31 October 1920|
Lawrenny, Pembrokeshire, Wales
|Died||14 February 2010
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, Caribbean
|Spouse||Mary Margaret (née Brenchley; m. 1947–2000)|
After wartime service in the RAF, Francis became a full-time jump-jockey, winning over 350 races and becoming champion jockey of the British National Hunt. He came to further prominence in 1956 as jockey to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, riding her horse Devon Loch when it fell, for unexplained reasons, while close to winning the Grand National. He then retired from the turf and became a professional journalist and novelist.
All his novels deal with crime in the horse-racing world, some of the criminals being outwardly respectable figures. The stories are narrated by one of the key players, often a jockey, but sometimes a trainer, an owner, a bookie, or someone in a different profession, peripherally linked to racing. This person is always facing great obstacles, often including physical injury, from which he must fight back with determination. More than forty of these novels became international best-sellers.
Francis was born in Coedcanlas, Pembrokeshire, Wales. Some sources report his birthplace as the inland town of Lawrenny, but at least two of his obituaries stated his birthplace as the coastal town of Tenby. His autobiography says that he was born 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 experience of 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).
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 died of natural causes on 14 February 2010 at his Caribbean home in Grand Cayman, survived by both sons.
Horse racing career
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."
Francis suffered a number of racing injuries, and 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. In 1957, after another serious fall, the Queen Mother's adviser, Lord Abergavenny, advised him that she wanted him to retire from racing for her.
Contributions to racing
In 1983, the Grand National at Aintree Racecourse in England "stood at the brink of extinction," according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. News reporter Don Clippinger wrote, "Britain's Jockey Club negotiated a $14 million deal to buy the land and save the race forever. The only problem was that the Jockey Club did not have $14 million, so two prominent racing personalities—Lord Derby and novelist Dick Francis—were selected to raise the money in a worldwide campaign." 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.
Francis wrote 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), 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).
Francis rarely re-used his lead characters. Only two heroes were used more than once; injured ex-jockey turned private investigator Sid Halley (Odds Against, Whip Hand, Come to Grief, Under Orders) and Kit Fielding (Break In and Bolt).
A columnist for The Houston Chronicle said that Francis "writes believable fairy tales for adults—ones in which the actors are better than we are but are believable enough to make us wonder if indeed we could not one day manage to emulate them."
Many of Francis' books are featured in volumes of Reader's Digest Condensed Books.
Francis described a typical year of research and writing to an interviewer in 1989:
In January, he sits down to write, staring down the barrel of a deadline. "My publisher comes over in mid-May to collect the manuscript," he says, "and it's got to be done."
The book's publication takes place in England in September. American publication in past years has been in February, although his next book, Straight, is set to be published in November. Once the manuscript is out of his hands, he takes the summer off, while percolating the plot of his next book. Research on the next book begins in late summer and continues through the autumn, while he's gearing up for his promotional tour for the just-published book. Come January, he sits down to write again.
He doesn't like book tours. He is not one for revelations, major life changes, and intimacies with strange interviewers, and he says he gets tired of answering the same questions again and again.
He shuns the lecture circuit. He'd prefer to let his novels and his sales volume speak for themselves... And though he doesn't love the act of writing a 2287038nd [sic] [and] could easily retire, he finds himself planning his new book as each summer ends.
He says, "Each one, you think to yourself, 'This is the last one,' but then, by September, you're starting again. If you've got money, and you're just having fun, people think you're a useless character."
Or, as independently wealthy Tor Kelsey says in The Edge, explaining why he works for a minuscule salary: "I work... because I like it, I'm not all that bad at what I do, really, and it's useful, and I'm not terribly good at twiddling my thumbs."
Francis collaborated extensively in his fiction with his wife, Mary, until her death, which came as a later surprise to some readers and reviewers. He credited her with being a great researcher for the novels. In 1981, Don Clippinger interviewed the Francises for The Philadelphia Inquirer and wrote, "When Dick Francis sits down each January to begin writing another of his popular mystery-adventure novels, it is almost a certain bet that his wife, Mary, has developed a new avocation... For instance, in Rat Race, [the protagonist] operated an air-taxi service that specialized in carrying jockeys, trainers and owners to distant race courses. Before that book came out in 1970, Mrs. Francis obtained a pilot's licence and was operating an air-taxi service of her own. Francis' newest novel, Reflex, is built around photography, and sure enough, Mary Francis has become accomplished behind the camera and in the darkroom... And, in their condominium, they have set up the subject of his 20th novel [Twice Shy] - a computer. While he is touring the country, she is working on new computer programs."
