Thursday 9 August 2018

Sir Patrick Moore's Wax Figure

Clearing out some things in the studio I found a London Planetarium visitor guide from 1996, sadly not from actually visiting there but from a charity shop... I had always wanted to but the opportunity never presented itself to me, so I had to make do with the visitor guide. I read through it a fair few times and found it to be a great source of reference for my work but there was one photograph in particular that intrigued me, located at the bottom of the pages 2 and 3 was a photo of Sir Patrick Moore with a waxwork likeness of himself, which he had unveiled at Madame Tussauds back in April 1992 to be displayed at the Planetarium. I’m not even sure why this particular image stayed with me but for ten years I vowed to make visiting the London Planetarium a priority but alas it was not to be and by 2006 it was too late, when the London Evening Standard announced Madame Tussauds‘s plan to stop showing astronomical presentations as it had done continually since 1958. Instead replacing it with a show devoted to the world of celebrity! Schools and astronomical organisations (myself included) despaired when Diane Moon of the Planetarium said that the newly named London Auditorium would be transformed into a show that would "get into the heart of celebrity”.
It seemed that despite the Planetarium’s upgraded to a full-colour Digistar 3 system back in 2004 it had failed to attract the public’s interest. Patrick himself concerned that London was now the only major city in the world without a Planetarium spoke out about the announcement to the BBC saying it was, “most regrettable" while Madame Tussauds attempted to smooth things over by permitting free entry to the Planetarium during its penultimate week offering one last hurrah before it would be replaced by a show about celebrities made by Aardman Animations. Although I missed out on experiencing the ’Laserium’, the Digistar II or III I did however get to see that wax figure in 2006, not in London but 89 miles away in Chichester, West Sussex. 

The South Downs Planetarium and Science Centre in Chichester,is an educational facility run by both volunteers and astronomy enthusiasts and it was opened to the public on the 30th July 2001. Patrick had been a keen advocate of the project, serving as one of its patrons while working at having a star theater constructed and installed.  It contains a Viewlex-Minolta S-IIb star projector (dating from 1977) that had been retired by the Armagh Planetarium (where Patrick was served as director). The projector had not been used for some years but Dr John Mason (a former president of the British Astronomical Association) was able to put it back into working order and it’s well worth a visit!  Professor Brian May once described this building as, “one of the best possible living monuments to Patrick’s lifelong commitment to Astronomy” and I very much agree with this statement as it inspires the next generation of Astronomers each year just as Patrick did for over half a century and I very much urge you to visit. As you walk in, there to greet you is Patrick’s wax figure! So, I might have been robbed of my chance to visit the London Planetarium, but I got to see a star show and Patrick’s wax figure courtesy of the South Downs Planetarium.
With the wax figure at the South Downs Planetarium, 2006.
© Arfon Jones 2018. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

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