3rd October 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the best loved writers of our time, veterinary surgeon and author Alf Wight, OBE, FRCVS, better known to all by his pen name ‘James Herriot’.
Alf Wight’s stories, based on his very own experiences of being a young veterinary surgeon who worked amongst the North Yorkshire farming communities, have sold in their millions and have touched readers all over the world.
James Alfred Wight was born on 3rd October 1916 in Sunderland (where his parents were from). When Alf was only three weeks old the family moved to Glasgow, where he lived for most of his young life.
In December 1939 at the age of 23, Alf qualified as a veterinary surgeon at the Glasgow Veterinary College, taking on a brief post in January 1940 in a veterinary practice in Sunderland. He moved on in July 1940 to work in the rural practice of Donald V Sinclair in Thirsk, located close to the sweeping hills and rich valleys of the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Alf met the lady of his life and married Joan Catherine Danbury on 5 November 1941 at St. Mary’s Church in Thirsk and the couple had a family of two: Jim (who, like his Father, became a vet) and Rosie (who became a physician in general practice).
For many years Alf had intended to write a book, but most of his working life was consumed by running a very busy veterinary practice and raising his family. In 1966 Alf began writing about subjects of personal interest which included football, but then turned to writing about what he naturally knew best – his experiences of being a country vet – using the famous pen name of ‘James Herriot’. And there it began.
All Creatures Great and Small
The hugely popular TV series ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ which enjoyed much global success and the two feature films were based on his books and life experiences gained from living and working in the veterinary world. In 1979 the illustrated ‘James Herriot’s Yorkshire’ was published. The writings of this famous country vet became a phenomenal success, although he never let fame change his personality, what he stood for or his way of life. All his books have been produced in various formats and translated in to many languages and are enjoyed worldwide.
Alf Wight was a Life President of Sunderland AFC. The “James Herriot Suite” at the Stadium of Light was named in his honour.
The World of James Herriot
The World of James Herriot Visitor Centre at 23 Kirkgate in Thirsk (which first opened its doors in 1999) provides a wonderful insight in to the life and daily work of this amazing country vet. What makes it so special is that No 23 was where the world’s most famous vet not only worked but actually lived with his family. Whatever the weather, there’s plenty to see and do for all the family to enjoy. Pop in to the sitting room and take a tour round the 1940s kitchen (with all the delights of baking day) and view the (wonderfully restored) Austin Seven vintage car (as shown above, used in the TV series).
Step in to the surgery and imagine yourself being a vet. No 23 Kirkgate also has its very own exclusive WWII Wartime Bunker in the cellars. Don’t forget to visit the Foldyard and watch an exclusive short film of this amazing vet’s life which includes unseen footage and interviews with family, friends and cast members. See the Farrier’s Workshop. Step on to the TV Film Set and imagine being part of the act and experience what’s involved in shooting an episode. The Interactive Gallery is a must see and do and is packed with activities. Take a walk into the lovely garden and marvel at the famous author’s bronze statue which the ‘All Creatures Great & Small’ TV actor Christopher Timothy (aka ‘James Herriot’) unveiled at a special black tie dinner, to respectfully mark the 75th anniversary of Alf Wight’s arrival in the town of Thirsk).
The World of James Herriot which showcases the world’s largest Herriot/veterinary memorabilia collection has deservedly been the winner of many awards including Visit England Awards for Excellence GOLD WINNER 2015 (due to their exemplary contribution to tourism in this country), the ‘Best’ Visitor Attraction in Yorkshire and the BEST Small Visitor Attraction in England.