Sir Patrick Moore, who died yesterday afternoon at his home in Selsey, West Sussex at the age of 89, will be remembered as the man who inspired several generations of children to look up at the sky at night and dream of other worlds.
Following an infection several weeks ago that left him in hospital but unable to respond to further treatment, Sir Patrick asked to spend his last days at his home, Farthings, in the company of his friends, carers and beloved pet cat Ptolemy.
Britain’s most recognisable amateur astronomer, who presented the BBC’s The Sky At Night for more than 50 years, had suffered several serious bouts of illness over the past few years but this time he was too weak to recover, according to close friends.
Tributes flooded in for the man who popularised the field of space and astronomy for more than half a century in his distinctively eccentric style epitomised by an ill-fitting suit, monocle over his right eye and erudite speech delivered at a rate of 300 words a minute.
Brian May, the guitarist of the Queen who also has a PhD in astrophysics, said that Sir Patrick was an inspiration to him and many others both through his personal life and his 50 years of television broadcasting.
“It's no exaggeration to say that Patrick, in his tireless and ebullient communication of the magic of astronomy, inspired every British astronomer, amateur and professional, for half a century,” Dr May said.
“Patrick will be mourned by the many to whom he was a caring uncle, and by all who loved the delightful wit and clarity of his writings, or enjoyed his fearlessly eccentric persona in public life," he said.
“Patrick is irreplaceable. There will never be another Patrick Moore. But we were lucky enough to get one," he added.
Brian Cox, the particle physicist and television presenter, tweeted: “Very sad news about Sir Patrick. Helped to inspire my love of astronomy. I will miss him!”
Sir Patrick, who was born on 4 March 1923, said his interest in astronomy began as a small child when he came across a book called Guide to The Solar System.
“I picked up that book by sheer luck and sat down by the armchair and read it through. I understood most of it, which wasn’t bad for a six-year-old,” he later remembered.
As a young man he knew Albert Eistein and even accompanied the great physicist, who was a keen violinist, on the piano. Sir Patrick often composed music and was an exuberant player of the xylophone.
David Whitehouse, a former BBC science correspondent who knew Sir Patrick well, said that he loved astronomy more than himself but he was not always an easy man to work with.
“He was passionate, he was dedicated and had an unselfish love of astronomy and he passed that on to everybody who knew him and he came across,” Dr Whitehouse said.
“He was a difficult person personally to deal with on many occasions, he was sometimes awkward, truculent and stubborn but that was Patrick, that was part of his remarkable personality which so many people came to enjoy and love,” he said.
Although Sir Patrick was never trained professionally in astronomy, he did carry out pioneer work on mapping the Moon in the 1950s, and a decade later did some of the television commentary for the Apollo Moon landings.
Sir Patrick never married, saying that he would not accept second best after his fiancée, Lorna, died in an air raid when the ambulance she was driving was hit by a bomb during the Second World War.
His eccentricity extended into his political leanings, being the finance officer of the Monster Raving Loony Party and a leading member of the newly-founded UK Independence Party
But the stars and planets were his first love, along with music and cricket.
He once said that he would like to be remembered as an amateur astronomer who played cricket and the xylophone.