-than-life character who held some extreme views (verging on racism and misogyny) and could bear grudges for decades; but he was also a charming, gregarious and generous man who was unstinting in his help for his fellow astronomers, especially beginners and youngsters. Above all he was an observer, who enjoyed the company of other observers. And a biography written by a fellow observer makes it quite clear the esteem in which he was held by those who he helped out.
What about his relationships? I'll leave you to find out what Martin discovered about Patrick's fiancée, Lorna, killed during the second world war. The simple truth is that Patrick's longest and most important relationship was with his mother Gertrude; her presence and support enabled him to concentrate on his writing and broadcasting careers. Martin does a very good job in tracing the good fortune that brought Patrick the job as presenter of Sky at Night; and the extraordinary events of the Space Age that propelled Patrick to fame. Martin also gives an insight, based on personal experience, of what it was like to contribute to and appear on the programme.
The style of the book echoes Patrick's own style - excitable and enthusiastic. Another recent departee, Elmore Leonard, held that books should contain approximately two exclamation marks per hundred thousand words. Martin exceeds this quota within a page or two! There's a certain amount of repetition - I guarantee you will know Ethel Granger's waist measurement by the end of the book, and she is only a peripheral character - but in a book that seeks to cover a life in its totality, perhaps some restatement of facts is inevitable.
I recommend this book. I fear there may be other, less well-researched volumes in the pipeline. It is good to have a detailed, objective biography to judge them against.
on 6 June 2015
I've read a lot of astronomers biographies and autobiographies over the years, including Sir Patrick's own '80 Not Out' (a good read, but with huge
gaps). But this enormous book by Mobberley blows them all away in terms of un-putdown-ability. The Preface says he spent more than a decade writing it and I don't doubt it. As others have noted, the attention to detail is extraordinary and even the list of quotes at the start is worth the
purchase price alone. Although it is a warts and all book I came away with the impression that the author may have been Patrick's greatest fan.
No-one could possibly write such an entertaining doorstopper unless it was a labour of love. As a fan of The Last of the Summer Wine I could
understand Mobberley's comparison of Foggy Dewhirst's yarns with Moore's as being both accurate and hilarious.I could also identify with loving
Patrick's bad points as much as his good points. Many readers will be amazed at learning of Moore's generosity towards his fans and friends.
Famous though he was, it appears his front door was always open to fans, young and old, and everyone left with a great memory and some free gifts (books, a look through the telescopes or, with adults, free booze....as much as they could drink). I'm already reading Mobberley's sequel
'Return to the Far Side of Planet Moore' and loving it just as much. I am somewhat amazed this book has not received an award or at least greater
recognition in the media, but then I suppose you have to already be famous to get that sort of publicity. I was sad to come to the end of this book,
but ecstatic to read that Mobberley had written a sequel, to satisfy demand for 'more about Moore'. Apparently the recent Radio 4 play 'Far Side
of the Moore' was inspired by the BBC reading Mobberley's book, which I can believe. Where else would they have got the personal information such as the war of words between Moore and Dr Henry King? I could say a lot more but the other five star reviews on this page have said it all really. Patrick was a one-off and totally irreplaceable and the author has done him proud, which is just as well as, amazingly, no-one else has
written about this legendary character since his death in 2012!
Thanks Martin Mobberley for a fantastically entertaining journey of nostalgia through Sir Patrick's life and for keeping his memory alive. Brilliant!
on 27 March 2014
I found this book surprisingly interesting despite the rather detailed account of every meeting of the BAA, every telescope, etc. It covers a profoundly exciting period when the exploration of space and advances in astronomy were taking place at an incredible rate and i was lucky enough to live through it. I confess that although Patrick Moore was a well known personality to me, i was never a fan of his - even as a kid reading his science fiction, I thought there was something wrong with someone who thought the moons craters were volcanic in origin! Of course although very interested in space (a real fan of Apollo, Voyager etc) and astronomy I was not an amateur observer and so did not appreciate Patrick's real strengths. Apart from observations, his ability to talk non-stop without an autocue was impressive. However he did become even more extreme in many ways in later life. Perhaps the most impressive feature of this book is that despite the fact that although the author is obviously a fan of Patrick's, he is not a sycophant and makes no attempt to hide Patrick's many warts. This makes the book a far more entertaining read and i would recommend it to anyone.
