Sid Halley

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Sid Halley (John Sidney Halley) is a fictional character in five Dick Francis novels, Odds Against, Whip Hand, Come to Grief, Under Orders and Refusal. He is a former British jump racing Champion Jockey and private detective. He is the only central character to appear in more than two Francis novels, and one of only two to appear more than once.

Character biography[edit]

Halley was born out of wedlock. His mother's fiancé died at age 20 (though a newspaper report in Come to Grief says he was 19) only three days before the wedding in a fall from a ladder,[1] whilst working overtime as a window cleaner. Eight months after his father's death Halley was born. Halley's mother, aged 19 at his birth, came from the Liverpool slums and later worked as a biscuit packer.[2] Halley's boyhood home was Liverpool. His mother died when Halley was 15 of an obscure kidney ailment. Knowing she was dying, she pulled Halley from grammar school and apprenticed him to a Newmarket racing trainer, so that he would have a home and someone to turn to after her death.[2]

Halley's elderly master taught him to train horses and encouraged him to invest the money that he earned. He also educated Sid in speech, manners, and the realities of life. Sid was a rising jockey by the time he completed his indentured service, and was reputed to have earned a small fortune on the stock market.

Halley became a successful jockey, rising to become champion jockey — a status he held for "five or six years". During his early career, before he achieved success, he married Jenny Roland, daughter of retired Rear Admiral Charles Roland. The marriage produced no children and was never a great success. While Halley was Champion Jockey his wife gave him an ultimatum: racing or her. Halley chose racing. The two separated while Halley was still racing and a divorce followed between the events of the first two books. Despite this Halley had become close to Charles Roland (after a very rocky start) and the friendship persisted.

Halley was injured in a racing accident: after a fall a horse stepped directly on his left hand. His hand was crippled, ending his racing career. Despite several operations the hand had little utility. It was further damaged by the villain in Odds Against resulting in its amputation. Throughout most of the rest of the series Halley struggles to come to terms with the loss of his hand. In Refusal a hand transplant is mooted and the book ends with Halley being told that donor hand has become available.

In the book Under Orders he gets married to Marina Van Der Meer.

Refusal [3]was written in 2013 by Dick's son Felix but carries the sur-title 'A Dick Francis Novel'. In it the now 47 year old Halley is father to a six year old daughter, Saskia, and has given up detective work. In order to protect his family from the attentions of a crooked and violent bookmaker he is reluctantly drawn back to his old profession.


Sid Halley was played by Mike Gwilym in a six episode television series, The Racing Game. The series was produced by Yorkshire Television and aired between November 1979 and January 1980. The first episode was a brief adaptation of Odds Against; the other episodes were original stories created for the series by various writers. In his autobiography, The Sport of Queens, Dick Francis says he owes the existence of Whip Hand to Mike Gwilym's performance. The actor so closely matched Francis's concept of Halley that he became interested in writing a second book about the same man.[4] It was filmed mainly in Yorkshire at the Pontefract, York and Wetherby racecourses predominantly. The first episode featured a young John Collings Snr as a member of the crowd.


  1. ^ Francis, Dick (1967). Odds Against. London: Pan Books, Ltd. p. 36. ISBN 0330105973. 
  2. ^ a b Francis, Dick (1965). Odds Against. London: Pan Books, Ltd. p. 35. ISBN 0330105973. 
  3. ^ Francis, Felix (2013). Refusal. London: Michael Joseph, . ISBN 9780718159368. 
  4. ^ Dick Francis (1986) [First published 1957, updated 1982]. The Sport of Queens. New York: Penzler Books. p. 243. ISBN 0-445-40331-4.