Will BBC Cancel The Sky at Night?

First broadcast in April 1957, The Sky at Night featured legendary British stargazer Sir Patrick Moore until his death last year. Now the long-running show's future is in doubt.

Update: Publicists at the British Broadcasting Company announced on October 29th that The Sky at Night would be broadcast during 2014. However, next February the monthly 30-minute episodes will move from the flagship channel BBC One, on which they aired for 54 years, to the digital-only channel BBC Four. Nearly 54,000 supporters signed an online petition urging the BBC to keep the program going.

Sir Patrick Moore in 2006
Sir Patrick Moore at his home in 2006, surrounded by mementos and the Woodstock manual typewriter that he wrote with for decades.
When Sir Patrick Moore died peacefully last December at age 89, astronomy lost one of its most vocal and recognizable champions.

Although a keen, meticulous observer in his youth and a prolific author thereafter, Moore was best known as the host of a monthly BBC broadcast called The Sky at Night, which first aired on April 24, 1957. Moore presented a total of 721 episodes and missed only one taping (in July 2004, due to food poisoning). No other show has been broadcast for so long with the same host in television history.

The series proved so enduring that in 2005 the network started a monthly magazine called BBC Sky at Night, though in 2011 the publication was sold to Immediate Media.

With his health failing, Moore cultivated astronomers Chris Lintott (Oxford University) and Lucie Green (Mullard Space Science Laboratory) to carry on. And they have, continuing to record shows on a wide variety of topics. The next episode will feature a "Moore Moon Marathon" to debut on October 18th, the night of a penumbral lunar eclipse that's visible from Europe.

Cast of <i>The Sky at Night</i>
The current cast of The Sky at Night (from left): Pete Lawrence, Lucie Green, Chris North, Paul Abel, Chris Lintott, and Jon Culshaw.
But news broke this week, in The Guardian and The Telegraph, that the show's days might be numbered. According to a BBC spokesman, "The Sky At Night is on air until the end of the year. Plans for subsequent series are being discussed."

Devotees of the show were shocked and outraged, as were its hosts. On Wednesday, Lintott tweeted, "Total viewing figures for a typical Sky at Night, across BBC1, BBC2 and BBC4: roughly a million. Just saying."

Students at the UK's Open University started a change.org petition to save the program. The appeal garnered 30,000 supporters in just its first four days. As signatory David Chadwick noted, "Part of the BBC's remit [mission statement] is to educate. The Sky at Night is a respected institution that has educated for decades. To even consider axing it is a disgrace."

Meanwhile, Moore had always dreamed of turning his longtime home — a thatched cottage known as Farthings — into an educational center devoted to astronomy. Since Moore's death, his close friend Brian May has been working to make that dream a reality. Known worldwide as the guitarist for Queen (and less so for his PhD in astronomy), May had the financial means to give it a go. Despite rumors to the contrary, no decisions have been made as yet.

6 thoughts on “Will BBC Cancel The Sky at Night?

  1. Kelly BeattyKelly Beatty

    hi, Robert… yes, you’re right, in the sense that it was *taped* monthly (though it’s broadcast several times each week on the BBC’s various channels). I’ve changed the text — thanks!

  2. Anthony BarreiroAnthony Barreiro

    I’m sad but not surprised to hear that the BBC is considering canceling "The Sky at Night." The BBC has been decimated by budget cuts and shaken by scandals. There is no longer any coherent vision of public interest programming, just a hapless effort to compete with the commercial channels by dumbing down to the lowest common denominator. Maybe "The Sky at Night" could survive by being transformed into a reality game show … .

  3. Alan Shaw

    Its as though they couldn’t wait for Sir Patrick to pass away.They are walking on his grave.He introduced more people to Astronomy than anybody with the Sky at night and the many books he had published.An online petition to save the show has begun and I urge all to sign it.

  4. Troy

    Can anyone really mean to change something that is meant for the people and produced by the people?

    Well yes someone can, But Why should they wish to if not for financial means. If for some reason someone is in need of removing the program from being produced then that person is internally conflicted both with materiel and/or consequential gains that they perceive.

    Traditions are only worthwhile if they harm no one and The Sky at night not only does not harm any one but only serves to educate those that do not have the opportunities and those that do.

    If nothing else the sheer knowledge within the past programs produced can only present more in depth questions about but not limited to our understanding of our selves and our place in the greater unknown.

    Producers please take note: People suffer more from ignorance and heartlessness than from any thought or idea as we all know actions speak louder than words!

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