08 January 2011

RIP: Dick King-Smith

Ronald Gordon King-Smith OBE
27 Mar 1922 – 4 Jan 2011

ZUI this article from The Guardian:
Dick King-Smith, who has died aged 88, was one of the most delightful of children's authors, from one of the most unlikely backgrounds. Enormously successful and popular – especially with The Sheep-Pig (1983), which was adapted into film in 1995 as Babe – he came to writing for children late in life, after two previous careers, in both of which he always claimed to have been a complete failure.

Farmer, teacher, writer – Dick's life can be carved up into three neat but certainly not equal slices. Farming was his first love, but his lack of business sense, and particularly a disregard for numbers, forced him to abandon this career after 20 years of running a couple of farms at a loss.

His second, as a teacher, was also hampered by his relationship with numbers. He was moved from teaching juniors to infants because he could not manage long division. In his third career, the only numbers that mattered were his prodigious output – more than 100 titles – and his enormous sales figures, somewhere around 15m copies worldwide.

Dick was every inch a country gentleman, and no amount of sophisticated London publishing events changed that. He was delightfully old-fashioned, without being in the least an old fogey, and had disarmingly good manners – products of his comfortable gentry background in the West Country, where his family ran several paper mills, and education at Marlborough college in Wiltshire. Even when older and lamer, he had the upright posture of a Grenadier Guard. He served with that regiment in Italy with distinction during the second world war, was wounded and invalided out.


His first book, The Fox Busters (1978), had its origins in his farming experience where he had imagined what might happen if, instead of the fox always killing the chickens, the chickens had turned against the fox. The feisty hens are a formidable brood and their successful efforts to defeat the fox are hilarious.

The Fox Busters was well reviewed, and Dick followed it up with a story about a sparrow, which his publishers rejected. Undaunted, he wrote Daggie Dogfoot, his first book about a pig, which was published in 1980. Three more books followed before he wrote The Sheep-Pig – a charming story about how a runt, won in a competition by the near-silent but wise Farmer Hoggett, latches on to the farm sheepdog and, thanks to its exceptional prowess as a sheep-pig, saves its own bacon – made an immediate impact. Dick won the Guardian children's book prize for it and was hailed as the inventor of a new form of animal fiction.


Dick married Myrle, who had been a childhood friend, in 1943, when both were serving in the forces. Theirs was a long and happy marriage. They had three children, Juliet, Giles and Liz, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, in whom Dick took the greatest delight. He was unusual for men of his generation in adoring babies, and in expressing it completely naturally. Myrle supported Dick in all his ventures and was his first reader, until her death in 2000. The following year, Dick married Zona Bedding, an old family friend.

He is survived by Zona, his children, 14 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandchild.

King-Smith was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 2010 New Year's Honours List. The Wikipedia article on him gives a list of his books; I don't think I've read any of them. Yet.

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