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The Real ‘James Herriot’

By Leslie Weddell


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Many readers will recall the wonderful books and television series of “All Creatures Great and Small” by James Herriot.

But that was not the author’s name, for his real name was James Alfred Wight. (Apparently he preferred to be addressed as Alf, rather than James.)

As a practising veterinarian surgeon and member of the Royal Veterinary Society, Alf Wight was not allowed to use his real name as it was seen to be advertising his work. So Alf used the name ‘James Herriot’ and was allowed to write his entertaining books about his life as a vet.

James Alfred Wight was born on October 3rd 1916 in Sunderland. His parents, James and Hannah Wight moved to Glasgow soon after their wedding, but nine months later Hannah returned to Sunderland to have her baby. When James was only three weeks old his mother returned to join her husband in Glasgow where he lived for the next twenty years or so, and because of his broad Glaswegian accent many people thought he was a born Scot.

He qualified in difficult times in early 1939, and his first position as a vet was in Sunderland in January 1940. He did not move to Thirsk until July of the same year.
Alf began writing his books and became an overnight sensation, but he did not let it go to his head, He still led his normal lifestyle, and was much respected as a skilled veterinarian surgeon. He was an avid supporter of Sunderland Football (soccer) Club and loved cricket, music, athletics and tennis. He married Joan Danbury on the 5th of November 1941 in St. Mary’s Magdalene Church, Thirsk. They had two children, Jimmy and Rosie. Jimmy followed in his father’s footsteps and became a veterinary surgeon whilst Rosie became a doctor.
The original surgery was in Kirkgate Thirsk, but was moved in 1997 to purpose built premises on the Thirsk trading estate. The original building along with an adjacent one has been turned into the famous ‘World of James Herriot’ centre.

If you have not read any of ‘Herriot’s’ books you really must - for you are in for a treat!

They are full of humour and portray beautifully the life and times of a vet in the 1940’s in rural England.
The weather in Yorkshire in winter can resemble Siberia at times, (especially in the thirties and forties) with biting cold and frozen and slippery country roads and farm tracks to drive down. And a veterinary practice is on call 24 hours a day. Being called out at 3am to a cow that has birthing problems is not a pleasant way to spend the night. In those days cow sheds had no heating, hygiene was not as it is today, and the poor vet had to strip to the waist in the freezing cold to make a difficult, and risky delivery without losing the mother. The farmer would stand by and try to be useful, but often he had little in the way of amenities for the vet to use apart from a bucket of hot water and a few towels.

Alf Wight had a long and fruitful life and passed away in 1995, but his wonderful stories are forever with us for generations to come to be enjoyed by all.

You can find out more about author Alf Wight by going to google search engine and entering ‘The World of James Herriot’.

Besides all the books, you can find the television and film series on DVD and video tapes too.