Dick was born Ronald Gordon King-Smith in Bitton, Gloucestershire, on 27th March 1922, the first child of Grace and Ronald King-Smith, and was known as Gordon. He got his nickname of Dick as a small child when he fell over and hurt himself while out walking with his nanny. Wanting to distract her from seeing his tears, he pointed at the sky and said, “Look at the little dicky-birds!”
Dick’s family ran the Golden Valley Paper Mills in Bitton, which produced fine-quality writing paper. He had a comfortable and happy upbringing. Much of the school holidays were spent caring for his large collection of pets and tearing around the neighbourhood looking for adventure with his younger brother, Tony, and friends, Jamie and Margaret; they styled themselves ‘The Red Hand Gang’.
Dick was educated at Beaudesert Park, a prep school in the Cotswolds, and Marlborough College.
As a child Dick was close to both sets of grandparents and was lucky to have Granny and Grampy King-Smith living close by. Grampy K-S was a teetotal Methodist, a man with twinkly blue eyes, a lover of feeble jokes and a keen butterfly-hunter. During the school holidays they would play golf together: Dick never won! Granny K-S ruled the roost at home but nevertheless spoiled her grandchildren rotten and called them all, they were mostly boys, “Boykie-darling” – even when they were grown up. Dick’s maternal grandparents lived in the Glamorgan village of Dinas Powys, near the seaside. Trips to see them usually included swimming, boating and devouring Marmite sandwiches and ice cream. Grampy Boucher had been a well-known Welsh Rugby International and was also a prankster; and Granny was great fun and a talented pianist.
Shortly before Dick left school, his father, knowing how keen his son was on animals and the countryside, said, “Well, m’boy, is it to be Cambridge or agricultural college?”. There was never any doubt in Dick’s mind what he wanted to do. So, in the summer of 1940, he took up a farming apprenticeship at Tytherington Farm in the Wylye Valley in Wiltshire, where he was paid £1 per week. At Tytherington, Dick learnt much about farming and also acquired some knowledge of drinking, smoking and swearing! The work was back-breaking and some of the animals temperamental. But despite having to cope with a pig-phobic horse called Foxianna and being quite badly skewered through the leg by a two-pronged pitchfork, Dick became hooked on farming, which felt like an extension of his childhood hobby of pet-keeping. But then the Second World War intervened and Dick felt it was time to join up.