From a love of an­i­mals, Bri­tish author cre­ated the in­spi­ra­tional tale of ‘Babe’

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - BY DEN­NIS MCLEL­LAN

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.

RAN­DOM HOUSE CHIL­DREN’S BOOKS

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.

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