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Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, dies at 96

British author Richard Adams, who spent the first 50 years of his life in relative anonymity before penning the classic children's book Watership Down, has died at 96.

After huge success of adventure tale about rabbits, British civil servant became full-time writer

British novelist Richard Adams, seen in 1974, worked as a civil servant before he published his first book, the classic children's novel Watership Down, at 52. He only started devoting himself full-time to writing two years after that. (Tom Smith/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty)

British author Richard Adams, who spent the first 50 years of his life in relative anonymity before penning the iconic children's adventure novel Watership Down, has died at 96.

The news was first reported by the BBC, citing Adams's daughter. The website for Watership Down Enterprises, the entity that manages the rights to Adams's works, also issued a statement announcing his death.

"Richard's much-loved family announce with sadness that their dear father, grandfather and great-grandfather passed away peacefully at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve," the statement said.

Adams was born in Newbury, England, about 40 kilometres south of Oxford, in 1920. He served in the British army during the Second World War and was posted to Europe, the Mideast and East Asia.

After the war, Adams worked as a civil servant in the British government. 

Watership Down, the story of a small group of rabbits in search of a new home after their warren is destroyed, had its genesis in a tale Adams told his daughters on a road trip. He eventually wrote it down and sought a publisher, but had difficulty finding one until Rex Collings Ltd. took it on, with an initial print run of 2,500 copies.

The book won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, seen as the top honours for children's books in Britain, and became an international best-seller.

It was later adapted into an animated film and TV series, and has seen several stage versions.

Riding on the success of Watership Down, Adams turned to writing full-time. His later works include the 1974 fantasy novel Shardik and 1977's The Plague Dogs, about two canine heroes who escape mistreatment at a government research facility.