Friday, 05 May 2017

Radio Review: 5 May

A stellar play about a man who brightened TV screens

Written by Louis Barfe
I’m uneasy about biographical drama. Too often, the temptation to make people say something they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, have said is not resisted. There is also a tendency to dwell on a person’s ‘dark side’, or even invent one. Louis-Barfe-colour-176

These pitfalls were (mostly) avoided in Far Side of the Moore (available on BBC iPlayer), sean Grundy’s play about Patrick Moore’s transformation from obscure astronomer into beloved TV personality. Questions about his sexuality were rightly unaddressed, and his, shall we say, robust political outlook was noted with admirable lightness.

The 2015 play, repeated to mark the 60th anniversary of The Sky at Night, gave a plausible but pacey account of the show’s origins. The main plot concerned Moore’s standing in the British Astronomical Association, viewed fondly by members but disdained as an amateur by Dr Henry King, founding director of the london Planetarium, played by the always excellent Anton Lesser.

Tom Hollander captures Moore’s voice and mannerisms pleasingly in a way that might not have worked on television, being physically so different a creature. A rather slight romantic subplot with Eileen Wilkins (Charlotte Ritchie), daughter of fellow astronomer hugh Percy Wilkins, was dealt with briskly, as you suspect any trace of romance in Moore’s life would have been.

The amateurish enthusiasm King derided, and head of TV talks Leonard Miall saw with scepticism, made Moore so good. When TV needed to explain astral matters, he pitched it right. Eventually, Miall, one of TV’s cleverest executives, realised Moore was ‘P. G. Wodehouse in space’.

Other stars shone too, including Daniel Weyman as producer Paul Johnstone, Patricia Hodge as Moore’s mother, and director Dirk Maggs, whose name is a kitemark for quality. Simply a delight.

Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

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