James Herriot (real name James Alfred Wight) was born on 3rd October 1916 in Sunderland
in the North East of England. When he was just three weeks old his parents moved
to Glasgow where he grew up. He was an only child. His father James Henry Wight was
a Ship Plater by trade but also an accomplished pianist and his mother, Hannah Bell,
Alf (James) went to Yoker Primary School and then onto Hillhead High School. When
he was 12, Alf had his first dog, a red setter named Don and they were devoted to
each other. It was also at this time that he read an article in the Meccano Magazine
about being a vet and this set him on a path into the veterinary profession.
In 1933 Alf Wight went to Glasgow Veterinary College where he spent 6 years. He qualified
on the 14th December 1939.
In January 1940 he travelled south to Sunderland where he was employed for 6 months
by J.J. McDowall as a Veterinary Surgeon.
On the 18th July 1940 he arrived in Thirsk in North Yorkshire at number 23 Kirkgate,
where he started working for Donald Sinclair (Siegfried Farnon). In November that
year he met Brian Sinclair (Tristan Farnon) who became a life long friend.
In 1941 Alf met Joan Danbury (Helen Alderson) and they were married on 5th November
in St Mary’s Church Thirsk. Donald Sinclair was best man. The honeymoon was spent
in the Yorkshire Dales, staying at the Wheatsheaf Inn, Carperby. Alf (James) carried
on TB testing cows in Wensleydale and the top floor of 23 Kirkgate became Joan and
Alf’s first home.
In 1942 Alf (James) joined the RAF and was away for 12 months before being discharged
with poor health.
On 13th February 1943 Alf (James) and Joan (Helen) had their first child Jim. Their
second child, Rosie, was born on 9th May 1947.
1949. Alf (James) received a full partnership from Donald Sinclair.
1951. With the veterinary practice very busy, the first of many assistants, John
Crooks, joined them.
1953. Alf (James) and Joan (Helen) moved to their first house, ‘Rowardennan’, on
the outskirts of Thirsk, which was their home for the next 25 years.
1965. Alf (James) wrote his first book called ‘The Art and Science’ under the pseudonym
J A Walsh but it was not published.
1966. Michael Joseph Ltd published a revised version of his first book under the
name James Herriot (after a Birmingham goalkeeper).
1970. ‘If Only They Could Talk’ was published.
1971. ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ was published.
1972. The first two books were published in the USA under the title ‘All Creatures
Great and Small’.
1973. Alf (James) travelled to America to promote ‘All Creatures Great and Small’.
1974. ‘Vet in Harness’ was published.
1975. The film ‘All Creatures Great and Small,’ with Simon Ward playing James and
starring Anthony Hopkins as Siegfried, was released. Also this year, Alf (James)
was made Honorable Member of the British Veterinary Association and he was honoured
by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
1976. ‘Vets Might Fly’ was published. Also this year, the sequel film was released
called ‘It Shouldn’t Happen To a Vet’. John Alderton played the part of James Herriot.
1977. ‘Vet in a Spin’ was published. Also in this year, Alf Wight (James Herriot)
moved to a house in Thirlby called Mirebeck and the BBC bought the rights to televise
the James Herriot stories.
1978. In January the first episode of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ was shown with
Christopher Timothy as James Herriot. The show was instantly popular and reached
viewing figures in excess of 13 million. In total the TV series covered 90 episodes
over a 12 year period.
1979. Alf Wight (James Herriot) received an OBE from the Queen and Honorary Doctorate
from Herriot Watt University Edinburgh.
1980. Alf (James) stopped working full time as a vet at 23 Kirkgate.
1981. ‘The Lord God Made Them All’ was published and Alf (James) declared his intention
not to write again.
1982. ‘The Best of James Herriot’ was published. Alf (James) received a Fellowship
of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and was the first person to receive honorary
membership of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.
1984. Alf (James) received the British Tourist Authority Award for his placement
of Yorkshire on the world map and an Honorary Degree of Veterinary Science from the
University of Liverpool.
1987. The Humane Society of the United States of America created an annual award
‘James Herriot’s name for kindness to animals’.
1991. Alf (James) was made Life President of Sunderland Football Club.
1992. After deciding to return to writing James published his last book “Every Living
1993. James Herriot and Christopher Timothy were given the titles of Honorary Yorkshiremen.
1995. on 23rd February James Herriot died. The very next day Jim Wight, James Herriot’s
son, attended the opening of the James Herriot Library at Glasgow Veterinary School.
James Herriot was cremated and his ashes scattered at the top of Sutton Bank – in
no particular place. This was his favourite view in all England.
1995. On 20th October a memorial service was held in York Minster, attended by over