James Alfred Wight, who wrote under the pseudonym of James Herriot, became one of the most popular writers of the twentieth century. His books, a series of stories based on his experiences as a young veterinary surgeon working among the farming community of North Yorkshire, sold in their millions throughout the world. Their great success spawned two feature films in the mid 1970s, followed by a television series, All Creatures Great and Small, which enjoyed global success in the late 1970s and early 80s. Alfred Wight died in 1995 but his books still sell, the television series is still played throughout the world, and thousands of visitors continue to flock to The World of James Herriot Museum which was established in 1999 by Hambleton District Council in his home town of Thirsk in North Yorkshire.
Alf Wight was born on October 3rd, 1916, in Sunderland in the North East of England. At the tender age of three weeks he moved to Glasgow, and it was in this Scottish city that he was brought up and educated. From his first school, Yoker Primary, he progressed to Hillhead High School and it was here, following the acquisition of his first dog at the age of twelve years, that he decided to become a veterinary surgeon. He gained entrance to Glasgow Veterinary College in 1933, finally qualifying with MRCVS in 1939.
These were depressed times, with jobs very hard to come by, but he managed to find a position in Sunderland where he stayed for six months before answering an advertisement for a post in the market town of Thirsk. Here he met the owner of the practice, Donald Sinclair. He gained the position of assistant, and here he was to remain working as a veterinary surgeon for the next fifty years. He married Joan Danbury in November 1941 and they had two children, Jim, born in 1943 and Rosie in 1947. Alf Wight’s future in Thirsk was finally cemented when he gained a full partnership in the practice in 1949.
Alf was intrigued by the fascinating characters he met on his daily rounds, determining from those first days to put his observations in writing. The seeds of his ambition to become a published author had, by the mid 1960s, grown into a determination to achieve his goal. After several rejections, he finally attained the status of a published author with his first book, If Only They Could Talk, published by Michael Joseph in April 1970. Here the reader is introduced to the Sinclair brothers, Donald and Brian, portrayed in the books as Siegfried and Tristan. These two characters would go on to become pivotal figures in all the future Herriot books. The first book was followed by his second, It Shouldn’t Happen To a Vet, published in January 1971. Four more books followed, Let Sleeping Vets Lie in 1973, Vet in Harness in 1974, Vets Might Fly in 1976 and Vet in a Spin in 1977.