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Patrick Moore and 'Seeing Stars' in 1959 - a touch of nostalgia

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My childhood interest in astronomy had mostly been in suspended animation until recently when I retired and found myself occasionally in the Shropshire countryside under dark skies. My wife was surprised to discover my long hidden passion for astronomy, so I set about trying to recall my earliest memories to explain all to her.

One of the stories I told her has just been wonderfully and vividly clarified. For a month or so, it has been possible to search the early copies of the BBCs Radio Times which have been put on line http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/aboutthebbc/posts/Genome-The-Radio-Times-Archive-is-now-live.

After a few stumbling searches, I quickly found the reference to the programme that set off my early attempts at practical astronomy. I don't think I ever watched The Sky at Night in those days since I was in bed by the time it was broadcast. But I regularly watched another Patrick Moore monthly called Seeing Stars which was broadcast in Children's Hour on a Friday. I know that I always had to fight to be able to watch the programme, against opposition from two sisters who would have preferred to watch whatever was on the other channel (Tyne Tees TV ) at the time.

And the most memorable programme was the one which was broadcast, according to the new website, at 17:40 on Friday 13 March 1959. I recall particularly the accompanying story with photo in the Radio Times showing a 16 year old 'Northumbrian astronomer' who was building an observatory, like a small version of Mt Palomar, to house his telescope. The programme was very good, but more exciting than usual for me because I was living in Northumberland at the time, about five miles from Shiremoor, the village where the young man, Raymon Lane, himself lived.

When my dad came home from work, I showed him the photo of the young man and his observatory, and immediately after supper, we got into the Morris 1000, and drove to Shiremoor. My dad popped into a local pub, asked a couple of questions, and within minutes we were parked outside the house 'with the observatory in the back garden'. Of course it was daylight and the sky was cloudy, nevertheless we knocked on the door.....

Over the next few weeks, whenever there was a moment of clear night sky, we made visits to Raymon Lane at the Shiremoor observatory, which housed a wonderful brass 12" Newtonian reflector on an EQ mount with slow motion controls and a clockwork RA motor. We had to stand on a ladder to reach the eyepiece so my guess is that the scope was about f8. 

I well recall seeing a crescent shaped Venus but not many other noteworthy objects though the telescope. My dad asked Ramon what sort of telescope he could suggest for my birthday, and I was thrilled to receive Raymon's second hand scope - a 4" Newtonian reflector on a simple EQ mount (no fine adjustments for latitude, or azimuth, and no slow motion controls). I think my dad paid him £12. 

After a few rather frustrating attempts at star gazing through this scope, I went back to looking at the sky with naked eyes alone. I remember that the secondary mirror was a prism, but the mounting arrangement was a crude metal strap which probably had to be bent to position it correctly. I don't recall any facilities for collimating the primary mirror, but then I was only nine years of age. 

I think the telescope spent a couple of years gathering dust in the cupboard, and if I recall correctly my dad sold it on to a neighbour (hopefully one with some optical engineering skill).

Fifty five years later I've finally got my own 12" Newtonian (Dobsonian these days of course) - pity I haven't still got nine year old eyes!

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What a wonderful story!

A quick Google search shows that Ramon Lane contributed an article to the 1976 Yearbook of Astronomy (below) as well as appearing with various other hits for solar and other astrophotographs.





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Thank you for clearing something up for me! I remember watching Sir PM in the early 1960s and I thought it was during Children's Hour but I could not remember the name of the programme. It must have been Seeing Stars, I know I was too young in those days to be able to stay up for The Sky at Night.

I wonder if any video tapes exist of those early shows? They certainly got me hooked for life.

Thanks for reviving some happy memories.


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