Currently, he is doing a series of city walks for The Guardian and recently visited Norwich, where he reported: ‘There’s no point in coming to Norwich without doing the cathedral. As crude, phallic gauges of civic grandeur go, this one is up there in the top flight. At 96 metres high, it is second only to Salisbury, which stands at 123 metres. In his recent book on England’s cathedrals, Simon Jenkins, never profligate with his praise, gives its soaring masonry a four-star rating, placing it just beneath the fantastical buildings of Durham, Ely and Wells.’
As a Times feature writer for more than 30 years, Alan Franks covered a broad range of topics and travelled extensively. His assignments included walking 500 miles over the Alps with Ian Botham and three elephants for the cricketer’s leukaemia research fund-raising campaign; climbing a 23,000-foot mountain in Argentina; travelling by train from Boston to San Francisco in the wake of the Nine-Eleven attacks;”dying” onstage at The Comedy Store; walking the width of England and, on getting his Freedom Pass, using it to go from London to Cumbria on nothing but local buses.
While at The Times he wrote profiles and interviews of many leading figures in the worlds of the arts, sports, and public life.
His subjects included the following:
Music: Alison Balsom, Laurie Anderson, Lionel Bart, Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Leonard Cohen, Ray Davies, Philip Glass, Peter Green, Emmylou Harris, John Lee Hooker, Mick Jagger, Katherine Jenkins, Tom Jones, Annie Lennox, Jerry Lee Lewis, London Community Gospel Choir, Humphrey Lyttelton, Wynton Marsalis, Peter Maxwell Davies, Paul McCartney, Yehudi Menuhin, George Melly, Andre Previn, Ravi Shankar, Paul Simon, Stephen Sondheim, Sting, Suggs, Jake Thackray, Lou Reed, Kathryn Tickell, Judith Weir, Brian Wilson.
Literature: Jeffrey Archer, Simon Armitage, James Baldwin, J.G. Ballard, William Boyd, Malcolm Bradbury, Barbara Cartland, Margaret Drabble, Terry Eagleton, Michael Frayn, Simon Gray, Stephen Hawking, John Hillaby, John le Carre, Laurie Lee, Mario Vargas Llosa, David Lodge, Ian McEwan, Arthur Miller, Patrick Moore, Michel Morpurgo, Blake Morrison, John Mortimer, Susie Orbach, Northcote Parkinson, Tom Paulin, Anthony Powell, Philip Pullman, Michael Rosen, Egon Ronay, Hubert Selby, Tom Sharpe, Muriel Sparke, Tom Stoppard, Keith Waterhouse, Jannette Winterson.
Film/TV: Paul Abbott, Woody Allen, David Attenborough, Juliet Binoche, John Birt, Alan Bleasdale, Helena Bonham-Carter, Hugh Bonneville, Melvyn Bragg, Kenneth Branagh, Rory Bremner, Darcey Bussell, Billy Connolly, Steve Coogan, James Corden, Macaulay Culkin, Katherine Deneuve, Ken Dodd, Dawn French, Stephen Fry, Peter Greenaway, Lenny Henry, Tom Hollander, Ben Kingsley, Kiera Knightley, Jessica Lange, Mike Leigh, Elizabeth McGovern, Paul Merton, David Morrissey, Peter O’Toole, Michael Palin, Mickey Rourke, Ken Russell, Jennifer Saunders, Ned Sherrin, Peter Snow, Ruby Wax, Timothy Spall, Sigourney Weaver, June Whitfield.
Theatre : Edward Albee, Alan Ayckbourn, Edward Bond, Jim Broadbent, Bill Bryden, Simon Callow, Tom Courtenay, Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, Rupert Goold, Peter Hall, Vaclav Havel, Nigel Hawthorne, Claire Higgins, Glenda Jackson, Jonathan Miller, Trevor Nunn, Diana Rigg, Simon Russell Beale, Paul Scofield, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Juliet Stevenson, Tom Stoppard, Julie Walters, Deborah Warner.
Alan started in journalism after leaving University College, Oxford. He worked for the Kensington News and West London Times in the early 1970s and later became the editor of The Richmond Herald before joining The Times in 1978. The Kensington paper was edited by a long-serving local author and historian called Barbara Denny, who had been instrumental in exposing the harassment of tenants by the notorious slum landlord Peter Rachmann.
In the editorial staff of four, which included a future Time Out editor, David May, he covered housing and political issues in Notting Hill and Paddington, as well as reviewing West End theatre shows and reporting on the area’s three main soccer clubs, Chelsea, Fulham and Queen’s Park Rangers.
As editor of the Richmond Herald he was involved in the country’s first major industrial action over the introduction of free newspapers. At The Times he worked first for the Higher Education Supplement as a sub-editor and arts writer, then in the features section of the daily paper.
Here he ran the PHS (Printing House Square) column, and also wrote a bi-weekly column, alternating with Joanna Lumley, called Alan Franks’ Diary. The episodes were later published in book form by J.M. Dent under the title Real Life With Small Children Underfoot. He read this as a series on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
Since leaving The Times in 2010, he has contributed to many publications, including The Guardian, The Observer and Radio Times. He has also also been a speaker at summer courses on writing at Oxford University. His latest piece is a review of iconic star Bob Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall.