Dick King-Smith (1922 – 2011)
Where and when born: Dick King-Smith was born Ronald Gordon King-Smith in the town of Bitton in Gloucestershire in the West Country of England in March 1922. His family owned several papermills, so he had a very comfortable and happy childhood. He loved animals as a child, and used to play endlessly with a toy farm which included rather odd farm animals such as a giraffe! Dick went to a prep school called Beaudesert Park School, then the famous Marlborough College. As a result of his upbringing, all his life he was known as a “country gentleman with perfect manners”.
Why and when he began writing:
Dick King-Smith was another Amazing Author who didn’t start writing his children’s books till he’d done a lot of living! After leaving school, World War Two had broken out, so he first became a soldier, serving with the Grenadier Guards in Italy before being hit by a grenade, which so badly injured him that he missed the rest of the war. He then followed his childhood dreams by training to be a farmer, but despite 20 years of hard work he never succeeded in making any money – which he said was because he was never any good at maths! After his farm finally went broke, he tried working as a travelling salesman but didn’t enjoy it, and finally decided to retrain as a teacher of primary school kids.
When he started teaching in 1975 at the age of 53, he was instantly successful as, in the words of his family, he was a natural story-teller and a real show-off! However his problem with maths continued, and he had to change from teaching Junior School to teaching Infants because he coudn’t do long division!
The children he taught loved the stories he told them, so the very next summer holidays, he started writing stories for kids, and by 1978 his first book, The Fox Busters, was written. Although it was well-reviewed and he wrote three more books in quick succession, it wasn’t until The Sheep-Pig was published in 1983 that he achieved real recognition, with the book winning the Guardian Children’s Book Prize in 1984 and later being made into the famous film Babe.
Despite his late start, Dick King-Smith went on to become one of England’s most successful children’s writers, producing more than 100 books before his death in January this year, which have been translated into more than 20 languages! These include a series about a little girl called Sophie growing up on a farm, which he based on his beloved wife Myrtle, and a book about the Loch Ness Monster (which he believed in) called The Water Horse, which was also made into a successful film.
After becoming a well-known author, he also became a children’s TV presenter for many years, in series such as Rub-a-Dub Tub. He received many awards during his life, being made an OBE in the New Year Honours List in 2010.
Dick King-Smith met his first wife Myrtle when they were both only 13 years old, through a shared love of breeding budgerigars! They married when they were 21, and were very happily married until Myrtle died 57 years later in 2000, having had 3 children and 14 grand-children. He then married a family friend called Zona.
When he died early this year, he was living in a little old cottage covered in wysteria which dated back to the 1600s, only 3 miles from the house he was born in. He was still sleeping in the same bed he was born in!
He was passionate about animals all his life, and his pets included rats, mice, pheasants, dachsunds, geese and guinea fowl, while he also bred rabbits and guinea pigs. But his favourite animals were always pigs which perhaps explains why his book The Sheep-Pig (or Babe) was such a huge success!
Due to his great success, he was quite wealthy by the time he was old, but money didn’t interest him. His favourite possession was a very small china owl, given to him by his mother’s mother.
Dick King-Smith believed you had to be a bit of a kid yourself to be a good children’s writer. He said “A real adult, someone who is really grown up and adult, someone like Mrs Thatcher, couldn’t possibly write a book for children. Somebody like me, even when I’m 85, is pretty childish. I laugh at things young children laugh at.”
“To produce any book with a good beginning, middle and a good end, you have to do the job properly or find a very silly publisher.”
“Much as I love The Wind in the Willows and the works of Beatrix Potter, I never dress my animals in clothes…They behave as animals should behave, with the exception that they open their mouths and speak the Queen’s English.”
There were some wonderful articles written in newspapers after Dick King-Smith died this year, about his life and his books – these are called obituaries. Some excellent obituaries are at:
Also take a look at: