Dick Francis

Last updated: 15 February 2010

Born in Lawrenny, Pembrokeshire, Dick Francis CBE was an acclaimed crime writer and horse racer. His books sold more than 60 million copies and were translated into over 20 languages.

He was born Richard Stanley Francis on 31 October 1920, and was the son of a jockey and stable manager. He left school at 15, and became a horse trainer three years later.

During World War Two Francis flew fighter and bomber aircraft with the Royal Air Force, and was based in north Africa. In 1945 he met Mary Margaret Brenchley; the couple married in 1947 and had two sons.

Francis left the RAF in 1946, and quickly became a star of British National Hunt racing, winning more than 350 races and becoming champion jockey in the 1953/4 season. Between 1948 and 1957 he took part in 2,305 races, winning 345 of them.

From 1953-1957 he was the jockey to HRH Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Francis rode her horse, Devon Loch, in the 1956 Grand National but, despite being some way ahead of the pack in the final stretch, the horse famously tripped and fell within sight of the winning post.

"His hindquarters just refused to act for a split second," Francis later said. "He brought his forefeet up as if he was jumping. But he wasn't jumping. I was still far enough ahead to have won if I could have got him going but he more or less collapsed again. I just had to walk off in disgust."

Francis was forced to retire from racing in 1957 after suffering a fall, and the same year published an autobiography, The Sport of Queens.

He began writing a racing column for the Sunday Express newspaper, which continued for 16 years, and from 1962 became a novelist. In 38 years he wrote 41 bestsellers, along with a short story collection, Field Of 13, and a biography of fellow jockey Lester Piggott.

Horse racing was a recurrent theme in his thrillers. All were written in longhand, and in the first person. His final three novels, Dead Heat, Silks and Even Money, were co-authored with Francis' son and manager Felix.

Francis is the only writer to have been given the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award for Best Novel three times: for Forfeit (1970), Whip Hand (1981), and Come To Grief (1996). Other awards included the Gold Dagger Award in 1979, the Cartier Diamond Dagger lifetime achievement award in 1989, the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award in 1996, and the Gumshoe Awards' Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

Dick Francis was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in 2000. He died on 14 February 2010, aged 89, at his Caribbean home in Grand Cayman.

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