There is a story that Dick Francis leaned how to ride a donkey at the tender age of five. He collected his “first riders fee” when his older brother bet him a sixpence that he could not jump a fence while sitting backward on the donkey.
Dick (Richard) Francis was born on October 31, 1920, in the village of Lawreny, Pembrokeshire, Southwest Wales, the son of a Jockey and stable manager. As a child, he always loved horses and loved to ride. When he was 15, wanting nothing more than to become a jockey, and with poor grades and school attendance, Francis dropped out of school. In 1938, he became a trainer.
During World War II, Dick wanted to join the cavalry but wound up in the Royal Air Force. He was stationed in the Egyptain desert. He became a fighter pilot and flew Lancasters, Wellingtons and Spitfires.
In 1945, Dick met Mary Margaret Benchley, a stage manager and publisher’s reader. Mary says it was love at first sight. They married almost two years later in London. They have two sons, Felix and Merrick.
After fulfilling his enlistment with the RAF, Dick worked as a steeplechase trainer’s assistant and a jockey for two years.
At age 28, Dick turned professional and won over 350 races. He rode Queen Elizabeth’s (the Queen Mother) horses for Cazalet, the royal trainer. He was a champion jockey in the 1953-1954 season. He was forced to retired at age 36 after he was injured in a particularly bad fall.
In 1963, Francis’ first book, ‘Dead Cert,’ was published. He went on to publish over 40 more suspense novels. Most of Francis’s novels revolve around the horse industry. He got many of his story ideas while traveling the racing circuit.
In 1968, Francis’ autobiography was published. This brought him high acclaim and a 16 year gig as racing correspondent for the ‘Sunday Express.’ In 1984, Queen Elizabeth named him to the Order of the British Empire and in 2000 named him Commander.
In 1992, Francis and Mary moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Because of her health and his many injuries, they were searching for gentler winter climates. Later they moved to Grand Cayman. Mary died in 2000.
There are those who believe, and it is rumored that Mary was the true author of the Dick Francis novels. After all, Mary, they claim, was the educated one. It is said that originally Francis wanted Mary to be named coauthor. Their sons say their parents worked together. What ever the truth, Mary claims that she did much of the research and editing, only.
Dick Franicis, 89 years old, transitioned on February 14, 2010, at his Caribbean home in Grand Cayman. He is survived by his sons, five grandchildren and a great grandchild.
Felix has written the last four books with his father. He stated, “I very much hope I can continue the tradition. There will be future Dick Francis books because it is a brand.”
Books by Dick Francis:
Odds Against (1965)Whip Hand (1979)
Come to Grief (1995)
Odds Against, Whip Hand, Come to Grief (omnibus) (2002)
Kit FieldingBreak In (1985)
Break In, Bolt (omnibus) (2003)
Stand Alone Novels:(1962)
For Kicks (1965)
Flying Finish (1966)
Blood Sport (1966)
Slay Ride (1970)
Rat Race (1970)Bonecrack (1971)
High Stakes (1975)
In the Frame (1976)
Trial Run (1978)
Twice Shy (1981)
The Danger (1983)
Hot Money (1987)
The Edge (1988)
Driving Force (1992)
Wild Horses (1994)
To the Hilt (1996)
10 lb. Penalty (1997)
Second Wind (1999)
Dead Heat2007) (w/Felix Francis)
Silks (2008) (w/Felix Francis)
Crossfire (2010) (w/ Felix Francis)
Field if 13 (1998)
The Sport of Queens: The Autobiography of Dick Francis (1968)Racing Man’s Bedside Book (1969) (w/John Welcome)
Jockey’s Life: The Biography of Lester Piggott (1986)