On a sadder note: We say goodbye to Shuttle launch director Gene Thomas and to comedy writing genius Caroline Aherne

by | Jul 25, 2016 | On a Sadder Note, Space Shuttle | 0 comments

Former Space Shuttle launch director, Gene Thomas, passed away as an octogenarian in June. Thomas was probably the most unfortunate of NASA launch directors as it was he who was in charge of the Challenger STS-51L launch which was destroyed 73 seconds into its flight on 28 January 1986. After the disaster Gene Thomas did his utmost to help find the cause of the failure which killed the seven astronauts aboard.

Thomas had not been informed before the flight by Morten Thiokol whose engineers had serious concerns that the O-ring seals on the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) might fail in the low temperatures that morning.  They did and it was this failure which caused the cascade of events which subsequently destroyed the external tank and orbiter.

While cleared of any blame by the failure investigation, Thomas felt deeply affected by the tragedy and did his best to improve launch safety including later becoming director of safety at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre.

During July we sadly had to mark the passing of comedy writer Caroline Aherne, 53, who finally succumbed to lung cancer having previously fought off eye and bladder cancer during her life.

Having originally made her name in the BBC TV comedy sketch show “The Fast Show” (aka “Brilliant”), Aherne really got to display her wit as her “Mrs Merton” alter ego in her TV comedy chat show of the same name. For example, she once famously asked the late magician Paul Daniels wife, Debbie Magee, “So, what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” It was a quip that this correspondent regrets not employing when he once met Tallulah Riley, the then wife of SpaceX and Telsa billionaire Elon Musk.

Caroline Aherne battled depression and alcoholism and was not averse to making drunken tirades at award ceremonies. But we can forgive her all of that for her beautifully observed fly-on-the-wall BBC comedy series, The Royle Family, which she co-wrote with Craig Cash and also performed in.

The multiple BAFTA award-winning show is a wry, occasionally disgusting, but always funny, portrait of a working class/non-working class family living in Salford, Greater Manchester (an area this writer spent living in during his student days) who seem to spend most of their time arguing, displaying flatulence and watching and commenting on television.

All those in “normal” families might wince at this naff and stupid family, whose amusingly grotesque characters might have been equally at home in the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens or even Hogarth. However, the joy of this modern day portrayal of family life is that we can all secretly identify with parts of it.  Not everyone got this generously warm comedy, but those that did will always remember it as a gem.

Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash had a famously rocky but very creative writing relationship.  However, latterly, Aherne and Cash had become friends again and were both involved as narrators in the smash-hit amateur TV critic show, Gogglebox, which, in effect, is a “real life” TV cousin of The Royle Family.

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