My grandfather Wilfred Florestan Franks (1908-2003) was a London born artist, craftsman, actor and dancer. Charismatic and eccentric, Wilf was a Marxist who held a deep belief that society could be restructured to create a new world in which all people would be free and equal.

He was the fifth of ten children born to Daniel and Florence Franks of Highgate, North London. His father Daniel was an orchestral violinist and a music teacher at Morley College. The family of twelve lived in a small three-bedroom terraced house on Holmesdale Road, near Highgate Underground Station.

Wilf is known for his close association with the composer Sir Michael Tippett, for his links to the famous Bauhaus art school in Germany and as an actor and dancer in pre-war BBC television shows, where he performed alongside notable names such as Wendy Toye, Maude Lloyd and Robert Helpmann. Wilf’s circle of friends and associates included the composer Alan Bush, dancer Margaret Barr, artists such as Sari Dienes and Laszlo Maholy-Nagy; as well as the interesting cultural and political figures Rolf Gardiner and Carl Heinrich Becker.

Wilf and Michael Tippett together in Spain on a camping holiday in 1932. The picture was taken by their friend David Ayerst . Courtesy of Caroline Ayerst

It was Wilf’s close friendship with Rolf Gardiner in the late 1920′s that elevated him from his modest North London background and enabled him to study under famous artists and designers in Germany and later to begin a friendship with Sir Michael Tippett that was a major influence on the composer’s life.

In 1932 the East Cleveland Work Camps were established to help alleviate the desperate poverty of unemployed miners during the great depression. Wilf travelled up from London to help at the Boosbeck Camp, where he started a furniture making project, worked on music productions as well as helping with the agricultural work. It was here that his friendship with Michael Tippett blossomed.

The new biography of Wilf’s life is available now from Amazon:

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19 thoughts on “Introduction

  1. I remember him teaching at Leeds Polytechnic in the early 70s. He was a part time lecturer in furniture and I was a graphic design student desperate to move to the 3D design dept. He set me some projects and we used to have great conversations about the Bauhaus and Ogle Design. I was enthralled by his views on the world…although his predictions are only just about to come true I think.

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    1. Yes, I remember him well – I studied Industrial Design at Leeds Poly from ’73 to 76. Interesting guy! I often wonder if he became the last surviving student of The Bauhaus?

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  2. Wilf taught me life drawing at Leeds Polytechnic in the late 70s. His influence has lasted. I apply the things he taught me to this day every time I put pencil to paper. Even in his later years he was vital and full of insights.

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  3. Thank you for making Wild Franks’ biography available here. I met him once, one afternoon. He was staying with a friend in Leeds – must have been the period that he was at Leeds poly in the early seventies and I was in my late teens. That afternoon made a deep impression on me and I have often wondered about him.
    He held the room, enthralled, with his stories as he spoke of Buckminster Fuller, the Bauhaus; being, what he called, a conscientious, conscientious objector – I.e. any work a CO was set to, was ultimately helping the war – so he went on the run. He described that as a rough time; finding what food he could on the land … cabbages. He spoke about D H Lawrence too, a story that I only vaguely remember, but I do remember that he described him as a grumpy old soul.


  4. Wow! He was my art teacher (1978 – 1980) when Yarm School opened in Cleveland and we used to love his stories about making the clay prototype models for what would become the VW beetle. We knew about the Bauhaus and his time abroad, I just didn’t realise he was so talented…what a “man for all seasons”

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  5. Hi,
    Wilf was a lecturer of mine at Leeds College of Art around 1966 to 1968. I was on the Industrial Design Course and the time spent with him will not be forgotten. He was truly inspirational. A brilliant man with a young wife and family.

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  6. I remember Wilf from the mid 1960’s. He used to stay wth us when working at Leeds Art College for part of the week. I was 14 and aspiring to go on to study fine art. Wilf used to take an interest in my work and encourage me. I remember him showing me around his dept at the college and introducing me to some of his students.
    He was very thoughtful and kind. Sometimes, in winter, when it was dark and foggy and I was out visiting friends and returning on the bus, although Wilf had just arrived from the North East on Sunday evening, he would set off to meet me as I got off the bus to make sure I walked home safely.

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  7. I graduated from Leeds in 1980 and Wilf gave us life drawing lessons. I was hopeless and once asked him why we draw naked people? he told me that it’s like designing a chair; back, arms, seat and legs.. the human body is perfectly harmonius and so should be your chair design.

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  8. Wild taught me on the Industrial Design course at Leeds Poly between 1976-9. Fantastic teacher but I remember him more for how he supported us when I arranged the design department Christmas party. It was going to be a post-apocalyptic ‘after the bomb’ theme. The senior lecturers wanted it banned as they felt it wasn’t appropriate for Xmas. I was called to speak in front of the management and banged on about it being a pagan festival etc. Wilf was there and spoke on our behalf. It ended up being quite a party.

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      1. Meirion Bowen Am I correct in recalling that you were at Knights Park, Kingston Poly in the early/mid 1970s? I was a student there for a year before I went to Leeds. You probably wouldn’t remember me, but you might remember my mother Naomi Shepard who very much enjoyed singing in the choir…


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