Terry Maloney: Writer, illustrator and astronomer

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The Independent Online

Aged 20, Terry Maloney volunteered to join the anti-Fascist International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War in November 1937. He was a student at the Richmond School of Art at the time and was to spend most of the next nine years as a soldier, first with the Spanish Republican army and then during the Second World War in the Royal Corps of Signals, serving after the Normandy landings in France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany.

Warfare did not lessen his creative drive. The son of a Fleet Street printer, Maloney worked as a commercial artist following discharge from the army. He helped design posters for London Underground as well as becoming the art editor of Spain Today, the magazine founded in 1946 by the International Brigade Association to publicise the repression in Francoist Spain and the underground struggle being waged against the regime.

He was soon to become part of the small team of talented artists recruited by Frank Hampson in 1950 to illustrate The Eagle, the ground-breaking, full-colour magazine for boys that drew on the style of US horror comics and transformed it for a British audience. His work on the Dan Dare serial featuring aliens and space travel ran in tandem with a growing personal fascination with astronomy. In the back garden of his house in Kew, Surrey, he would spend hours observing the night-time skies through a 10ft-long telescope equipped with a 10in mirror and mounted on a 4ft-tall cast-iron pillar.

From this hobby came his first book, Other Worlds in Space, a guide for young people to the solar system and the cosmos. Written and illustrated by him, it was published in October 1957, fortuitously the month that Sputnik 1 was launched into space by the Soviet Union to become the world's first satellite.

It was also the year that Maloney's local council replaced its gas-lamps and he was forced to abandon his garden astronomy under the glare of electric street lighting. However, more books followed in response to increasing public interest in astronomy: The Sky is Our Window (1960), The Story of the Stars (1961), The Sky at Night (1963) and A Dictionary of Astronomy (1964).

Maloney was part of an enthusiastic network of amateur astronomers in the British Astronomical Association who would exchange data and observations. Indeed, he always acknowledged that much of the information that found its way into his books came from this shared source. Professional recognition came later when he became a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Through astronomy, Maloney's inquisitive instincts led him to learn about optics and navigation, which inspired further books aimed at young people, such as The Story of Maps (1959), The Story of Clocks (1960) – both also illustrated by the author – and Glass in the Modern World (1968).

From the late 1950s, Maloney worked as a book editor for various London publishers, such as Aldus Books, Mayflower Publishing and Odhams Press, as well as continuing his freelance writing until retirement in 1981 when he moved with his wife to West Knighton, near Dorchester.

He remained politically on the left throughout his life and was a member of the Communist Party until the late 1940s. He had joined in February 1937 as an art student and in doing so renounced religion and his Catholic upbringing. "I joined the party not as a stepping stone to world revolution but to fight Fascism," he later recalled.

The CP was the conduit for volunteers wanting to fight Fascism in Spain following General Francisco Franco's uprising in July 1936 against the elected left-wing government. Subsequently described as "disciplined and brave" in his personal file by an anonymous International Brigade commissar, Maloney was assigned to the British Battalion's machine-gun company and received a shrapnel wound in the chest at the battle of the Ebro in August 1938. He was lucky to be alive, having witnessed many of his comrades being killed in the fighting around Gandesa.

Earlier in 1938, he was fortunate to survive another, less orthodox, encounter with the enemy when he inadvertently crossed the lines in search of drinking water during a lull in fighting around Teruel. He came upon a group of men standing around a well and noticed that they were wearing strangely baggy trousers. One of them asked if he was Italian, at which point he realised that they were some of Franco's Moorish troops. He grunted a reply and saw a chance to slip over a wall and escape before they realised who he was. "I had to leave all the water bottles behind, which made me unpopular with my comrades when I got back," he recounted.

While in Spain, he met the singer and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson and got his autograph, which he sent home to his mother. She had been heartbroken by his decision to go to Spain, though politically supportive of the cause. After the chaotic Republican retreat through Aragó*in the spring of 1938 he received a bundle of letters marked "missing", in one of which his father had written: "Son, I fear you will not get this while you are still alive."

He returned to England in December 1938 and continued campaigning for the Spanish Republic until its defeat three months later. Through his political activism he met his wife, Dorothy, always known as "Pink", whom he married in 1943. He had also, he confessed, fallen in love with Spain and returned there at least once a year after 1964 when conditions inside the country eased. "Joining the International Brigades was one of the more worthwhile things I've done in my life," he said as an old man.

Jim Jump

Francis Joseph Terence Maloney, writer, illustrator and astronomer: born Mortlake, Surrey 20 April 1917; married 1943 Dorothy Toms (two sons, one daughter); died Dorchester 16 March 2008.