1. Home
  2. /

    Articles
  3. /

    Dick Francis - The Queen's Jockey and Detective Extraordinaire
Dick Francis - The Queen's Jockey and Detective Extraordinaire
Photo: Salon.com

Dick Francis - The Queen's Jockey and Detective Extraordinaire

A professional jockey with 350 victories, crowned champion in 1953-1954, and the trusted jockey for Queen Elizabeth from 1953 to 1957. 

Photo from newsland.com
Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother chat with jockey Dick Francis before the Devon Loch race

A World War II military pilot, flying fighter planes and bombers with distinction. 

A seasoned sports columnist for the Sunday Express, contributing for 15 years. 

An internationally acclaimed master of detective fiction, authoring over 40 thriller novels translated into 35 languages, with a remarkable total circulation exceeding 60 million copies. 

A distinguished member of the Royal Society of Literature, serving as Chairman of the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain, and a recipient of numerous literary prizes and awards. 

All these accomplishments belong to one remarkable individual, Richard Stanley Francis, widely known as Dick Francis. Born on October 31, 1920, in Wales, Dick's lineage of jockeys, with a father and grandfather in the same profession, shaped his dreams from a young age. 

His autobiography, "The Sport of Queens," recounts how he earned his first jockey's fee at the age of 5, jumping over a fence on a donkey for a royal reward of 6 pence offered by his older brother. 

Photo from liverpoolecho.co.uk
Dick Francis and Devon Loch (right) during the 1956 Grand National at Aintree

Despite the outbreak of World War II disrupting horse racing in Britain, Dick, having volunteered for the front, served as an aircraft mechanic before finally realizing his dream of becoming a pilot. Flying the Spitfire fighter, Wellington bomber, and concluding the war as a Lancaster heavy bomber pilot, he named his plane "Pegasus." 

Post-war, Dick Francis embarked on his amateur jockey career, amassing over 100 starts in the 1947-1948 season, ranking among the top jockeys. Transitioning to professional status, he became the second and then first jockey for Lord Bicester, a British merchant banker. 

Riding for various trainers, Dick faced the challenge of relying on the generosity of horse owners, as steeplechase jockeys did not receive a percentage of winnings. 

In 1953, Dick stepped into the royal jockey's shoes, riding for Her Majesty the Queen in the Dowager Queen's iconic blue and black colors, marking the beginning of his association with the royal stable.

Dick Francis harbored a dream—to triumph in the Grand National Steeplechase. In the 1956 Grand National, astride Devon Lough, a Royal stable horse, victory seemed within grasp. However, 50 yards from the finish line, tragedy struck. Devon Lough inexplicably fell, shattering Dick's dream. Despite the heartbreaking loss, this event etched Dick Francis's name in history, making him more famous than a victory could have.

The cause of the horse's sudden fall remains a mystery, with speculations ranging from a microinfarction or heart attack to a sudden convulsion. Despite the fall, Devon Lough was healthy and continued performing, forever linked with Dick Francis in racing history.

Dick Francis's jockey career was marked by resilience, with 21 broken bones, including 12 collarbone fractures, 5 broken noses, and numerous fractures of ribs, arms, legs, and even the skull. 

Advised by Lord Abergavenny after a 1957 injury, Dick retired at the pinnacle of his career. Transitioning to various roles, including an official referee, sports commentator, and Sunday Express columnist, his primary focus became newspaper work.

In 1962, Dick Francis ventured into detective fiction, publishing his first novel, "The Favorite," a bestseller. Annually, he released novels, most set in the horse racing world, featuring noble protagonists overcoming challenges, aiding friends, and exposing villains. Described as modern fairy tales for adults, many novels were adapted into films, starting with "The Favorite" in 1974.

Dick and his wife, Mary, collaborated on every book. A trained philologist, Mary played a significant role in plot development and text correction. Their partnership lasted over 50 years. After Mary's 2000 death, Dick acknowledged her pivotal role, stating, "Mary was more than my right hand; in fact, she was both of my hands."

In his twilight years, Dick continued writing with son Felix until his passing on February 14, 2010. A man of fortitude, Dick cherished life, with passion and competition ingrained in his soul. An excerpt from his autobiography encapsulates his essence: "I love working with horses, I love the speed and spirit of competition."

Photo from felixfrancis.com
Dick, Mary and their son Felix

Get the latest news to your inbox.

Subscribe to the newsletter

We value your privacy and promise not to distribute your email to third parties.