TOTP debacle aside, the BBC knows full well you don’t need viewers to have a successful brand, especially if said brand is cheap as Mars Bars to make.
The BBC’s longest running programme celebrated its 50th birthday last night in typical fashion: a half-hour show broadcast at 11:30 pm. Instead of the usual black studio + starmaps & experts shenanigans, we were treated to Patrick Moore (who has famously only missed one show in 2004 thanks to food poisoning) TRAVELLING THRU TIME to visit a recreation of the original 1957 broadcast and converse with Jon Culshaw as his younger self. There were, of course, sly digs at the Corporation (“Unfortunately, we’ve been given a 10:30pm time slot. I hope we’re not moved any later.”) as well as some insight into the progress of SPACE SCIENCE since 1957 (’57 PM: “The Moon’s craters may be caused by volcanic activity but I could be wrong about that.” ’07 PM: “I was wrong about that.”) and the news that the under-construction Jodrell Bank radio telescope could cost a whopping £70,000!
The second half of the show presumably nudged the budget into the tens of thousands by showing us The Sky at Night 2057 with PM in disembodied-head Gamesmaster mode (uploaded to the BBC computers in 2015, natch) travelling to Mars to visit cricket-playing astronauts and the wreck of Beagle 2. The highlight, though, was DOCTOR BRIAN MAY in his Martian habitat with old man makeup consisting of a beard and pure white mane of Brian May hair. They talked about exploding Roger Taylor on the Moon and settled a £1 bet made in 2007 (at a million to one of course) that life on Mars would be discovered. Predictably, inflation meant the £million coin was more useful to Brian as a pick for the Red Special.
Despite these anniversary larks, TSaN has barely changed over its half-century and is only ever seen by its core audience of amateur and academic stargazers plus the odd insomniac. Nevertheless, PM’s monocled squint is one of most recognised and impersonated faces on the BBC and his relentless enthusiasm and optimism have kept the show chugging along while it’s been grudgingly jammed into the late night schedules every month. Hard to say whether charter obligations alone will allow it to continue for another 50 unless Patrickbot 1.0 really does make it through beta testing. There’s always Brian, though. Hopefully standing by to record a rock version of At the Castle Gate.