Heather Anita Couper
Heather Anita Couper
2 June 1949
|Died||19 February 2020 (aged 70)|
Aylesbury, England, UK
After studying astrophysics at the University of Leicester and researching clusters of galaxies at Oxford University, Couper was appointed senior planetarium lecturer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. She subsequently hosted two series on Channel 4 television – The Planets and The Stars – as well as making many TV guest appearances. On radio, Couper presented the award-winning programme Britain’s Space Race as well as the 30-part series Cosmic Quest for BBC Radio 4. Couper served as President of the British Astronomical Association from 1984 to 1986, and was Astronomy Professor in perpetuity at Gresham College, London. She served on the Millennium Commission, for which she was appointed a CBE in 2007. Asteroid 3922 Heather is named in her honour.
Born on 2 June, 1949 in Wallasey, Cheshire, Couper was the only child of George Couper and Anita Couper (née Taylor). At the age of seven or eight, she was watching planes in the night sky because her father was an airline pilot, when she unexpectedly witnessed a bright green meteor. Her parents said there was no such thing; but a newspaper headline the next day referred to a "green shooting star," and Couper then determined to become an astronomer.
She attended St Mary's Grammar School (merged with St. Nicholas Grammar School in 1977 to become Haydon School) on Wiltshire Lane in Northwood Hills, Middlesex. At the age of 16, she wrote to British television astronomer Patrick Moore asking if she would be able to take up a career in astronomy, and received the reply "being a girl is no problem at all"!
After two years as a management trainee, with the Peter Robinson fashion store and its Top Shop division (now Topshop), Couper joined Cambridge Observatory as a research assistant in 1969, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1970.
Couper graduated from the University of Leicester in 1973 with a BSc in Astronomy and Physics. At Leicester, she met fellow astronomy student Nigel Henbest; they formed a working partnership – Hencoup Enterprises – that focuses on astronomy popularisation. She then researched at the Department of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford, whilst a postgraduate student at Linacre College, Oxford.
From 1977 to 1983, Couper was Senior Lecturer at the Caird Planetarium of the Old Royal Observatory at Greenwich (superseded in 2007 by the Peter Harrison Planetarium), leaving to become a freelance writer and broadcaster.
In 1984, she was elected President of the British Astronomical Association, the first female and the second youngest person to hold the position. Couper served as President of the Junior Astronomical Society (now the Society for Popular Astronomy) in 1987–9.
From 1978, Couper wrote over 40 popular-level books on astronomy and space, many in collaboration with Henbest. According to one reviewer, Couper and Henbest are 'great storytellers with an eye for a colourful character'.
In 1999, the Royal Astronomical Society and La Société Guernesiaise invited Couper to deliver keynote lectures on the forthcoming total solar eclipse, the first visible from the British Isles since 1927. Couper also led expeditions to view total eclipses of the Sun in Sumatra (1988), Hawaii (1991), Aruba (1998), Egypt (2006), China (2009) and Tahiti (2010).
Couper's international lecture tours and public speaking engagements ranged from the US to China; Colombia to New Zealand. She was chief guest celebrity speaker on the maiden voyage of the P&O cruise ship Arcadia, and gave presentations on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. In 1986, Couper was aboard Concorde on its first flight from London to Auckland, New Zealand, as the astronomer responsible for showing passengers Halley's Comet while flying at 18,000 metres over the Indian Ocean.
Couper appeared at many festivals, including the Brighton Festival, the Cheltenham Science Festival and The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. Her corporate work included keynote presentations to British Gas, AXA SunLife and IBM.
Couper presented many programmes and series on BBC Radio 4, including the live Starwatch series, Worlds Beyond and The Modern Magi. She won the 2008 Sir Arthur Clarke Award for Britain's Space Race on Radio 4's Archive Hour.
She also made numerous appearances on BBC Radio 2, Radio 4 and Radio 5Live, as well as regional and local radio stations across the UK. In 2008 Couper presented the 30 x 15-minute Radio 4 series Cosmic Quest, on the history of astronomy.
