Thursday, July 02, 2009


A live jam* by Pink Floyd in the BBC studios during coverage of the Apollo 11 landing (by then, even the BBC had bought into the 60s). I watched the BBC coverage, but don't remember this - I assume it was transmitted after the LEM touched down and my sister, brother and I went to bed. A few hours later, my mother shook us awake: because Armstrong and Aldrin couldn't sleep, the moonwalk had been brought forward to 4 am British time.

An article in today's Guardian describes how the BBC nearly missed the crucial moment:
"I stayed in the studio, because I had nothing else to do, listening to the air-to-ground transmissions from Houston," says Burke [one of the presenters, long with Patrick Moore and [EDIT, see comments] Cliff Michelmore]. "And after about half an hour, Armstrong and Aldrin started doing the kind of thing you do if you're going to get out. So I went upstairs and said to the guys, 'Look - they're going to get out.' They all said, 'No they're not - the flight plan says they're not.' I said, 'Well, they're doing all the things they'd do if that was about to happen.'"

You can imagine the next bit being enacted amid a sea of paper cups and discarded scripts, in standard-issue BBC accents. "There was a long pause, and somebody said, 'You do understand that this means us broadcasting all night?' This had never happened before in the history of television. I said, 'Well, you know, if you want to cover it ...'

"They said, 'OK - but if we stay open and nothing happens, you'll never work again.' So we did it, and we had to go to Alexandra Palace." A car was called, and Burke sped to north London, where he readied himself to talk the viewing public through the images that would soon be relayed to Earth.

*EDIT The audio is a recording of the live jam; the video is a collage of various lunar excursions.


Blogger Ian Sales said...

I'm not surprised you don't remember it - that's not Apollo 11 footage.

July 02, 2009 2:57 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Hi Ian, I know it isn't - whoever stuck up the track provided that collage for visuals (only other version has a b&w still of the band in its Syd Barrett days). I watched as much coverage as I could find, in those pre-video, pre-internet days, of the other missions (I was even able to watched some of the Apollo 11 footage the next day, because the father of a classmate had filmed it on Super*, straight off the TV). I was watching live coverage of Apollo 12 when the TV camera was fritzed after it was accidentally pointed at the Sun, for instance.

July 02, 2009 3:56 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

(That should be Super 8 of course.)

July 02, 2009 3:57 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

It's quite like other Floyd live material of the time, eg the live half of Ummagumma. Cf Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.

July 02, 2009 6:09 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

Also, your quote highlights just how knowledgeable James Burke was about Apollo. I'm struck, when watching BBC4's lunar season, how ubiquitous he was in those days, doing spacesuit stripteases, talking us around the CM, and covering all the missions in depth. I can't imagine Susan Watts or someone showing that much knowledge or enthusiasm these days.

July 02, 2009 6:37 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Hi Pete, the sheer amount of time the BBC gave over to coverage of Apollo (as much as they give to, say, snooker, now) meant that James Burke had all kinds of freedom that today's science journalists, constrained by time slots and the need for rolling news to update absolutely everything else, don't have. But he was indefatigably energetic, that's for sure. When my mother called us down to watch Armstrong take that first step, she'd had hours and hours of filler from the trio fronting the BBC's coverage. 'Patrick Moore 1, Raymond Burke nil,' she reported. 'And James Burke had his name taken.'

July 02, 2009 7:36 pm  
Blogger The Spirit of Creative Writing said...

I don't think this music can have been for Apollo 11. At just after 3 mins there's a brief Austonaut audio snippet 'I was strolling ...', which sounds very like Harrison Schmitt's famous little song 'I was strolling on the moon one day, in the merry merry month of -- December'. Which would mean the music was improvised to accompany coverage of Apollo 17. No?

I like the music, mind. The crackliness adds to the murky, meandery early-Floyd vibe.

July 03, 2009 9:15 am  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Hi Adam, It was definitely for the BBC's Apollo 11 coverage - the person who uploaded it to YouTube added snatches of dialogue from other missions. Repurposed it as it were. Should have made that much clearer, obviously.

On another tack, I notice I called Raymond Baxter 'Raymond Burke' in my last comment. It's hot and sticky, I have a couple of kilos of proofs to proof, and I can feel my mind going...

July 03, 2009 11:13 am  
Blogger The Spirit of Creative Writing said...

I stand corrected.

Something about your last comment, the juxtaposition of the sticky heat and the mention of Raymond Baxter, brought vividly and irresistibly to my mind memories of the Goodies episode about string, in which Baxter cameoed wearing nothing but a string vest.

Perhaps my mind is going, too.

July 03, 2009 12:30 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

My mind is definitely going - it wasn't Raymond Baxter but Cliff Mitchelmore who with Patrick Moore and James Burke presented the BBC coverage of Apollo 11.

Baxter definitely appeared in a Goodies episode wearing a string vest though. Patrick Moore appeared more than once, too...

July 03, 2009 12:46 pm  

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