Telescope maker;

Born: January 29, 1945; Died: February 5, 2012.

John Braithwaite, who has died aged 68, was the last maker of astronomical telescopes in Scotland, but there was a great deal more to him than that. He was also an adviser to David Hockney, a former parliamentary candidate, a musician, an expert on Galileo, a pirate radion DJ and the builder of the first astronomically aligned stone circle in Britain for 3000 years.

He was born and grew up in Hamilton and attended Our Lady's High School in Motherwell, where his non-belief put him at serious odds with the system. He achieved many sporting successes, including being Scottish schools' javelin and high jump champion, and took survival and sailing training courses at the Moray Sea School. He was also a keen mountain climber, an interest he contined through his university years.

He graduated in business studies with history of science at the newly instituted Strathclyde University where, among other activities, he was a students' union board member, debates convener, founder member of the poetry club, film critic of the Strathclyde Telegraph and presenter and producer with the Unit 65 television service. He was also captain of the University Challenge team for Strathclyde, and of the team which won the Observer Mace debating trophy; in political debates, he spoke from the anarchist front bench. He returned to the sea for a brief stint as a pirate DJ with Radio Free Scotland. A prominent CND member in the 1960s, he became a Labour activist before switching to the SNP, for whom he was a parliamentary candidate in the 1970s and remained extremely active behind the scenes thereafter, printing vast volumes of literature for the party, and for many charities, before his Gestetner duplicating machine finally died of exhaustion in 1983.

During school and university holidays he joined his late father Bill at Charles Frank Ltd, where he designed and manufactured many components for their range of reflecting telescopes, and edited the second edition of Frank's Book of the Telescope, by Sir Harold Spencer-Jones, the former Astronomer Royal.

He joined the company on graduation, before moving to work for Avimo in Taunton, Somerset, adding electronics to his optical skills while working on a range of military projects. He was proud of the fact that nothing he ever worked on was used in a lethal capacity.

On his return to Scotland he worked briefly as a teacher and as a taxi driver before joining Templeton's Carpets as a personnel and business systems manager, during which time he teamed up with Jack Foley to sing traditional folk songs as The Lords of Misrule.

In 1978 he joined the Glasgow parks department astronomy project as technical supervisor and helped build the first stone circle of its kind in Britain for 3000 years, in the city's Sighthill Park.

When Charles Frank was liquidated, he was offered part of their stock and tooling and started his own company, in Law in the Clyde Valley, where he swiftly moved on to new designs. After he moved to Dalserf in South Lanarkshire, Braithwaite Telescopes became Scotland's only telescope manufacturer.

His comprehensively and eclectically equipped and stocked workshop was a Mecca for enthusiasts and he willingly tackled all challenges, though he was fond of saying that one day a client would walk in wearing a sombrero hat with an electric train running around the brim and he wouldn't bat an eyelid because nothing could surprise him any more.

Mr Braithwaite was consultant to Airdrie Public Observatory from 1978 to 2008, playing a major part in its renovations in 1978 and 1995. He also designed and built a major private observatory in Kingsland, Ireland. With a 36-inch mirror it was the biggest fully robotic reflecting telescope in private hands in Europe at the time.

He recently undertook renovations at the Mills Observatory in Dundee, since 2007 had been honorary president of the Clydesdale Astronomical Society and of the online Astronomers of the Future club since 2010.

He was also involved in the art world and gave public talks, the latest on the life of Galileo. He worked with David Hockney and Clovis Whitfield, the art historian and art dealer, helping to unravel the mysteries of optical projection in Caravaggio's paintings.

In the mid-1980s he was a consultant to the team at Strathclyde University, under Dr Peter Waddell, which solved the classic problem of the flexible, variable-focus telescope mirror, but he refused to work on its military applications in the US.

His involvement in adaptive optics led to a wide range of other projects, including innovative developments in 3-D television and image projection; and solar-powered systems with applications from protecting the Earth from incoming asteroids and comets to village power plants and water purification systems for the developing world. Although many of these projects are ongoing, the impact of his loss on them will be devastating.

In 1971 he married Dr Catherine Peck, of Lewis, who survives him along with daughter Victoria, a painter and aromatherapist, son Stuart, guitarist in the band Mogwai, and his sister Catherine.