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Brian May: the truth about Sir Patrick Moore’s estate
9 October 2015
Brian May, the Queen guitarist, sets the record straight about what has happened with the estate of his friend Sir Patrick Moore
Hello, all who loved Sir Patrick Moore. Brian May here.
Since there has been a lot of speculation out there in the media about Sir Patrick Moore’s will and estate, and, sadly, a lot of misleading information has appeared, I’d like to offer this as an update, addressed to all who are interested in the great man’s legacy.
We’re now close to finalising the realisation of all the provisions of Patrick’s will, but it’s been a long haul, since some of it was so complicated, and, two years later, we’re still addressing the remaining unsolved problems (thankfully all small ones now) in winding up dear Patrick’s affairs. We’re a small bunch of devotees, we whom Patrick appointed as his executors, and I can tell you that everything that we’ve put in place has been worked on with a great deal of love and care.
I’m not going to pretend that much of the credit is due to me. Patrick’s close friend and now retired solicitor David McCahearty has devoted immense amounts of time to sorting out all the various areas, and ‘devoted’ is the word. The truth is, without his work, we would all be in chaos at this point, and all the money might have disappeared ! (I’ll explain why, later) I should point out that neither David nor I are beneficiaries of the will, so we don’t stand to profit in any way from it. Patrick did, however, name beneficiaries – a small group of chaps whom Patrick ‘adopted’ as his honorary Godsons. Patrick took care of them in life and in death.
The Science Museum
Our central achievement, I think, is the now finalised major arrangement with the Science Museum for the core of Patrick’s ‘professional’ effects (even though he insisted to the end he was an amateur !). The Science Museum’s intent is to mount a permanent ‘shrine’ to Patrick, and also to make the core of his observations and his collection permanently available to scholars. And so we will eventually see, if the Science Museum keep their promise, a permanent national monument to Patrick in the most important public science facility in Britain. I think it would make him smile.
As I’ll explain more fully later, we had to give up our initial idea of converting Farthings into some kind of study centre or memorial for Patrick. It was simply impractical for a number of reasons. But I think we achieved something much better.
The Science Museum spent months sifting through thousands of items in Patrick’s library and collection, to ascertain which of his belongings constituted the central core of his life and work. As Patrick’s executors, we finally handed this core collection over to the Science Museum earlier this year, in return for a sum of money which is dedicated to founding, as agreed by of all the trustees, the Patrick Moore Heritage Trust. The PMHT has now been fully incorporated by David as a charity, to act as a channel for inspirational work in Astronomy on Patrick’s behalf – a scheme which Patrick thoroughly approved personally while he was still in operational health. This is something Patrick himself was very excited about. We were able to set it in motion with him while he was still alive, with his full participation and approval, rather than wait for his demise to begin putting the project together.
Some special items relating to Patrick’s work we then earmarked as donations to Patrick’s favourite project in his latter years … the Chichester Planetarium. Patrick spent a lot of his own money helping this splendid institution to get started, under the leadership of eminent astronomer Dr. John Mason, and he also spent much of his spare time contributing to its development. If you visit (highly recommended), the first thing you see when you walk in will be the very convincing waxwork of Patrick, looking every inch the way he used to look when he was delivering a talk to a bunch of young astronomers. We believe this small but busy planetarium is one of the best possible living monuments to Patrick’s lifelong commitment to Astronomy. Every year it gives thousands of young students their first taste of the wonders of the Universe – and doubtless at this very moment is inspiring the next generation of Astronomers – as Patrick himself did for over half a century. As of today there are exciting new developments at the planetarium as it looks as if permission will be granted for it to expand to accommodate a study centre wing, plus the possibility of a unique astronomical garden and a small museum.
Moore Music, Cricket, and Herschel
Another special area to consider was Patrick’s music. Well, it’s been well taken care of. We have entrusted all the Patrick’s manuscripts of Patrick’s musical compositions to his favourite protégé, xylophonist Chris Beaumont, who has been keeping Patrick’s music alive in his live performances. We have safety copies of everything lodged in my archives. We also headed Patrick’s favourite Xylophone Chris’s way. I have also archived (alongside Queen treasures) all the recorded works that we have been able to find, and we are in the process of safety-copying all of them too. Yet another special area ? Cricket. Patrick was a real enthusiast, and had a reputation for being a spectacularly bad batsman but a mean bowler of that odd delivery Known as a Googly. We donated his beloved cricket bat to his favourite institution – the Selsey Cricket Club. And one more ! Patrick had a special regard for the eminent Victorian astronomer William Herschel. He devoted much time to helping the small but fascinating Herschel Museum in Bath, and became their patron. After Patrick passed on, the Herschel Museum asked me to take over as their Patron. Among Patrick’s treasures were a number of items which related directly to Herschel. We all agreed that these should be donated to the Museum, to be enjoyed by its visitors.
After all this, there still remained another large part of the collection which constituted the most saleable of Patrick’s other collected effects; some of this material is what we consigned to be sold at Christies (totally incorrectly referred to in the media as “Patrick’s Worldly Goods), and the remainder is to be auctioned in Chichester. These are mostly personal things; we felt Patrick would be happy if his many thousands of his fans had a chance to acquire something small as a keepsake.
