James Herriot Biography & Facts
James Alfred Wight (3 October 1916 – 23 February 1995), better known by his pen name James Herriot, was a British veterinary surgeon and writer.
Born in Sunderland, Wight graduated from Glasgow Veterinary College in 1939, returning to England to become a veterinary surgeon in Yorkshire, where he practised for almost 50 years. He is best known for writing a series of eight books set in the 1930s–1950s Yorkshire Dales about veterinary practice, animals, and their owners, which began with If Only They Could Talk, first published in 1970.
There have been several television and film adaptations of Wight's books, including the 1975 film All Creatures Great and Small and the BBC television series of the same name, which ran for a total of 90 episodes.
Alf Wight was born on 3 October 1916 in Sunderland, County Durham, England to James Wight (1890–1960) and Hannah née Bell (1890–1980). Shortly after their wedding in 1915, the Wights had moved from Brandling Street, Sunderland, to Glasgow, Scotland where James took work as a ship plater and as a pianist for a local cinema, while Hannah was a singer and a dressmaker. Hannah returned to Sunderland to give birth to Alf, bringing him back to Glasgow when he was three weeks old.
Wight attended Yoker Primary School and Hillhead High School. When he was a boy in Glasgow, one of Wight's favourite pastimes was walking with his dog, an Irish Setter, in the Scottish countryside and watching it play with his friends' dogs. He later wrote that 'I was intrigued by the character and behaviour of these animals... [I wanted to] spend my life working with them if possible.' At age 12, he read an article in Meccano Magazine about veterinary surgeons, and was captivated with the idea of a career treating sick animals. Two years later, in 1930, he decided to become a vet after the principal of Glasgow Veterinary College gave a lecture at his high school. Wight studied for six years at Glasgow Veterinary College, and qualified as a veterinary surgeon in December 1939 at age 23.Wight's first position, which he accepted in January 1940, was at a veterinary practice in Sunderland. He moved to work in a rural practice the following July, based at 23 Kirkgate in Thirsk, Yorkshire, near the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. The practice owner, Donald Sinclair, had enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and was soon to leave for training; he gave Wight all the practice's income in return for looking after it during his absence. After Sinclair was discharged from the RAF four months later, he asked Wight to stay permanently with the practice, offering a salaried partnership which Wight accepted. He married Joan Catherine Anderson Danbury on 5 November 1941 at St Mary's Church, Thirsk. They had two children: James Alexander (born 13 February 1943), who also became a veterinarian and eventually his father's successor in the practice, and Rosemary (born 9 May 1947), who became a general practitioner.:148, 169, 292
Wight enlisted in the RAF in November 1942. He did well in his training, and was one of the first in his regiment to fly solo. After undergoing surgery on an anal fistula in July 1943, he was deemed unfit to fly combat aircraft and was discharged as a leading aircraftman the following November. He joined his wife at her parents' house, where she had lived since he left Thirsk. They lived there until the summer of 1945, when they moved back to 23 Kirkgate after Sinclair and his wife moved to a house of their own. In 1953, the family moved to a house on Topcliffe Road, Thirsk. Wishing for more privacy as the popularity of All Creatures Great and Small increased, in 1977 Wight and his wife moved again, to the smaller village of Thirlby, about 4 miles (6.4 km) from Thirsk. Wight lived here until his death in 1995.
Wight retired in 1989, passing his share of the practice to his son. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1991 and was treated in the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton.:345, 352 He died on 23 February 1995 at home in Thirlby at age 78, leaving an estate valued for probate at £5,425,873 (equivalent to £10,507,224 in 2019). His remains were cremated and scattered on Sutton Bank. His wife's health declined after his death, and she died on 14 July 1999.
Career as an author
Although Wight claimed in the preface of James Herriot's Yorkshire that he had begun to write only after his wife encouraged him at age 50, he in fact kept copious diaries as a child, as a teenager wrote for his school's magazine, and wrote at least one short story during his college years. In the early 1960s he began analysing the books of successful authors that he enjoyed reading, such as P. G. Wodehouse and Conan Doyle, to understand different writing styles.:244 During this time he also began writing more seriously, composing numerous short stories and, in his own words, 'bombarding' publishers with them.:233, 238Wight's early efforts at having his writing published were unsuccessful, which he later explained by telling Paul Vallely in a 1981 interview for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine that "my style was improving but [...] my subjects were wrong.":238–239 Choosing a subject where he was more experienced, in 1969 he wrote If Only They Could Talk, a collection of stories centred around his experiences as a young veterinarian in the Yorkshire Dales. The book was published in the United Kingdom in 1970 by Michael Joseph Ltd. Wight followed it up with It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet in 1972. Sales were slow until Thomas McCormack of St. Martin's Press in New York City received a copy and arranged to have both books published as a single volume in the United States that same year. Wight named this volume All Creatures Great and Small from the second line of the hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful".:271 The resulting book was a huge success.
Wight wrote seven more books in the series started by If Only They Could Talk. In the United States, the first six books of the original series were thought too short to publish independently. Most of the stories were collected into three omnibus volumes; the final two books were published separately. The last book of the series, Every Living Thing, sold 650,000 copies in six weeks in the United States and stayed on The New York Times Best Seller list for eight months.:433Contrary to widespread belief, Wight's books are only partially autobiographical, with many of the stories only loosely based on real events or people. Most of the stories are set in the fictional town of Darrowby, which Wight described as a composite of Thirsk, its nearby market towns Richmond, Leyburn, and Middleham, and 'a fair chunk of my own imagination'. Wight anonymised the majority of his characters by renaming them: notably, he called Donald Sinclair and his brother Brian Siegfried and Tristan Farnon respectively, and used the name Helen Alderson for his wife Joan. At the time of the series's publication, veterinary surgeons were .... Discover the James Herriot popular books. Find the top 100 most popular James Herriot books.