Thriller writer Dick Francis dies aged 89

Dick Francis, the champion jockey turned best-selling thriller writer, has died at the age of 89, his family said today.

His son, Felix, said he was "devastated" as he paid tribute to his "extraordinary" father.

Francis, from Oxfordshire, the author of 42 novels, was "rightly acclaimed" as one of the greatest thriller writers in the world, his spokesman said.

Francis, who was living on the Cayman Islands in his later years, died early today, his family said later.

A spokesman said he died of "old age".

Son Felix added: "My brother, Merrick, and I are, of course, devastated by the loss of our father, but we rejoice in having been the sons of such an extraordinary man.

"We share in the joy that he brought to so many over such a long life. It is an honour for me to be able to continue his remarkable legacy through the new novels."

Francis wrote a volume of short stories, an autobiography and the biography of Lester Piggott.

Even Money, written with Felix, was published in September 2009 and Crossfire, the new Dick and Felix Francis novel, will be published in autumn 2010.

Francis was also one of the most successful post-war National Hunt jockeys, winning more than 350 races.

He retired from racing in 1957 and took up writing, first for the Sunday Express and then, in 1962, with the novels.

Francis also had a distinguished military career, serving the RAF in 1940, initially stationed in the Egyptian desert before he was commissioned as a pilot in 1943.

His wife, Mary, to whom he was married for 53 years, died in 2000. He also had five grandchildren and one great grandson.

There will be a small funeral at his home in Grand Cayman, followed by a memorial service in London in due course, his spokesman said.

The Queen will be saddened by the news of Francis' death, Buckingham Palace said.

The racing fraternity also paid tribute to the doyen.

Former BBC commentator Sir Peter O'Sullevan said Francis was one of the "people's champions".

Francis spoke in later life how he was still haunted by his famous ride on Devon Loch, owned by the Queen Mother.

The horse suddenly appeared to jump up and slip when he appeared certain to win the 1956 Grand National.

Francis said in 2006: "The Devon Loch episode was a terrible thing but I look back on it now and I can say that if it hadn't happened I might never have written a book, and my books have certainly helped keep the wolf from the door."

Sir Peter told how Francis rode a horse for him in the 1950s at Newton Abbot.

He said: "He was a very good mate. The last time he wrote to me was just before Christmas and he said he was very weak.

"I particularly enjoyed reading his novels and found him a wonderfully efficient author."

John Francome, the former jockey, said: "He was a lovely person who always had a sparkle in his eye and he had a wicked sense of humour.

"I remember we used to laugh out loud about the old times and he did say to me that he would have happily given up all the success he achieved as an author to have won the National on Devon Loch."

Former champion jockey Terry Biddlecombe, husband of Best Mate's trainer Henrietta Knight, said: "He was a good guy and a lovely man and always a help to anyone.

"I knew him for many, many years and I read all his books and they were excellent."

A spokesman for The Queen said: "I am sure The Queen will be saddened by the news."

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