Outside astronomy, Couper was guest presenter on the Radio 4 flagship programmes Woman’s Hour, the John Dunn Programme and Start the Week. She showcased her interests in literature and in local history in presenting episodes of Radio 4’s With Great Pleasure and Down Your Way, and in classical music by selecting her "pick of the Proms" for In Tune on BBC Radio 3.
Couper appeared as an astronomy expert on news and current affairs programmes, and presented many series and programmes, mainly on Channel 4.
Her first TV appearances were as a guest on The Sky at Night, a long-running series hosted by Patrick Moore. Couper (with Terence Murtagh) presented the 1981 children's series Heavens Above, produced by Yorkshire Television for the ITV network.
In 1985, Couper presented the seven-part series The Planets for Channel 4, followed in 1988 by the six-part The Stars. Her television presentational roles included The Neptune Encounter (ITV), A Close Encounter of the Second Kind (Horizon, BBC2) and Stephen Hawking: a Profile (BBC4).
She narrated many factual TV programmes, ranging from Ekranoplan: The Caspian Sea Monster (Channel 4) to Raging Planet (Discovery Channel).
As producer, Couper’s TV credits for Channel 4 include the award-winning Black Holes and Electric Skies, along with the series Universe: Beyond the Millennium.
Couper left Pioneer Productions in 1999 to concentrate on more general radio and TV appearances.
In 1993, Couper was invited to join the newly created Millennium Commission, as one of nine commissioners responsible for distributing money from the National Lottery to projects that would celebrate and commemorate the new millennium. She was one of only two commissioners (along with Michael Heseltine) who stayed in post from the commission’s inception until it was wound up in 2009.
|1985||The Planets (7-part series)||Presenter||The Moving Picture Company for Channel 4||Episodes: Children of the Sun, Mercury and Venus, Blue Planet, The Angry Red Planet, Planets of Gas, The Search for Planet X, Are We Alone?|
|1988||The Stars (6-part series)||Presenter||The Moving Picture Company for Channel 4||Episodes: Reach for the Stars, Messages from the Stars, Secrets of the Sun, A Star is Born, Stardoom, Beyond the Big Bang|
|1989||The Neptune Encounter||Presenter||Pioneer Productions for network ITV||Fast turnaround documentary on the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune|
|1992||ET: Please Phone Earth||Narrator/scriptwriter||Pioneer Productions for Channel 4/ABC||Gold Medal, New York Festivals|
|1992||A Close Encounter of the Second Kind||Presenter||BBC2 Horizon||Live outside broadcast as the Giotto spacecraft flew past Comet Grigg-Skjellerup|
|1993||Space Shuttle Discovery||Narrator||Pioneer Productions for Channel 4||Inside story of a space shuttle mission, partly filmed by the astronauts on the space shuttle Discovery mission STS-51|
|1994||Electric Skies||Producer/narrator||Pioneer Productions for Channel 4||Documentary on lightning. Winner of 1995 Banff Rockie award for Best Popular Science Program; Gold Medal at the New York Festivals|
|1995||Arthur C. Clarke: Visionary||Presenter||Pioneer Productions for Discovery Channel Europe|
|1996||Wonders of Weather (13-part series)||Producer||Pioneer Productions for TLC|
|1997||Black Holes||Producer||Pioneer Productions for Discovery Channel||Gold Medal, Best Science Documentary, New York Festivals|
|1997/8||Raging Planet (10-part series)||Narrator||Pioneer Productions for Channel 4/Discovery Channel|
|1998||Ekranoplan: The Caspian Sea Monster||Narrator||Ideal World for Channel 4|
|1998||Killer Earth||Narrator||Pioneer Productions for Channel 4|
|1999||Universe: Beyond the Millennium (4-part series)||Producer||Pioneer Productions for Channel 4/TLC/ABC||Episodes: Planets, Stars, Creation, Alien Life. Glaxo Wellcome/ABSW Science Writers' Award|
|1999||Stormforce||Narrator||Pioneer Productions for Channel 4|
|2002||Stephen Hawking: a Profile||Presenter||BBC4||Documentary marking Stephen Hawking's 60th birthday|
|2003||Space Shuttle: Human Time Bomb?||Narrator/writer||Pioneer Productions for Channel 4||Fast turnaround documentary on the space shuttle Columbia disaster|
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