Monday February 4, 2002; The Guardian
His single-minded efforts helped keep the anarchist voice alive
Across seven decades, Vernon Richards, who has died aged 86, maintained an anarchist presence in British publishing. His chosen instrument was Freedom Press, based in Whitechapel, in London's east end. He edited the anarchist paper Freedom - and its prewar and wartime variations - into the 1960s. Earlier, he had been imprisoned in 1945, written a biography of the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta, and photographed George Orwell.
Born Vero Recchioni in Soho, Vernon was the son of the Italian anarchist Ernidio Recchioni, who had escaped from what was then the prison island of Pantelleria in the 1890s, set up the famous Italian delicatessen King Bomba, in Soho, and taken part in interwar plots to assassinate Mussolini.
Vernon was educated at Emmanuel school, Wandsworth, and graduated in civil engineering from King's College London in 1939. In his Soho childhood, he had been taught the violin by the conductor John Barbirolli's uncle, and had performed the orchestral repertoire.
By 1934, he was becoming active in the battle against Mussolini, and, in 1935, was deported from France, where he had met the Italian anarchist Camillo Berneri, and fallen in love with his daughter, Marie-Louise. Back in London, he anglicised his name to Vernon Richards and, collaborating with Berneri in Paris, started publishing Free Italy/Italia Libera.
In 1936, the year the Spanish civil war began, Vernon joined the veterans of Freedom - founded in the 1880s, it had effectively ceased publication by 1932 - to produce Spain And The World as an English-language voice for Spanish anarchists. This was at a time when the only version of events in Spain being heard on the left in Britain was that of the News Chronicle and New Statesman, supporting the Soviet-backed popular front. In October 1937, Marie-Louise joined Vernon in London, and, to give her citizenship, they married. She and their baby died in childbirth in 1949.
Between the end of the Spanish civil war and the outbreak of the second world war, the fortnightly Spain And The World briefly became Revolt!, before adopting the title War Commentary. Registered as a conscientious objector, Vernon worked in a reserved occupation as a railway engineer. In 1945, War Commentary resumed the title of Freedom.
The previous year, however, four of the group around the paper - Vernon, Marie-Louise, Philip Sansom and John Hewetson - had been charged with conspiring to cause disaffection among members of the armed forces. Despite a defence campaign backed by the likes of Orwell, Michael Tippett, TS Eliot and Benjamin Britten, Vernon, Sansom and Hewetson were convicted and served nine months in jail.
Prison gave Vernon the chance to resume playing the violin, and indeed, form a scratch band with other incarcerated musicians. Friends regretted that he never played again after his release. He never practised as a civil engineer again either, saying that the one thing he learned in prison was the folly of pursuing a "career".
Instead, he ran the family business at 37 Old Compton Street, Soho, until it was sold in the 1950s. He also worked as a freelance photographer -producing latterly famous images of Orwell in the mid-1940s - and as an organic gardener and travel courier. Convinced that the links formed by tourism were a liberatory influence, opening closed frontiers, he went to Franco's Spain and the Soviet Union. In 1968, he and Peta Hewetson moved to a smallholding in Suffolk, where, for almost 30 years, Vernon produced vegetables for the organic market.
After 1951, he continued to edit Freedom as a weekly, and wrote, in weekly instalments, his continually reprinted and translated Lessons Of The Spanish Revolution (1953). He quit as Freedom's editor in 1964, but assumed the role again whenever he felt that others were pushing it in the wrong direction. It was not until the 1990s that he finally stopped writing for the paper. By this time, Freedom Press, as an anarchist publisher, had a spectacular range of books in print.
Looking for the source of Vernon's single-mindedness, friends assumed that his father had set him in motion, though I once heard him dismiss Ernidio as a "bourgeois terrorist". The anarchist who influenced him most was Malatesta.
In his dedication, Vernon was a quite ruthless exploiter of others. None of the group he had inspired in the 1940s - Sansom, Hewetson, and George Woodcock - were on speaking terms with him at the times of their deaths. Unable to recognise himself as a manipulator, he saw their withdrawal from his circle as proof that they had been seduced by capitalist values.
At the end of the 1990s, admirers sponsored the publication by Freedom Press of four books of Vernon's photographs. In 1999, the Centre For Catalan Studies produced an album of his pictures, taken after 1957 while he was escorting holidaymakers to the then poverty-stricken Catalan village of L'Escala. For local families, the book became a precious record of their grandparents, their dignity and hard times.
Peta predeceased him in 1997.
· Vernon Richards (Vero Recchioni), writer and publisher, born July 19 1915; died December 10 2001