From a love of animals, British author created the inspirational tale of ‘Babe’
Dick King-Smith, an internationally popular British children’s author whose best-known book, the amusing and inspiring story of a sheep-herding pig who talks, was turned into the hit 1995 movie “Babe,” has died. He was 88.
Mr. King-Smith died Jan. 4 at his home near Bath, England. The cause of death was not reported.
A failed farmer who became a teacher, Mr. King-Smith was in his late 50s when his first children’s book, “ The Fox Busters” — the tale of henhouse chickens who scheme to drive away invading foxes — was published in 1978.
He wrote more than 100 books — many what he called “farmyard fantasies” — that have reportedly sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.
His most famous book was his sixth, “ The Sheep-Pig,” published in England in 1983 and retitled “Babe: The Gallant Pig” when it was published in the United States two years later. The book won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 1984, with one judge declaring it “perfect.”
The book tells about a piglet who is won at a fair by a sheep farmer and adopted by the farm’s mother sheepdog, Fly. Trained to herd sheep by Fly, the polite Babe puts his own spin on getting sheep to obey.
“If I might ask a great favor of you, could you all please be kind enough to walk down to that gate where the farmer is standing, and to go through it? Take your time, please, there’s absolutely no rush.”
The author, who tapped his years of working with farm animals for his writing, had an affinity for pigs — despite a fondness for eating bacon.
“It’s something I may have to seemy psychiatrist about but, yes, I have a real soft spot for pigs,” Mr. King-Smith told the Daily Telegraph of Sydney in 1996. “I like pigs as friends and for their intelligence. I have always admired them.”
The resulting film, directed by ChrisNoonan, was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture, and won an Oscar for best visual effects.
Mr. King-Smith — described in the Guardian of London in 1996 as “a witty, urbane countryman of entertainingly contradictory enthusiasm”— did his writing in the small study of his 17th-century cottage a fewmiles from where he was born.
Writing in longhand in the morning and then typing the results up with one finger on an old portable typewriter in the afternoon, he created animal characters that displayed human characteristics while retaining their animal traits.
“I allow them some human ones, especially speech, because it is such fun putting words into their mouths,” he once said.
In his review of Mr. KingSmith’s book “Pigs Might Fly,” published in Children’s Literature in Education, Arthur Arnold observed: “King-Smith’s writing stands comfortably alongside the more celebrated E.B. White’s, sustained by his own inimitable wry sense of humor.”
Mr. King-Smith’s 2001 autobiography, “Chewing the Cud: An Extraordinary Life Remembered by the Author of ‘ Babe, the Gallant Pig,’ ” was described by one British reviewer as being “as much a memoir of the animals he has known and loved as of the people closest to him.”
The son of a paper mill director, Mr. King-Smith was born March 27, 1922, in Bitton, Gloucestershire, England, where his early life revolved around pet rabbits, tortoises, rats and mice.
He attended Marlborough College and worked on a farm for a year before serving in the British Army’s elite Grenadier Guards during World War II. He was severely wounded in Italy.
Mr. King-Smith married his first wife, Myrle, in 1943. After the war, Mr. King-Smith and his wife, who died in 2000, worked a small farm — a 20-year enterprise he termed “a disaster.”
“I was a good stockman but a very poor accountant,” he told London’s Evening Standard in 1995.
He then sold asbestos suits for firefighters and spent three years working in a shoe factory before earning a bachelor’s degree in education at Bristol University and beginning a new career as an elementary school teacher at age 53.
In 1982, at age 60, Mr. KingSmith retired from teaching to write full time.
In addition to three children from his first marriage, survivors include his second wife, Zona; 14 grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and a great-greatgrandchild.
Dick King-Smith’s sixth book, which was turned into the hit movie “Babe,” won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. One judge declared it “perfect.” The writer had an affinity for pigs— and bacon.