Editor, BBC Sky at Night magazine
With Sir Patrick Moore in the study of his home, Farthings
Back in 2005 I launched BBC Sky at Night magazine — the first BBC magazine to be launched in Bristol — and remained the editor for the next six years.
I’d had the idea for a magazine on space and astronomy a few years earlier. When BBC Magazines bought the publishing company I was working for, it seemed the perfect time to pitch my idea for a magazine to accompany the long-running TV programme. The Sky at Night had been presented by Sir Patrick Moore since its inception in 1957.
Of course, I had to visit Sir Patrick Moore’s house in West Sussex to get his blessing for the project. It was a nerve-wracking encounter for many reasons, not least because there was always the real possibility that he might say no. Fortunately for me, he couldn’t wait to get started. In fact, he told me he’d always hoped for tie-in magazine for The Sky at Night and he finally got his wish 48 years after the programme had started!
It took me a few months to develop the ideas for the magazine. In the process, I had to learn an awful lot about astronomy. Whilst I’d studied astrophysics at university, I didn’t know very much about practical observing. My relative ignorance was a blessing in a way. It helped me make the magazine understandable by complete beginners, although we always ensured we included content for more experienced astronomers.
Besides Patrick, I’m indebted to the other great writers contributed to the magazine, including Pete Lawrence, Paul Money, Hazel Muir, Giles Sparrow, Marcus Chown and Govert Schilling. Not to mention Patrick Moore’s co-presenter on The Sky at Night, Prof Chris Lintott, who still fronts the programme and also founded the fantastic citizen science projects Galaxy Zoo and Zooniverse.
I have fond memories of working with Sir Patrick. He lived on the other side of the country in West Sussex and personal calls were all too rare. But we did speak on the phone every week in connection with his columns, features and reviews. He could have filled the whole magazine every month because he had encyclopedic knowledge and typed so quickly, using an old typewriter.
One of my proudest achievements as editor was to have in a hand in setting up the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition run by Royal Observatory Greenwich. As the competition’s official media partner, BBC Sky at Night magazine promoted the competition to our readers and helped with the judging. Astronomy Photographer of the Year has since gone from strength to strength and every year I look forward to seeing the stunning photos taken by astroimagers from around the world.