Being an amateur astronomer naturally I am an avid viewer of ‘The Sky at Night’ and a regular subscriber to its magazine. One of the features that I always look forward to are the magazine’s cover disks that feature classic episodes of the show. I noted that during the early part of the 1980’s Sir Patrick stopped wearing his trademark RAF tie and instead wore a blue tie with '1986' embroidered on it, the '9' replaced by a comet with a blazing tail. In astronomical terms 'nineteen eighty-six' was a big year as it marked the return of Halley's Comet to our skies. One of our better-known comets, visible to the naked eye (from Earth) every 75–76 years. However the tie wasn’t just a reminder of the Comet’s return, interestingly (or at least I thought so) it actually belonged to the now seemingly forgotten Halley's Comet Society of London.
Founded in August 1975 by Halley's Comet enthusiast Brian Harpur, this group of enthusiasts held meetings in honour of Halley’s Comet and in his book ‘The Official Halley’s Comet Book’ Harpur explained the society and the ties, “The former attracted a wide variety of founder members at my own personal invitation on the intriguing basis of having no rules, no committees, and no annual subscriptions. The only obligations were the purchase of a tie (for the men) bearing our special ‘1986’ logo, which I designed with the ‘9’ shaped like a comet, and to pronounce Halley as ‘Hawley.”
All proceeds made from the sale of the ties (and medallions for the ladies) were donated to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme and it was reported that membership ties rocketed from one in 1975 to over 500 by 1983- all by word of mouth. Sir Patrick, in his book ‘TV Astronomer: Thirty Years of The Sky at Night’ Sir Patrick also recounted the Society and it’s tie, “I myself a founder member of the Halley’s Comet Society, which had been master-minded by Brain Harpur in the mid1970’s. We have our own special tie, with a 1986 motif, and we are, we feel, unique inasmuch as the Society has no aims, objectives or ambitions, and does nothing except meet periodically on licensed premises. (One such gathering was held in the Long Room at Lord’s; I think I was about the only regular cricketer present.) It has even been said that the Society is the only completely useless organisation in the world, apart, of course, from the United Nations.”
Issue#63 of the Sky at Night Magazine featured episode#392 on its cover disk, (originally aired December 1986) at this point the comet had passed and Sir Patrick reflected on what he called “the year of the comet”. He then pointed out that his tie no longer bares the 1986 insignia, but instead a ‘2061’ variation acknowledging the year of the comet’s return. This tie had been introduced at the very last society meeting in November as stated in ‘TV Astronomer: Thirty Years of The Sky at Night’, “We have now altered this to a 2061 design, to mark the next return of the comet. Our meeting on 13 November 1986, following an impressive ceremony in which a Halley plaque was unveiled in Westminster Abbey, Eamom Andrews turned up wearing the first of the new ties- a classic piece of one-upmanship.”
|Halley's Comet Society ties worn by Sir Patrick Moore. '1986' October 1982 and '2061' December 1986|
Dedicated to Sir Patrick Moore and Brian Harpur.
|The Official Halley’s Comet Book aside, other official Halley’s Comet Society products!|
2019 Update: Find out how acquired my very own Halley’s Comet Society tie!
* I was right to be cautious C/2012 S1 also known as Comet ISON speculated to be the "Comet of the Century" was disintegrated by the heat of the sun on the 28th of November 2013.
© Arfon Jones 2013. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.