Source: Review copy
Publication: 16 September 2021
Listening time: 13 hrs and 27 mins
Narrated by: Bill Nighy, Nigel Havers, full cast, Siân Phillips, Francis Matthews, Tony Osoba, Mick Ford, Hywell Bennett, Eric Allan
Fast-paced radio dramatisations of six of Dick Francis’ classic racing thrillers, plus bonus documentary
After riding the favourite into second place, jockey Kelly Hughes loses his licence. But he didn’t throw the race, and is determined to find out who framed him…
A cushy job transporting passengers between racecourses turns dangerous for pilot Matt Shore when his plane explodes and he’s embroiled in a deadly plot.
Abducted by masked men, Neil Griffon is faced with a deadly ultimatum – obey the instructions of a ruthless crime czar, or risk the destruction of his father’s racing stables.
Disabled ex-jockey turned investigator Sid Halley is faced with a triple threat when he is asked to guard a horse, probe a suspicious syndicate and find a swindler.
When a party to celebrate the success of the racing season ends in tragedy, wine dealer and amateur sleuth Tony Beach investigates.
Asked by a princess to fend off a dangerous cousin who is making threats, Kit Fielding agrees to help. But he also has problems of his own to deal with…
Also included is a bonus episode of the Radio 4 series Great Lives, presented by Matthew Parris, in which Francis’ biographer Graham Lord, chairman of the British Horseracing Board Martin Broughton and racing correspondent Jonathan Powell explore the life and work of the champion thriller writer.
I’m delighted to report that nostalgia is still everything it’s cracked up to be. While I enjoy listening to audiobooks when on the move, or doing other things during the day, at might I am prone to seeking out older dramas from Radio 4 Extra on BBC Sounds. I find that with age comes a desire to enjoy the classical radio dramas and what The Dick Francis Collection offers is that classical series in spades.
Here you will find the clipped tones of a young Nigel Havers; the rounded, delicious vowels of the much missed Hywel Bennett; the precise intonation of Siân Phillips; the clear diction of Frances Matthews and the memorable voice of Bill Nighy, which has barely changed across the decades.
These full cast dramatisations are, unsurprisingly, not all in pristine condition, but they are all eminently listenable and the heyday of the BBC sound effects team is there for all to hear in the thunder of hooves on the race track and the sound of a train rumbling down the railway tracks.
In keeping with the times, the role of women is one that may give some pause for reflection. Francis, who was, to give him his due, cognisant that women could pilot planes and run an effective stables training yard, nevertheless has to build in the romantic hero and so his women are a little too prone to leaping into bed with our various heroes.
Still, these are thrilling dramas and the full cast versions are a real treat. I also enjoyed the Matthew Parris Great Lives programme with Francis’ biographer Graham Lord.
Verdict: A great listen to some of the great Dick Francis thrillers. Be ready for a few crackles, but revel in a series of unsurpassable casts.
Dick Francis was born in South Wales in 1920. He was a young rider of distinction winning awards and trophies at horse shows throughout the United Kingdom. At the outbreak of World War II he joined the Royal Air Force as a pilot, flying fighter and bomber aircraft including the Spitfire and Lancaster. He became one of the most successful postwar steeplechase jockeys, winning more than 350 races and riding for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. After his retirement from the saddle in 1957, he published an autobiography, The Sport of Queens, before going on to write more than forty acclaimed books. A three-time Edgar Award winner, he also received the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger, was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, and was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2000. He died in February 2010, at age eighty-nine, and remains among the greatest thriller writers of all time.