According to journalist Mary Amoroso, "Mary does much of the research: She went so far as to learn to fly a plane for Flying Finish. She also edits his manuscripts, and serves as sounding board for plot line and character development. Says Francis, 'At least the research keeps her from going out shopping.'" Francis told interviewers Jean Swanson and Dean James,
Mary and I worked as a team. ... I have often said that I would have been happy to have both our names on the cover. Mary's family always called me Richard due to having another Dick in the family. I am Richard, Mary was Mary, and Dick Francis was the two of us together.
Francis's manager (and co-author of his later books) was his son Felix, who left his post as teacher of A-Level Physics at Bloxham School in Oxfordshire in order to work for his father. Felix was the inspiration behind a leading character, a marksman and physics teacher, in the novel Twice Shy. The older son, Merrick, was a racehorse trainer and later ran his own horse transport business, which inspired the novel Driving Force.
Father and son collaborated on four novels; after Dick's death, Felix carried on to publish novels with his father's name in the title (Dick Francis's Gamble (2011), Dick Francis's Bloodline (2012), Dick Francis's Refusal (2013), Dick Francis's Damage (2014), Front Runner: A Dick Francis Novel (2015)), including a return for Sid Halley.
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 2000.
Amoroso wrote in 1989, "And yet he has a keen sense of the evanescence of literary endeavors. 'Whole months of work can be gone in four hours,' he says ruefully. 'People say they can't put my books down, and so they read them in one sitting of four hours.' Francis has been long accustomed to celebrity as a British sports star, but today he is a worldwide phenomenon, having been published in 22 languages. In Australia, he is recognized in restaurants, from his book-jacket picture. He and Mary will see people reading the novels on planes and trains."
Film & TV
His first novel, Dead Cert, was 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 Soviet made-for-television movie) in 1976.
Francis's protagonist Sid Halley was featured in six TV movies made for the program The Dick Francis Thriller: The Racing Game (1979-1980), starring Mike Gwilym as Halley and Mick Ford as his partner, Chico Barnes. The first of the episodes, Odds Against, used a Francis title; the others were created for the program.
Three more TV films of 1989 were adaptations of Bloodsport, In the Frame, and Twice Shy, all starring Ian McShane as protagonist David Cleveland, a character actually used only once by Francis, in the novel Slayride.
- Bonecrack starring Francis Matthews as Neil Griffon & Caroline Blakiston as Maggie Lake
- Enquiry starring Tony Osoba, Robert Lang & Bill Nighy
- Proof starring Nigel Havers as Tony Beach
- Whip Hand starring Mick Ford as Sid Halley & Kim Durham as Chico Barnes, with Alan Devereux, David Vann, Patricia Gallimore & Terry Molloy
- Rat Race starring Hywel Bennett as Matt Shore & Helena Breck as Nancy
- Bolt starring Eric Allan as Kit Fielding & Sian Phillips as Princess Casilia
|Title||Year||ISBN of first edition||Main character||Notes|
|The Sport of Queens||1957||autobiography|
|Dead Cert||1962||Alan York, amateur jockey||Basis of the movie Dead Cert (1974)|
|Nerve||1964||Rob Finn, jockey||Basis of the audio drama Breaking Point, starring Michael Kitchen|
|For Kicks||1965||Daniel Roke, Australian horse breeder temporarily turned UK investigator|
|Odds Against||1965||ISBN 0-330-10597-3||Sid Halley, private investigator||Edgar Award nominee|
|Flying Finish||1966||Henry Grey, groom/heir to earldom, pilot||Edgar Award nominee|
|Blood Sport||1967||Gene Hawkins, government security agent||Edgar Award nominee|
|Forfeit||1968||ISBN 0-425-20191-0||James Tyrone, reporter||Edgar Award winner|
|Enquiry||1969||Kelly Hughes, jockey|
|Rat Race||1970||Matt Shore, former airline pilot now flying charter|
|Bonecrack||1971||ISBN 0-718-10898-1||Neil Griffon, formerly antique dealer, then business consultant, acting as temporary trainer whilst his father is hospitalised|
