Study Guide

Dick Francis

Dick Francis Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Dick Francis was born Richard Stanley Francis on October 31, 1920, in Lawrenny, near Tenby in southern Wales to George Vincent Francis and Catherine Mary (née Thomas) Francis. His father and grandfather were both horsemen, and Francis was riding from the age of five. He began riding show horses at the age of twelve and always had the ambition to become a jockey. Francis interrupted his pursuit of a riding career to serve as a pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War II, but in 1946 he made his debut as an amateur jockey and turned professional in 1948. At the peak of his career, Francis rode in as many as four hundred races a year and was ranked among the top jockeys in Great Britain in every one of the ten years he rode. In 1954, he began riding for Queen Elizabeth; in 1957, he retired at the top of his profession and began his second career.

Francis began writing as a racing correspondent for the London Sunday Express, a job he held for the next sixteen years, and started work on his autobiography, The Sport of Queens: The Autobiography of Dick Francis (1957). Although he had dropped out of high school at the age of fifteen, he refused the services of a ghostwriter, relying only on his wife, Mary Margaret Brenchley, a former publisher’s reader to whom he had been married in 1947, for editorial help, a job she performed for all of his books until her death in 2000. Reviewers were pleasantly surprised by Francis’s natural and...

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Dick Francis Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Richard Stanley Francis was born in Wales on October 31, 1920, the son of George Vincent and Catherine Mary Francis. His father, a powerful influence in Francis’s life, had been a professional steeplechase jockey and later a riding instructor to royalty. Francis later dramatized in his novels his love-hate relationship with his demanding father.

Francis quit school at age fifteen in order to work with horses. His ambition was to become a steeplechase jockey like his father and to outperform his father in that dangerous profession. When he later became a writer, he had to work hard to make up for his scholastic deficiencies.

He postponed his career as a jockey when World War II began, joining the Royal Air Force in 1940, hoping to become a pilot. For a long time he had to be content with working ground crew but eventually overcame such obstacles as his limited education and learned to fly fighters, troop-carrying gliders, and bombers. His enthusiasm for this dangerous but exciting branch of military service was characteristic.

Francis married Mary Brenchley at war’s end. He rode his first steeplechase at age twenty-five, but not until he had ridden thirty-nine races did he experience his first win. By the end of the racing season in 1947, he had ridden nine winners and was thinking of turning professional when he had a major riding accident.

Physical pain and injuries are constant topics in Francis’s novels. His novels’ protagonists display a jockey’s indifference to such punishment. Francis writes from experience. During his career he suffered twelve broken collarbones, five broken noses, many broken ribs, three crushed vertebrae, a fractured skull, several broken arms and wrists, and a ruptured spleen. He retired in 1957 after a very bad fall, having decided he was getting too old for such punishment and wishing to quit while still at the top of his profession.

At the peak of his career, Francis was riding in three hundred to four hundred races annually. During the 1953-1954 racing season he earned the title of Champion Jockey for winning seventy-six races. He was noted for his bravery and empathy with his mounts. His love of horses was the common factor in his dual careers of...

(The entire section is 919 words.)

Dick Francis Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Dick Francis has, amazingly, written more than forty novels over a period of more than forty-five years, all on the subject of horse racing in all its diversity. His heroes think on their feet while engaged in strenuous action. Over the years, his heroes, like their creator, have become more affluent, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan; they also have become more fully developed and more credibly motivated. Francis has received many honors for helping bring serious critical and scholarly attention to the genre of popular detective fiction. He merges the American and the British mystery-writing tradition, giving readers the best of both worlds.

Dick Francis Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Dick Francis had pursued a fulfilling career as a jockey, had written his autobiography, and had commenced a successful life as a racing correspondent for the London Sunday Express before he wrote his first novel. Since the publication of that novel, when he was forty-two years old, he has become one of the world’s most prolific and successful writers of mystery fiction and one of the small cadre of those practitioners who command the respect of literary critics.

Born Richard Stanley Francis, he was the son of George Vincent and Molly Thomas Francis. His father had returned from service in World War I to use his skill with horses first at Bishop’s hunting stables and then in the position he held for most of Dick Francis’s childhood, as manager of W. J. Smith’s Hunting Stables at Holyport. The future jockey was thus reared in an environment in which horses played a large role. He attended the Maidenhead County School, leaving in his mid-teens to work with horses. In 1940 he enlisted in the air force after having been denied entry into the cavalry. He became a pilot and served until 1946.

Returning to civilian life, he became an amateur steeplechase jockey, earning experience and achieving growing success. Francis became a professional jockey in 1948, a year after he married Mary Brenchley. He became one of England’s most celebrated riders, achieving the status of Champion Jockey in 1954 and having the privilege of riding the Queen Mother’s horses in National Hunt races. A celebrated fall when he was on the verge of winning the Grand National in 1956 led to his decision to write his autobiography, The Sport of Queens.

Francis began writing weekly articles on the British racing scene for the London Sunday Express in 1957. He continued to write for the Sunday Express for sixteen years, but in 1961 he was persuaded by his...

(The entire section is 777 words.)