The Sky at Night episode guide, free with our March issue

On Sunday 6 March at around midnight, you'll be able to watch the 700th episode of The Sky at Night on BBC One. Here at Sky at Night Magazine we're onto our 70th issue, and even that seems like a lot to me. Our magazine is monthly, just like The Sky at Night, but the TV programme is rather older. It was first broadcast in April 1957.

If you've ever wondered what those 700 episodes were about, you're in luck. We get asked this fairly often, and so finally we decided to do something about it. We got hold of a definitive episode guide from the BBC, added a few bells and whistles and put all 24 pages of it into our March issue. For free. When you're in the shops, look for the magazine with a comet on the cover and you'll find this inside...


If you can't wait to get hold of it, I'm afraid you'll have to hang on a few more days. The issue goes on sale on 22 February, although our subscribers should receive their copies a few days earlier.

Those extras I mentioned include an introduction by Patrick Moore (who else?) and interviews with producers past and present - Pat Owtram, Pieter Morpurgo and Jane Fletcher. All of them were very generous with their time, probably because they love making the show as much as we love watching it.

My colleague Dan Down did a few more interviews too, and you'll be able to read them on our website in the week leading up to the 700th programme. We picked some of our choice highlights to go into the guide but I'm sure you have your own.

I'm really interested in hearing about your favourite episodes. Everyody I've spoken to has favourite programmes and even favourite decades. If we get enough suggestions, we may be able to put some of those classics on our coverdisc. Provided, that is, they still exist – tragically, some of the early tapes were wiped years ago.

So why has the programme lasted so long? The timing didn't hurt. Later in 1957, the first satellite (Sputnik) was launched by the Soviet Union. In the 1960s, the space race took off and America finally overtook the Soviets by landing on the Moon. In the 1970s and 1980s came epic 'postcards' from Mars and the outer Solar System courtesy of robotic probes. Recently, Hubble and the Very Large Telescope have made incredible discoveries.

That's not the only reason, of course. Patrick Moore believes it's because astronomy is simply an interesting subject, period. But the 'x-factor' was surely his charisma. Even now, despite my attention span being cruelly shortened by emails, text messages and Google, I'm still riveted by those early black-and-white episodes. It's just Patrick talking to camera for 20 minutes but it's a pure pleasure. No other presenter has that gift. Even the great Sir David Attenborough could rely on a gorilla or two to liven up dull moments.

The 700th programme looks set to be a real treat, with a few famous names joining Sir Patrick for the show. Our episode guide will help celebrate his achievement, and I couldn't be more proud of helping to bring it into the world. I don't even think of it as our work, even though it took a long time to put together. It's really Patrick's: 54 years of devotion to astronomy and educational television.

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