|Smokescreen||1972||ISBN 0-718-1103-90||Edward Lincoln, movie actor who does his own stunts|
|Slay Ride||1973||ISBN 0-718-11150-8||David Cleveland, Jockey Club chief investigator|
|Knockdown||1974||ISBN 0-718-11297-0||Jonah Dereham, bloodstock agent|
|High Stakes||1975||ISBN 0-718-11393-4||Steven Scott, toy inventor|
|In the Frame||1976||ISBN 0-718-11527-9||Charles Todd, painter|
|Risk||1977||ISBN 0-718-11636-4||Roland Britten, accountant|
|Trial Run||1978||Randall Drew, gentleman and ex-jockey|
|Whip Hand||1979||ISBN 0-718-11845-6||Sid Halley, private investigator||Edgar Award winner, Gold Dagger winner|
|Reflex||1980||ISBN 978-0-7181-1950-8||Philip Nore, jockey and photographer|
|Twice Shy||1981||ISBN 0-718-12056-6||Jonathan Derry, teacher, second part narrated by younger brother William Derry, jockey & later racing manager||Adapted into a ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC computer game, published by Mosaic Publishing|
|Banker||1982||ISBN 0-718-12173-2||Tim Ekaterin, merchant banker|
|The Danger||1983||Andrew Douglas, anti-kidnapping consultant|
|Proof||1984||ISBN 0-718-12481-2||Tony Beach, wine merchant||Japan Adventure Fiction Association Prize winner|
|Break In||1985||ISBN 0-718-12597-5||Kit Fielding, jockey|
|Bolt||1986||ISBN 0-718-12756-0||Kit Fielding, jockey|
|A Jockey's Life||1986||ISBN 0-399-13179-5 / 978-0-399-13179-0 (USA edition)||Biography of Lester Piggott, later reissued as Lester|
|Hot Money||1987||ISBN 0-718-12851-6||Ian Pembroke, former asst trainer, amateur jockey|
|The Edge||1988||ISBN 0-718-13179-7||Tor Kelsey, investigator for the Jockey Club|
|Straight||1989||ISBN 0-718-13180-0||Derek Franklin, jockey & later jewelry firm owner|
|Longshot||1990||ISBN 0-718-13447-8||John Kendall, writer and survival skills expert|
|Comeback||1991||Peter Darwin, diplomat|
|Driving Force||1992||ISBN 0-718-13482-6||Freddie Croft, trucking company owner|
|Decider||1993||ISBN 0-718-13602-0||Lee Morris, architect|
|Wild Horses||1994||ISBN 0-718-13603-9||Thomas Lyon, film director|
|Come to Grief||1995||ISBN 0-7181-3753-1||Sid Halley, private investigator||Edgar Award winner, Japan Adventure Fiction Association Prize winner|
|To the Hilt||1996||ISBN 0-718-142136||Alexander Kinloch, painter|
|10 LB. Penalty||1997||ISBN 0-718-14245-4||Ben Juliard, jockey/politician's son|
|Field of 13||1998||ISBN 0-718-14351-5||short stories:
|Second Wind||1999||ISBN 0-718-14408-2||Perry Stuart, meteorologist|
|Shattered||2000||ISBN 0-718-14453-8||Gerard Logan, glass blower|
|Under Orders||2006||ISBN 978-0-330-44833-8||Sid Halley, private investigator||Japan Adventure Fiction Association Prize winner|
|Dead Heat||2007||ISBN 978-0-399-15476-8||Max Moreton, chef||with Felix Francis|
|Silks||2008||ISBN 978-0-7181-5457-8||Geoffrey Mason, barrister||with Felix Francis|
|Even Money||2009||ISBN 978-0-399-15591-8||Ned Talbot, bookmaker||with Felix Francis|
|Crossfire||2010||US ISBN 978-0-399-15681-6
UK ISBN 978-0-7181-5663-3
|Captain Tom Forsyth, military officer||with Felix Francis|
|Dick Francis's Gamble||2011||ISBN 978-1-4104-3870-6||Nicholas "Foxy" Foxton, financial adviser||written after Dick Francis's death by Felix Francis|
|Dick Francis's Bloodline||2012||ISBN 978-1-4104-5223-8||Mark Shillington, racing commentator||written after Dick Francis's death by Felix Francis|
|Dick Francis's Refusal||2013||ISBN 978-0-3991-6081-3||Sid Halley, former private investigator||written after Dick Francis's death by Felix Francis|
|Dick Francis's Damage||2014||ISBN 978-0-3991-6822-2||Jeff Hinkley, BHA investigator||written after Dick Francis's death by Felix Francis|
|Front Runner: A Dick Francis Novel||2015||ISBN 978-1-4059-1522-9||Jeff Hinkley, BHA investigator||written after Dick Francis's death by Felix Francis|
|Triple Crown: A Dick Francis Novel||2016||ISBN 978-0-3995-7470-2||Jeff Hinkley, BHA investigator||written after Dick Francis's death by Felix Francis|
- Our favourite thriller writer Dick Francis is back in the saddle, entertainment.timesonline.co.uk
- Dick Francis obituary, guardian.co.uk
- Author Dick Francis dies aged 89, guardian.co.uk
- Stasio, Marilyn (15 February 2010). "Dick Francis, Jockey and Writer, Dies at 89". The New York Times.
