A tribute to R.D. Wingfield

I’ve gone on record umpteen times about how much I admire the writing of R.D. Wingfield. Every time someone asks me who my favourite writer is, or who’s had the biggest influence on my work, it’s his name I bring up. I even made a complete tit of myself on national television, enthusing away like an electrocuted Muppet about how great his books are. And today I got a phone call from my agent that told me Rodney died last night. He was 79.

A very private man, he’d concealed his battle with cancer for seven years.

I first discovered Rodney David Wingfield back when I was a code-monkey working for an internet company. I popped out one lunchtime, looking for a book to read with my sandwich and there, in Dillons was a name I vaguely remembered from the opening titles of A Touch Of Frost on the telly. So I bought the first one in the series, went back to my desk and read while I ate. Fifteen minutes later I was back in the bookshop buying everything else I could find by the man.

I know that Rodney wasn’t the biggest fan of the TV series, but I have to admit that I have a soft spot for it. Without it I might never have discovered the books. I can see his point though: on television David Jason’s Frost is avuncular and a little unruly; but Wingfield’s Frost is irascible, scruffy, rude, petty, funny, kind hearted, filthy, he cuts corners, he cares, he’s generous.. He’s a walking bag of contradictions in a scruffy mac and tatty maroon scarf, and that’s what makes him so human.

Rodney’s plots were twisted, layered and interwoven; his characters flawed, funny and human; his sense of pace and dialogue second to none. If can ever manage to be even a third as good a writer as he was I’ll consider myself to be very lucky indeed.

My father-in-law had read non-fiction all his life, never saw the point in all that made up stuff, until I finally managed to persuade him to try FROST AT CHRISTMAS — the book that got me hooked — and it did the same to him. He devoured all the other Frost books and there’s been no stopping him since. Before: non-fiction fanatic. After: fiction freak. That’s how good R.D. Wingfield is/was.

And I owe my career to him. I chose Marjacq Scripts to represent me, because when I was looking for a new agent I came across their listing in the Writers’ and Artist’s Year Book and saw that they represented him. So I queried, saying how much I admired his work. It was my first agent at Marjacq who told me to stop writing science fiction thrillers and try crime instead. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Rodney.

Occasionally Agent Phil would forward on a joke email from him, usually rude, always funny, and in a way I started to feel that I sort of knew him, if only by proxy. That I never met him, is something I’m going to regret for a long, long time. In my life there have only been two people whose work I admire so much I doubt I could have spoken to them without making an arse of myself. One was Spike Milligan, the other was R.D. Wingfield.

Frost At ChristmasA Touch Of FrostNight FrostHard FrostWinter Frost

Rodney was a hugely talented writer — for my money the best one the genre has ever seen — it’s a tragedy he wasn’t more prolific. FROST AT CHRISTMAS came out in 1984 (in Canada, the UK had to wait till 1989), then a gap of three years before A TOUCH OF FROST in 1987, another five years to wait for NIGHT FROST in 1992, three more for HARD FROST in 1995, and four till WINTER FROST in 1999. And each one is a master class on how to write a brilliant police procedural.

And then nothing.

Finally, a couple of years ago I heard from Agent Phil that there was a new Frost book on the go: cue, happy fan-boy dance. I’ve been looking forward to a new R.D. Wingfield book for eight years. And I’m so sad I won’t be able to tell him how much I love it.

A KILLING FROST will be published posthumously on the 7th of April 2008 by Transworld. From what Agent Phil tells me, it’s every bit as good as the ones before. And I’m sure it will be. Apparently after all this time not writing, Rodney even had plans for another Frost book after this one. It’s such a huge shame he’s not going to be here to write it.

His death is a terrible loss to his family and friends and everyone who loves brilliantly written crime fiction. He’ll be sorely missed.

Rodney David Wingfield
1928 — 2007

18 Responses to “A tribute to R.D. Wingfield”

  1. Damn that’s a shame. I too was hooked by his writing, and delighted to hear from Agent Phil that he had written another one. I read Frost at Christmas and A Touch of Frost both whilst I was writing Natural Causes and they changed my whole attitude towards writing crime fiction.

    Like you said, Mr Stuart. He will be sorely missed.

  2. Sad news indeed. And a lovely, heart-felt tribute Stuart. (And who could forget you gushing on national television?)

  3. Excellent tribute Stuart. We all have our heroes, and it’s ever a sadder day when another of them prove themselves to be mortal.

