Dick Francis

imageBritish steeplechase jockey and crime writer, Richard Stanley “Dick” Francis CBE FRSL Was born 31 October 1920 in Coedcanlas, Pembrokeshire, at his maternal grandparents’ farm at Coedcanlas on the estuary of the River Cleddau,roughly a mile north-west of Lawrenny He was the son of a jockey and stable manager and he grew up in Berkshire, England. He left school at 15 without any qualifications,with the intention of becoming a jockey and became a trainer in 1938. During World War II, Francis volunteered, hoping to join the cavalry. Instead, he served in the Royal Air Force, working as ground crew and later piloting fighter and bomber aircraft, including the Spitfire and Hurricane.He said in an interview that he spent much of his six years in the Air Force in Africa.In October 1945, he met Mary Margaret Brenchley (17 June 1924 – 30 September 2000), at a cousin’s wedding. In most interviews, they say that it was love at first sight. (Francis has some of his characters fall similarly in love within moments of meeting, as in the novels Flying Finish, Knockdown, and The Edge.)Their families were not entirely happy with their engagement, but Dick and Mary were married in June, 1947, in London. She had earned a degree in English and French from London University at the age of 19, was an assistant stage manager and later worked as a publisher’s reader. She also became a pilot, and her experiences flying contributed to many novels, including Flying Finish, Rat Race, and Second Wind. She contracted polio while pregnant with their first child, a plight dramatized to a greater extent in the novel Forfeit, which Francis called one of his favorites. They had two sons, Merrick and Felix (born 1953. ‘

imageAfter leaving the RAF in 1946, Francis became a celebrity in the world of British National Hunt racing, winning over 350 races, becoming champion jockey in the 1953–54 season.Shortly after becoming a professional, he was offered the prestige job of first jockey to Vivian Smith, Lord Bicester.From 1953 to 1957 he was jockey to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. His most famous moment as a jockey came while riding the Queen Mother’s horse, Devon Loch, in the 1956 Grand National when the horse inexplicably fell when close to winning the race. Decades later, Francis considered losing that race his greatest regret and called it “a disaster of massive proportions. Like most jump jockeys, Francis had his share of injuries. Unlike most, he was hospitalized at the age of 12 when a pony fell on him and broke his jaw and nose. A career featuring broken bones and damaged organs found its way into many novels, whose narrators suffer a variety of damaged bodies. Also The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, that in 1983, the Grand National at Aintree Racecourse in England “stood at the brink of extinction,” So ‘”Britain’s Jockey Club negotiated a $14 million deal to buy the land and save the race forever, and two prominent racing personalities Lord Derby and novelist Dick Francis – were selected to raise the money . Other philanthropists, including Charles C. Fenwick Jr., who rode Ben Nevis to victory in the 1980 Grand National, and Paul Mellon, a breeder and racing enthusiast, also contributed to save the race.

imageAfter retiring from horse racing on the advice of Lord Abergevenny Francis Went onto Write more than 40 international best-sellers. His first book was his autobiography The Sport of Queens (1957), for which he was offered the aid of a ghostwriter, which he spurned. The book’s success led to his becoming the racing correspondent for London’s Sunday Express newspaper, and he remained in the job for 16 years.In 1962, he published his first thriller, Dead Cert, set in the world of racing. Subsequently he regularly produced a novel a year for the next 38 years, missing only 1998 (during which he published a short-story collection). Although all his books were set against a background of horse racing, his male heroes held a variety of jobs including artist (In the Frame and To the Hilt), private investigator (Odds Against, Whip Hand, Come to Grief, Under Orders—all starring injured ex-jockey Sid Halley, one of only two heroes used more than once), investigator for the Jockey Club (The Edge), pilot (Rat Race and Flying Finish), wine merchant (Proof) and many others. All the novels are narrated by the hero, who in the course of the story discovers himself to be more resourceful, brave, tricky, than he had thought, and usually finds a certain salvation for himself as well as bestowing it on others.

Details of other people’s occupations fascinated Francis, and the reader finds himself or herself immersed in the mechanics of such things as photography, accountancy, the gemstone trade, restaurant service on transcontinental trains—but always in the interests of the plot. Dysfunctional families were a subject which he exploited particularly well (Reflex, a baleful grandmother; Hot Money, a multi-millionaire father and serial ex-husband; Decider, the related co-owners of a racecourse). His first novel, Dead Cert, was also filmed under the same title in 1974. Directed by Tony Richardson, it starred Scott Antony, Judi Dench and Michael Williams. It was adapted again as Favorit (a Russian made-for-television movie) in 1977. The protagonist Sid Halley was featured in six TV movies – The Dick Francis Thriller: The Racing Game(1979-1980), starring Mike Gwilym as Halley and Mick Ford as his partner, Chico Barnes. The novels Odds Against, Bloodsport, In the Frame, and Twice Shy, were also filmed, starring Ian McShane and featuring protagonist David Cleveland.

Francis is the only three-time recipient of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for Best Novel, winning for Forfeit in 1970,Whip Hand in 1981, and Come To Grief in 1996. Britain’s Crime Writers Association awarded him its Gold Dagger Award for fiction in 1979 and the Cartier Diamond Dagger Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. he was granted another Lifetime Achievement Award .Tufts University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1991. In 1996 he was given the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award, the highest honour bestowed by the MWA. In 2000, he was granted the Malice Domestic Award for Lifetime Achievement. He was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1983 and promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2001. His books have been published in 22 languages and he was elected in 1999 a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature’. In the 1980s, Francis and his wife moved to Florida; in 1992, they moved to the Cayman Islands, where Mary died of a heart attack in 2000. In 2006, Francis had a heart bypass operation; in 2007 his right leg was amputated. He sadly died of natural causes on 14 February 2010 at his Caribbean home in Grand Cayman, survived by both sons.

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