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Writer tackled taboo issues

PUBLISHED: 12:29 10 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:56 07 September 2010

WRITER and journalist Helen Franks from West Hampstead has died at the age of 73. She led a highly successful life, starting her career with Good Housekeeping and Woman magazines, and also writing for national newspapers

WRITER and journalist Helen Franks from West Hampstead has died at the age of 73. She led a highly successful life, starting her career with Good Housekeeping and Woman magazines, and also writing for national newspapers.

As a freelance specialising in social change and health issues, she also expanded her ideas in a number of books covering previously taboo aspects of life.

Born Helen Swayger on April 5, 1934, her Jewish grandparents had fled persecution in Russia and Poland at the turn of the century.

She was brought up in Soho and was evacuated to Oxford during the Second World War. Returning to London, she lived with her parents in Hackney before moving into a bedsit in Bayswater and launching herself into the world of work with Chambers' Encyclopaedia.

As she progressed onto the national broadsheets, she demonstrated her expertise in combining thorough research with sensitive interviewing. Her writing was informed as much by acute observation and intuition as by her own experience.

In 1960 she married Arthur Franks, a consulting engineer, and they soon moved to West Hampstead where Helen became a devoted mother to Hannah, Julia and Steven. She later delighted in her five grandchildren.

Speaking from the family home in Crediton Hill, Mr Franks said this week: "Helen was possessed in fine measure of attributes vital to good journalism - curiosity, enthusiasm and a love of words. For her, the examined life was, in large part, what made it worth living. She used that curiosity combined with a polished professionalism. When she wasn't writing, she talked and taught through campaigns, professional committees, workshops, adult education and, most recently, the web."

During the 1970s and 1980s, she was active in Women In Media, campaigning against sex discrimination and stereotyping in all forms of media. She wrote a number of books including Prime Time, Goodbye Tarzan and Mummy Doesn't Live Here Any More. More recently, from 1997 to 2000, she enjoyed teaching freelance journalism at London's City Lit.

"People easily told Helen their stories, which sometimes surprised her, but did not surprise her many friends who responded to her warmth, her intuitive support, her laugh, her directness, even to her occasional volatility," said her husband. "She loved dressing for the occasion, making the most of her striking looks."

Helen Franks died on March 23.

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