Go behind the scenes of Stargazing Live

We caught up with Keaton Stone, one of the producers of the popular stargazing show, to find out what happens when the cameras stop rolling

Stargazing Live’s presenters Brian Cox, Dara O’Briain are both passionate about space and the night sky. Image Credit: Keaton Stone

Stargazing Live’s presenters Brian Cox, Dara O’Briain are both passionate about space and the night sky. Image Credit: Keaton Stone

You were a key person in producing Stargazing Live. Were you nervous about putting together a show that had never been done before?

There were a lot of potential issues that could have been problematic to us – the live link could have gone down, props may not have worked and, of course, the all-powerful Cloud Gods may have decided not to play ball for the entire three nights we were live! So, to cover ourselves, we had contingency plans ‘on top’ of contingency plans. Luckily, we were pretty fortunate – and thus the phenomena now known as the ‘Stargazing Luck’ has pretty much stayed with us through the fifth series so far – fingers crossed!

What inspired Stargazing Live?

Well, I’d absolutely cite the late great Sir Patrick Moore and the success of The Sky At Night for over five decades in showing there is a real passion for space and astronomy in the UK. This was, of course, enhanced immeasurably when Brian and the ‘Cox Factor’ exploded, which brought the delights of the heavens into living rooms across the nation at peak time, with his space-themed Horizon episodes and groundbreaking series, Wonders Of The Solar System. The original idea was ‘Wonders Of The Solar System Live’ – a cross between The Sky At Night and Springwatch – but as time went on, the show developed into its own beast and so Stargazing Live was born.

You’ve helped to produce Stargazing Live for a number of years. What would you say has been your most memorable experience?

That’s such a tough question, as I’m very lucky to have built up quite a few by now! Visiting various NASA sites with the brilliant Liz Bonnin and meeting many of my astro-heroes, getting up-close and personal to the Curiosity Rover’s twin in the Mars Yard at JPL, escorting Eric Idle around NASA and prepping him for the show, seeing the James Webb Telescope being built, getting to see probes being assembled in clean rooms, accompanying Buzz Aldrin to Stonehenge and him taking a shine to a particular item of cosmic-clothing of mine and keeping it for himself – later followed by him giving me a number of personalised signed photo’s by way of thanks. Visually explaining to the series producer how we only ever see one side of the Moon from Earth and the euphoric eureka-like moment when he ‘got it’, filming with Jonathan Ross, who is such a humble and nice guy plus a complete professional. Also, being the on-screen ‘live-tweeter’ for Back To Earth on series two, hanging out with Astronauts Tim Peake, Eugene Cernan, Walt Cunningham and Chris Hadfield and, of course, just the joy of working with an amazing team, right from the production side to the live crew and presenters. It really is something special being able to work on such an incredible show, particularly when the subject matter is one we’re all so passionate about.

Behind the scenes of Stargazing Live. Image Credit: Keaton Stone

Behind the scenes of Stargazing Live. Image Credit: Keaton Stone

Could you describe a “day in the life” of a producer of Stargazing Live?

On the live days it is literally all systems go! We’re up early for breakfast and then the majority of the team head to Jodrell Bank Observatory to set things up and test cameras and communications, arrange deliveries, source last minute props, fact-find for items that may have been newly introduced into the show at the bar the previous night, whilst the people mainly involved in the show’s content stay behind for a script meeting in one of the conference rooms. Present in this meeting will be the head of BBC Science, the executive and series producers, various other producers, the live show director and gallery assistants – and, of course, the presenters. This will last for a couple of hours after which the final scripts and running orders are emailed over to the production team at Jodrell Bank and begin to be printed out (something which takes a long time with so many people involved and needing copies).

Everyone who stayed behind for the meeting will then also decamp to Jodrell – usually in time for a quick bit of lunch before it’s straight into rehearsals for the evening show. These will go on for a few hours at a relaxed pace for everyone to really learn where they are supposed to be and what they are saying, before a spot of dinner followed by a full dress rehearsal in real-time a couple of hours before we go live. During the broadcast, producers are either sat in the gallery and frantically finding out further information or facts on anything that has happened to come up during the show, or are helping escort the presenters to wherever they need to be next, or they are looking after some of our space VIPs! After the show, it’s time to pack as much down as possible and catch one of the two coaches laid on to take everyone back to the hotel and meet up in the bar for the traditional – and all-important – post-show pint!

You can read the full interview with Keaton in issue 47 of All About Space, on sale now. All About Space is available every month for just £4.50. Alternatively you can subscribe here for a fraction of the price!

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