This in turn left us with one more task: to sensibly dispose of the remaining largely unsaleable stuff, from random books not associated with his work and not otherwise special, down to stacks of photocopies of journals, and old newspapers, etc. Anyone who has dealt with executing a relative’s will knows that you eventually get down to things like tissue dispensers and old picture frames, which are not easy to find homes for, and in the end are best dealt with in small bundles, sent to charity shops and the like.
There has always been a risk that the total receipts from Patrick’s chattels would not even cover the costs of the administration in disposing of them, and of course we still cannot be sure what the monies from Christies, etc, will amount to. But I believe that we will have sufficient to cover it, and also some money left over to enable the Heritage Trust to begin its work.
As many people close to Patrick know, he was a very generous man, sometimes to the point of folly ! Although he made a significant income during his life from his books and other projects, towards the end of his life he found himself in a position where he could no longer sustain his outgoings. All of us who were close to Patrick blanched at the thought of this great man spending his last days in an old people’s home, rather than staying in his home and work place, affectionately named ‘Farthings’, with the thinly disguised alternative meaning “Far Things” – this being typical of Patrick’s gentle humour. He was above all, productive – that’s what he lived for. You might have thought that being a knight of the realm, and one of the most celebrated figures in Britain, people in high places would have stepped in and made sure his welfare was taken care of. But not so. At this point, realising the tragedy that was imminent, I secretly offered to bail him out. I bought first a strip of his garden to give him some ready cash, but then things continued to get worse, so I then bought the house and remaining land from Patrick and leased it back to him for a peppercorn rent, so he never had to worry about money again. To safeguard the money (so Patrick couldn’t give it all away !), the cash was put in his accountant’s care to be paid in yearly instalments to Patrick for his day to day upkeep and other calls. We had no idea how long his life was to be at that point, but in fact the instalments were to enable him to live comfortably in his beloved Farthings to the very end of his days. The arrangement was secret for some years, but was eventually ‘exposed’ by some busy-body newspaper reporter. The relatively small amount of cash left in Patrick’s accounts when he died goes directly to the four beneficiaries (only two of whom are also executors), split equally. His possessions, on the other hand, he directed to be disposed of by his executors as they saw fit. Patrick was not survived by any close relatives.
Just to fill in the gaps, we have all (David, John Mason and myself) spent the last 2 years trying to find a way for Farthings to be part of a monument of some kind to Patrick. All the proposals we have considered have come to a dead end, including the originally enthusiastic approaches of the local council. I am now convinced it is never going to happen. In the location of Farthings, there is simply no way to make the house sustainable as a study centre, museum or monument. It sits in a residential area, and so cannot be converted into commercial premises, it has no possibility of dedicated parking, and all our advice was that it would simply lose money consistently on upkeep and staffing, until it fell into disuse, obliterating the Heritage Trust’s funds, and becoming an embarrassment for Patrick’s memory. There have been a few armchair philosophers out there saying ‘it was Patrick’s dying wish that the house become a study centre’ … but of course all of us close to him know that this is simply not true. Patrick’s prime concerns, in order of priority, were Ptolemy – his beloved pussy cat – and his library. These were absolutely OUR priorities, and we believe his hopes are admirably fulfilled.
So the only other major problem to be solved is how to dispose decently of the empty house, Farthings. Unfortunately, it’s my problem ! I have now decided to bite the bullet and put it on the market, but with certain constraints. I’m considering putting covenants on the property, to try to prevent the land being sold on and split up for more dense, money-making house-building, which would have bothered Patrick, I’m sure, and would make life horrible for his neighbours. I’m sad to have to sell it at all, but I can’t live in it, and I believe we have now exhausted the exploration of all other possible futures for the house. Of course if someone came up with a workable plan to buy the house, keep it intact, and make it useable by the scientific community, I’d be all ears. But I don’t believe it will happen. I would be happy, and I believe so would Patrick, if it makes a home for a growing family – the kind of family Patrick once dreamed of raising.
His last gruff words to me about the house were “I don’t want the house to be a rope around your neck, Brian. You should sell it for a profit. I would never have allowed you buy it from me unless that were the case”. I told him I really wouldn’t feel comfortable making a profit out if it; the whole point had been to preserve his quality of life, precious to us all. So that’s how we left it. He once again after that asked me to try to ensure his collection of ‘special’ books was preserved intact and accessible – his library. But he was astute, and realised that this might not mean that it remained physically in the house. I believe his library is headed to the place where it will be most appreciated and most useful to future generations of astronomers – The Science Museum. Supposing the sale of Farthings does show a profit, I have it in mind to donate that to the Chichester Museum for their expansion plans. I think that would be fitting.
So I believe we have, by due attentions, done our very best for Patrick’s legacy, and by the time we’re finished, we will have done him proud. His legacy will be immortality in the Science Museum, his work preserved for the Nation, a thriving teaching Chichester Planetarium, probably with at least a new wing added in his name, The Patrick Moore Heritage Trust, the continuation of the performance of his musical compositions, together with the protection of his recorded works, with a view to a reissue at some point, and his myriad archived appearances on The Sky At Night and other TV and Radio shows. But most of all, we all know that his greatest legacy is the current generation of top British astronomers, amateur and professional, who credit Patrick as their original inspiration to do what they do now.
All Hail Sir Patrick !