on 16 March 2015
Superb! This is undoubtedly the most exhaustively researched biography I have ever read and is clearly a labour of love. Sir Patrick led a truly fascinating life and this volume is a treasury of the great man's exploits and adventures. I regert enormously never having had the chance to meet him, but reading this volume is probably the next best thing. Highly recommended! I hope there could be a follow-up in the pipe-line. . .
on 27 October 2014
There can be no one in the world of astronomy who does not know the name of Sir Patrick Moore, that most esteemed amateur astronomer and advocate of the most noble of the science’s that is astronomy. Indeed his entire life appeared to be a mixture of astronomical pursuits interchanged with a celebrity status of the BBC’s man in space, war time stories and In general a life that was very fulfilling. Therefore when Sir Patrick Moore released his autobiography, 80 Not Out, in 2003 it was a highly anticipated book for many persons interested in this enigmatic gentleman.
However, many have commented since its release, that there are some inconsistencies and elements to his life that people thought the autobiography would clarify but sadly the book didn’t fill in all the blanks and the many questions people had about the life and work of Moore remained unanswered. This has now changed thanks to a truly monumental work written by amateur astronomer and former BAA President Martin Mobberley.
Martin’s incredible work, It Came From Outer Space Wearing an RAF Blazer!, covering an excess of 650 pages and some 330,000 words, took over 10 years to write. The sheer level of research that has gone into the book clearly marks this book as being the definitive work on the legendary Moore.
Mobberley tackles the book in an easy to read and enjoyable format which follows the life of Moore from start to finish. Initially looking at Moore’s birth and early years, his tenuous relationship with his military father, his deep love of his mother and his life in East Grinstead where he meets and befriends the oddly looking, almost Gnome like in appearance, astronomer William Sadler Franks, who taught the young Patrick how to observe correctly.
One of the most mysterious elements of Moore’s life was his military career in the RAF where he stated that he faked both his age and his medical in order to serve King and Country in World War II. It Came From Outer Space Wearing an RAF Blazer! Tackles this claim head on and through in-depth historical research shows this might not have been totally true.
The book details the creation of the Sky at Night and also gives interesting accounts of Patrick’s coverage of the Apollo Moon Landings, it was this TV exposure that undoubtedly gave Moore the fame he needed in order to make his career as an amateur astronomer work. In addition to these elements, that one would expect to find, Mobberley also covers disagreements with friends and other astronomers and also wrangling’s, dealings and clashes within the British Astronomical Association.
I make no small claim that this book is truly an epic read. The stories and legends the work covers, the stories that Patrick Moore retold many times and were in some cases the very fabric that gave him his prestige, are all examined in intricate detail which give the reader an even greater love of what is, without doubt, the greatest populariser of astronomy possibly in history.
I assure you that you will not be disappointed with this book.
on 18 August 2013
This has to be the most authoritative guide to Patrick's life, written by someone who clearly knew him very well, not only as a fan, but also as a friend. The level of detail and amount of information in the book is astounding...I just couldn't put it down. This is the book for anyone who wants to know the real Patrick.
on 17 September 2013
This book certainly isn't for those looking for an easy or quick read. Its also not a biography that just covers everything good about the man. This deeply in-depth look at Patrick Moore's life is incredibly detailed, covering every aspect of his life and leaves no stone unturned.
Overall it is an interesting read. My only gripe would be that it does ramble somewhat and go off on irrelevant tangents at times but it still remains, and will likely remain the most comprehensive account of the life of this remarkable man.