James Herriot is the pseudonym for James Alfred (Alf) Wight – a veterinarian. Herriot wrote autobiographical novels detailing his experiences as a vet in Yorkshire, UK.
James Herriot was born James Alfred Wight in Sunderland, England, in 1916. He graduated from the Glasgow Veterinary College in 1939, and joined the veterinary practice of J. Donald Sinclair in Yorkshire. Donald Sinclair and his brother Brian were immortalised in Herriot’s books as Siegfried and Tristan Farnon.
Herriot served with the RAF in World War II from 1941 to 1943, and included these experiences, along with his courtship and marriage, in his books about his life as a vet. There is some debate as to the veracity of Herriot’s writing. His books are in general quite cheerful and uplifting, there is dark humour and pathos, but they are generally a pleasant read. A recent biography “James Herriot” by Graham Lord, suggests that Alf Wight’s life wasn’t anywhere near as pleasant as James Herriot’s. However, in 1992 he and his wife Joan (Helen in his books) celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Herriot had been made a partner in Donald Sinclair’s practice the year he married Joan – and was able to pass his practice on to his son 50 years later.
Herriot turned the Yorkshire countryside into something of an international celebrity, and he himself had his share of fame. Letters addressed to James Herriot, Darrowby (the fictitious village of his novels) would be delivered to him in Thirsk. His fame did not seem to affect him much – he once said that when a farmer calls him out for a sick animal: “he couldn’t care less if I were George Bernard Shaw”. Herriot’s books were made into a television series, using the title of his most famous book “All Creatures Great and Small”.
Herriot, his wife Helen, the forgetful, attractive Siegfried and Tristan the irrepressible party-goer have all passed away now. Herriot died in 1995 at the age of 79. His books are as fresh and enjoyable now as ever, and I thoroughly recommend them.
James Herriot books:
All Creatures Great and Small – comprising If Only They Could Talk and It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet, with three chapters from Let Sleeping Vets Lie
All Things Bright and Beautiful – comprising the majority of chapters from Let Sleeping Vets Lie and Vet in Harness
All Things Wise and Wonderful – comprising Vets Might Fly and Vet in a Spin
Acknowledgements: http://www.jamesherriot.org/life.php, All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot, 1975, Michael Joseph Ltd.