Far Side of the Moore by Sean Grundy

Contact Us

Far Side of the Moore by Sean Grundy. Dir. Dirk Maggs. Perf. Tom Hollander, Patricia Hodge, Anton Lesser. BBC Radio 4, 30 Mar. 2015. BBCiPlayer

Patrick Moore was one of those English boffins (others included Magnus Pyke and Heinz Wolff) who not only enjoyed a long and fruitful television career but managed to make what had hitherto seemed a dry and dusty scientific subject accessible to everyone. "The Sky at Night" began in 1957 and still runs today; Moore himself presented it for fifty-three years until his death at the age of 89.

Sean Grundy's play looked at the origins of the series, as well as concentrating on Moore's personality. In an uncannily precise impersonation, Tom Hollander portrayed the would-be astronomer as an enthusiast, someone who might be pejoratively described as an "amateur" by his professional colleagues, but possessed with sufficient chutzpah to render him an ideal televisual figure. At first the BBC were a little skeptical about his talents; in the late Fifties, they were still more concerned to have experts (recalling Sir Mortimer Wheeler of "The Brains Trust") dealing with scientific subjects. Moore had not even been to university, rendering him even more of a layperson.

One of the play's most satisfying elements was the way in which Moore dealt with his rival Dr. Henry King (Anton Lesser, in one of his vocally sneering characterizations). King not only despised Moore's presumed lack of expertise, but tried everything he knew to impede the enthusiast's career. King not only had the knowledge but the power as well, having recently assumed the directorship of the London Planetarium. In the end, however, Moore emerged triumphant, and made a special point of telephoning King at his office, once the first "Sky at Night" had been transmitted.

"The Other Side of the Moore" also examined the television presenter's private life. Deprived of a father at an early age, he relied mostly on his mother (Patricia Hodge) for moral and physical support. Although beloved by women, notably Eileen Wilkins (Charlotte Ritchie), Moore did not appear to enjoy any close relationships with them; he seemed somehow wary of letting himself go emotionally. The gift of the gab he possessed (that worked so well on television) was a way of compensating for this shortcoming; if he found it difficult to reveal much of himself in public or in private, he could at least entertain people.

The play contained a framing device, in which the now-deceased Moore looked back on his career - its beginnings, as well as its ends. He not only managed to make astronomy a popular televisual topic, but he also acquired a family of adopted children - a compensation, perhaps, for his emotional difficulties experienced as a younger man.

I have to admit I really enjoyed this play, not only for Hollander's performance, but for the way in which author Grundy dealt so sympathetically with his subject. I hope it is repeated soon.