BORN LONDON, APRIL 5, 1934. DIED LONDON, MARCH 23, 2008, AGED 73.
ALIVELY JOURNALIST and later a successful author, Helen Franks carved a successful career in newspapers and magazines when women were still a rarity in the media.
Specialising in social change and health issues, she also taught courses and workshops, took part in campaigns, and was an early user of the web.
Born Helen Swayger, she grew up in Soho and was evacuated with her school to Oxford in the Second World War, returning to London to live with her parents in Hackney.
When she started to work in publishing in the early 1950s, she took the then daring step of moving into a bedsit in Bayswater, West London.
Her first job was with Chamber’s Encyclopaedia. She then moved to magazines, Good Housekeeping followed by Woman, and mainstream weeklies.
In 1960 she married consulting engineer, Arthur Franks, at the Western Synagogue, Crawford Street. The couple joined Hampstead Synagogue.
In the 1960s and 70s, as daily papers competed with television news, they turned to formats and ideas which had been developed by magazines, a situation which Helen, now a freelance with a young family, was ideally placed to exploit.
She garnered a wide readership through writing in the women’s pages of The Guardian and, later, The Independent, Times and Observer.
She also developed a niche as a medical journalist, contributing to titles such as Family Circle, Home & Freezer Digest, Marie Claire and Good Housekeeping, and discussing alternative medicine for the over-50s in Choice and on the website laterlife.com.
She did her research thoroughly, gathering material through penetrating but sensitive interviewing and adding her own observations, intuition and experience. From 1997-2000 she taught freelance journalism at the City Literary Institute.
In the 1970s and 1980s she was active in Women in Media, a campaign group opposing sex discrimination and stereotyping in the media.
This led her to write books on changing social mores, which included Prime Time (Pan, 1981), on women’s lives between the ages of 30 and 50; Goodbye Tarzan (Allen & Unwin, 1984), on men in a post-feminism world; and Mummy Doesn’t Live Here Any More (Doubleday, 1990), on reasons why women leave their children.
Warm-hearted, with striking looks and an easy manner, she enjoyed communicating with people who, in turn, found it easy to speak to her.
During her long and happy marriage she welcomed friends and family to their West Hampstead home and Sussex retreat. Her health deteriorated after a fall at the age of 71.
She is survived by her husband; two daughters, Hannah and Julia; son, Steven; and five grandchildren.
Helen Franks: versatile journalist