  4. Lovely tribute and I am also sorry that although we will have one more book, we will no longer have the man behind them.

  5. Very sad. I loved the Frost books and his radio work. Outbreak of Fear still remains one of my favorite radio plays.

  6. Lovely tribute Stuart, I too came across R.D. Wingfield when I read Frost at Christmas and went and got the rest of them. Will look forward to the final one. Betty

  7. If the measure of the man’s work is how it is regarded both in life and in such a premature death. Stuart thank you for posting such a wonderful outline of the man as well as his work – I too am a huge fan and did much the same as you – read one book – turned getting the rest of them into a stop everything, must get these books quest. Such a sad loss.

  8. What depressing news. I, like you, got into the books after the tv series, and was always amazed there were so few of them. R.D. Wingfield and Colin Dexter were the two writers that made me want to write crime fiction. I’ll get there some day. Don’t think I’m quite ready yet.

  9. Stuart, what a heartfelt tribute to a man who was so admired by legions. I’ve always intended to read the books, but never quite got round to it (sidetracked by beardy writers and suchlike); it’s a shame that it’s taken this sad news to spur me on, but with so many glowing recommendation, it has to be done. ESP

  10. Thank you, Stuart. I’ve said much the same (Wingfield is to me at the very top of the genre) elsewhere, but you have said it better.

  11. An absolutely wonderful tribute, Stuart. I think you’ve done him more than proud. Sorry for the loss you feel at this time, also; he was obviously a great inspiration to you.

  12. I always enjoyed the TV shows, but never got around to reading the books. Based on your comments, I just dug out my Canadian PBO of Frost at Chrstmas and will read it at the lake while enjoying our Canadian August long weekend.

    Kent Morgan

  13. Thank you all for such wonderful words of praise. My father was a modest man and would find all this a tad strange. In a line culled from a private letter he commented on his books translation into multiple languages as ‘proof positive that bad taste is universal’. He also ascribed his success as a radio playwrite to ‘luck’. But we all know how untrue that was. His was the only crime fiction I ever read and I loved them all. Not because he was my dad but because they were so darn good. Thanks again.

  14. Phil

    I am so sorry for your loss. I know how much you loved and looked up to your Dad – hope you are bearing well. God help you. Take care – Bindu

  15. I had the very great pleasure of knowing Rodney during his days at Petrofina in the 1960’s. At the time he was a clerk based at a small office in Wanstead.

    My father, Alfred Donovan, was the proprietor of a Fina petrol station in Seven Kings, Essex. Rodney, who at the time had a stutter, had the great misfortune to deal with our telephone calls, saying for example that we were still waiting for Pump Maintenance to arrive to fix a broken down petrol pump.

    Like my father, Rodney loved a joke and to poke fun at the pompous District Manager, known as “Dr No”. Jack Frost was the UK sales promotion manager for Fina. An ex-military man with a white moustache, he was always immaculately dressed and displayed a red carnation in his coat buttonhole. A hugely enthusiastic gentleman of the old school, he was nothing like his namesake, Inspector Jack Frost.

    In 1967 I drove Rodney and Jack Frost to Burwood Park in Surrey one evening to launch a Fina national sales promotion which my father and I had devised. The vino flowed freely and Jack was completely blotto by the time it came to drive home. Rodney and I had to almost carry him into his residence.

    Many years later my father and I visited Rodney at his home in Basildon and he very kindly drafted the text for a sales leaflet for a promotional tie in to the popular TV programme, Dallas.

    We cannot claim to be close friends of Rodney. In fact we had no contact with him for over two decades, but we do have fond memories of one of the nicest people we have ever come across.

    It was a shock to read that he is no longer with us: my deepest commiserations to his son.

    Posted by John Donovan. Email address: john@shellnews.net

  16. Sad news indeed about RDW.
    The one series of books and TV drama’s that gets as close to the real thing as is possible, for the fictive dream.
    RDW had great insight into the way Coppers work and it a pity he wasn’t more prolific, but now perhaps we know why. He will be missed and my sympathies go to his family.

    Also, Steele will be missed, if she is killed off. I wonder if the McBride books would have been even better, had she been the main character!

    You see, I knew a Woman Detective just like her, (Although the real-life version was a little more hard-nosed.) The Police Force needs such characters, dinosaurs though they might be. Fiction positively thrives on them.




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