- Swanson, Jean; Dean James (2003). "An Interview with Dick Francis". The Dick Francis Companion. New York: Berkeley Prime Crime. pp. 1–10. ISBN 0-425-18187-1.
- Obituary London Independent, 16 February 2010.
- Thursby, Keith (15 February 2010). "Dick Francis dies at 89; champion jockey became best-selling British mystery writer". Los Angeles Times.
- Francis, Dick (1986) [First published 1957, updated 1982]. The Sport of Queens. New York: Penzler Books. p. 14. ISBN 0-445-40331-4.
We loved the farm. It was our mother's home, and I was born there.
- Francis, Dick (1999). The Sport of Queens. London: Joseph. ISBN 978-0-330-33902-5. OCLC 59457268.
- Dick Francis interview for Even Money, telegraph.co.uk
- "Obituary: Mary Francis". The Times. 6 October 2000. Retrieved 18 October 2009.
- Cook, Bruce (21 March 1989). "Novelist Dick Francis Still Rides The Wave Of Success In The Edge'". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane Chronicle). Retrieved 18 October 2009.
- title= Dick Francis and Felix Francis
- Andrews, Emily; Lord, Graham (15 February 2010). "Queen's grief as former jockey and best-selling author Dick Francis dies at 89". Daily Mail.
- Dick Francis, thriller writer and ex-jockey, dies
- "Author Dick Francis dies aged 89". BBC News. 14 February 2010. Retrieved 14 February 2010.
- Cantwell, Robert (25 March 1968). "Mystery Makes A Writer". Sports Illustrated Vault. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- Mott, Sue (20 November 2004). "It was terrible to be told that the Queen Mother wanted me to retire". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- Nikkhah, Roya (1 September 2009). "Dick Francis interview". Telegraph. Retrieved 20 February 2010.
- Philip, Robert (5 April 2002). "Grand National: Devon Loch's place in history". Telegraph. Retrieved 18 October 2009.
- Shapiro, T. Rees (16 February 2010). "Dick Francis, British jockey turned popular mystery author, dies at 89". The Washington Post.
- Clippinger, Don (30 March 1983). "Drive To Save Aintree Nears Goal". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- Hayes, Heather B. (29 October 1991). "Dick Francis: Still a sure bet for mystery fans". The Washington Times. p. E1.
- Barlow, Jim (19 February 1989). "In Dick Francis' world, small things are interesting". Houston Chronicle. p. 20. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
- Amoroso, Mary (24 February 1989). "Sure Bet on a Different Track". The Record. Woodland Park, NJ: North Jersey Media Group. p. A11. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
- Davison, John (20 October 1999). "Dick Francis thrillers 'were ghost written by wife'". The Independent. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- Stanford, Peter (1 September 2011). "Anything Dad could do... Felix Francis, son of thriller writer Dick Francis, pens his first solo effort". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- Clippinger, Don (31 March 1981). "The His-and-Her Mysteries of Dick Francis". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
- The London Gazette: . 19 June 2000. Retrieved 14 February 2010.
- "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
- "Dead Cert". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- "Favorit". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- Obituary: Dick Francis BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk
- 2001 audio interview by Bill Thompson of Eye on Books, discussing the end of his writing, eyeonbooks.com
- Official Dick Francis Website, dickfrancis.com
- Dick Francis Truth, dickfrancis.co.uk
- Dick Francis Reading Group, dickfrancisbooks.com
- Czech Dick Francis Website, dick-francis.cz
- Dick Francis - Daily Telegraph obituary, telegraph.co.uk
- Dick Francis at the Internet Movie Database