I first met Dave Fletcher at the inaugural meeting of Richmond & Kew Astronomical Society in December 1986. Dave was appointed Chairman, a post he was evidently not comfortable in filling. It did not suit his personality. Dave came over as a very sincere person, without a shred of guile. He quickly settled into the roll of Sky @ Night presenter that marked the start of all our meetings, and his idiosyncratic style, and Hampshire burgh became its most endearing feature.
Each meeting he delivered a ten minute talk in which he breezed through, "What's Up in the Night Sky" for the month ahead. Armed with a couple of tatty OHP skins and a pen, which he would rattle against the projection screen, he talked away twenty to the dozen, mainly with his back to his audience, all the while describing his celestial favourites in some of the most poetic language any of us will ever hear, "Diamonds on black velvet"; "Eye's of a Demonic Cat"; "Proof that God smokes". Even though after a while we could all anticipate what he was going to say next, he still held us in his thrall, such was his unbounded enthusiasm, his unbridled passion for the night sky. A sensibly contagious passion that spilled over into his quarterly Deep Sky Notes for Popular Astronomy magazine, a column he wrote for 20 years.
He used a simple little 6-inch Newtonian that he affectionately Christened, "Albert". Why "Albert" I have no idea, possibly an allusion to the great man himself, Albert Einstein. From his balcony he would peruse the deep sky objects he talked to us about at our meetings. Most of us struggle to find these objects, but Dave knew where they all were. I recall all night observing sessions in my observatory at Forest Row, where he was a most welcome visitor. He would show me object after object with my much bigger telescope, having me point it this way and then that, with complete disregard for the effort involved in manoeuvring a clumsy behemoth hither and thither. The only thing Dave couldn't find at the end of the night was the door!
Dave had what can only best be described as a love of the bizarre. Dave introduced me to the delights of Joe Orton's satirical plays. I revelled in his company, and despite his uncultivated table manners he became a much cherished dinner guest, if only for his repartee. Whilst I was residing in Muswell Hill in the early 90's I would accompany him on his Sunday morning swim, followed by repast at LaJolla opposite his flat. It became a regular weekly event, except when he took himself off to COAA on the Algarve, where he was indulged by Bev & Jan Ewen-Smith, and their motley crew of pet cats.
Dave seemed to hold cats in deep affection. I sort of got an inkling of why he felt the way he did about cats. I think he saw something in them that he couldn't find in the mass of humanity. He never desired one as a pet, yet he would go out of his way to make sure whichever neighbourhood moggy was on the prowl, crossed his path, and I'm not sure which made the bigger fuss, Puss or Dave.
David Flecther was born in Southampton on 2nd. August 1951 but never knew his parents. His surname, Fletcher, was chosen by him owing to his admiration for the raconteur Cyril Fletcher of odd odes fame. He was adopted at eight weeks. His adoptive mother died when he was 14 and he was fostered until the age of 18 when he went to the University of North London to study Geography, leaving three years later with a BA in the subject. He commenced work for the Civil Service and moved to West Hampstead in 1972 and resided there until 1979, when he moved again to North Ealing, where he lived for the remainder of his days, a much loved denizen of the Pittshanger Lane village.
Dave lapsed into alchoholism in the mid 70s and openly admitted that by the 70s his drinking was totally out of control. He lost his job, and for a while scraped a living as a door to door double glazing salesman. After several years unemployment he eventually found work as a library porter in Perivale, a job he enjoyed for 12 years until he was made compulsorily redundant in 2002. During the remaining five years of his life he worked part time on a night shift aircraft cleaning crew at Heathrow airport for Virgin Airlines, a job he hated and was forced into by the DHSS in order to continue receiving housing benefit.
Alchoholics Anonymous was to be his salvation. That and the Gunnersbury Baptist Church. He became an AA member of the Hammersmith and Isleworth chapters, and later in life an AA chapter in New Jersey USA. And with his alchoholism under control he was able to follow his childhood passion for the night sky. For a while he was a member of the BAA but allowed his membership to lapse in 1988 following one memorable ProAm Conference after which he remarked, The BAA, the only astronomical organisation dedicated to making astronomy boring.
Dave was also a long standing member of the Junior Astronomical Society, and remained so when it changed its name and status to the Society for Popular Astronomy.
At about this time (1984) he responded to a local newspaper advertisement placed by Tom Hosking who was seeking a means to regain access to the Kings Observatory in Kew. Tom wanted to found an astronomical society based in Richmond to provide a platform from which the Crown Estates could be effectively lobbied. In the words of Tom, recorded in diary notes, Dave was Mad about astronomy, Mad about the idea of a local astronomical society in the Richmond area, and Quite mad - in the nicest possible way.
In 1988 Tom Hosking was offered the editorship of the JAS quarterly Journal Popular Astronomy. Tom transformed the magazine into a truly popular magazine and retained Dave as its Deep Sky Diary columnist, a post which he held through the change in editorship in 2000 until his untimely demise on October 25th 2008.
Dave was admitted to Central Middelsex hospital in early October suffering from chest pains. At first mis-diagnosed as pneumonia it rapidly became evident he had advanced and extensve cancers, including kidney tumours, liver malfunction, bone cancer and lymphoma. He lapsed into unconsciousness on Thursday October 23rd, and died in the early hours of Saturday 25th. only eleven days following diagnosis.
I dont think he realised how ill he was. I had spoken to him on my mobile phone only a few weeks previously, and he sounded as chirpy as he ever was. Nor does it seem that he was in any great pain before being admitted into hospital.
His funeral was held on Friday November 14th. at noon at Mortlake Crematorium followed by a reception at Gunnersbury Baptist Church at which his friends at the RKAS & AA payed our last respects.
Well Dave, to steal a line from Monty Python's Dead Parrot Sketch, you have joined the choir invisible. You now have a little constellation all of your own, Felix Ocularis, and whenever we look up we will be thinking of you.