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.
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 he became friends with Michael Tippett.
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