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Life and Times

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Biography (from Wikipedia)
James Alfred Wight was born on 3 October 1916, in Sunderland, County Durham, England to James (1890–1960) and Hannah Bell (1890–1980) Wight. Shortly after their wedding, the Wights moved from Brandling Street, Sunderland to Glasgow in Scotland, where James took work as both a ship plater and pianist for a local cinema, while Hannah was a singer as well as a dressmaker. For Alf’s birth, his mother returned to Sunderland, bringing him back to Glasgow when he was three weeks old. He attended Yoker Primary School and Hillhead High School. From his father he gained a passion for Sunderland Football Club and remained a lifelong fan. In 1992 he was named a Life President of the club.

In 1939, at the age of 23, he qualified as a veterinary surgeon with Glasgow Veterinary College. In January 1940, he took a brief job at a veterinary practice in Sunderland, but moved in July to work in a rural practice based in the town of Thirsk, Yorkshire, close to the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. On 5 November 1941, he married Joan Catherine Anderson Danbury. The couple had two children, James Alexander (Jim), born 1943, who also became a vet and was a partner in the practice, and Rosemary (Rosie), born 1947, who became a physician in general practice.

Wight served in the Royal Air Force in 1942. His wife moved to her parents’ house during this time, and upon being discharged from the RAF as a Leading Aircraftman, Wight joined her. They lived there until 1946, at which point they moved back to 23 Kirkgate, staying until 1953.

Later, he moved with his wife to a house on Topcliffe Road, Thirsk, opposite the secondary school. The original practice is now a museum, “The World of James Herriot”, while the Topcliffe Road house is in private ownership and not open to the public. He later moved with his family to the village of Thirlby, about four miles from Thirsk, where he resided until his death.

Wight intended for years to write a book, but with most of his time consumed by veterinary practice and family, his writing ambition went nowhere. Challenged by his wife, in 1966 (at the age of 50), he began writing. After several rejected stories on other subjects like football, he turned to what he knew best. In 1969 Wight wrote If Only They Could Talk, the first of the now-famous series based on his life working as a vet and his training in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Owing in part to professional etiquette which at that time frowned on veterinary surgeons and other professionals from advertising their services, he took a pen name, choosing “James Herriot” after seeing the Scottish goalkeeper Jim Herriot play for Birmingham City F.C. in a televised game against Manchester United. If Only They Could Talk was published in the United Kingdom in 1970 by Michael Joseph Ltd, but sales were slow until Thomas McCormack, of St. Martin’s Press in New York City, received a copy and arranged to have the first two books published as a single volume in the United States. The resulting book, titled All Creatures Great and Small, was a huge success, spawning numerous sequels, movies and a successful television adaptation.

Wight was found to have prostate cancer in 1991, and underwent treatment in the Lambert Memorial Hospital in Thirsk. He died on 23 February 1995, aged 78, at home in Thirlby.

On 29 July 2009, UK-based open-access rail operator Grand Central Railway, which operate train services from Wight’s birthplace of Sunderland to London King’s Cross (calling at Thirsk), named Class 180 DMU No. 180112 (British Rail Class 180) “James Herriot” in his honour. The ceremony was carried out jointly by Alf Wight’s daughter Rosie and son Jim.

Timeline

  • James Herriot born James Alfred Wight in Sunderland England, October 3, 1916
  • Moved to Glasgow, Scotland as child, late October 1916
  • Attended Yoker Primary School, August 1921 – June 1928
  • Attended Hillhead High School, September 1928 – 30 June 1933
  • Contracts diptheria in 1932
  • Graduated Glasgow Veterinary College on Dec 14, 1939
  • Joined Yorkshire practice of J. Donald Sinclair in 1940
  • Married Joan Catherine Danbury, 5 November 1941 (see the church)
  • RAF 1941-43
  • Son, James Alexander, born 13 February 1943
  • Daughter, Rosemary, born in 9 May 1947
  • Trip to USSR as sheep veterinarian, 28 October – 6 November 1961
  • Trip to Istanbul as cattle veterinarian, 8-10 August 1963
  • 1966 begins writing using the pen name James Herriot
  • 1972 ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL
  • 1974 ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL
  • Receives American Veterinary Medical Association’s Award of Appreciation, 4 February 1975
  • 1977 ALL THINGS WISE AND WONDERFUL
  • 1978 BBC TV Series begins
  • Receives Order of the British Empire and honorary Litt.D. from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, 1979
  • 1981 THE LORD GOD MADE THEM ALL
  • Made fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, 1982
  • 1983, receives honorary D.V.Sc. from Liverpool University
  • 1992 EVERY LIVING THING
  • 23 February 1995 Dies of cancer at home in Yorkshire

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    Friends

  • Donald Vaughan Sinclair a.k.a. Siegfried Farnon (22 April 1911 – June 28, 1995) – Partner. Purchased veterinarian practice at 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk in 1939. Hired James Herriot in 1940 while he was in the Royal Air Force (RAF). He was only enlisted for a few months before he was sent home to continue being a veterinarian. He took his own life by an overdose of barbiturates two weeks after the death of his wife of fifty-three years, Audrey.
  • Wallace Brian Vaughan Sinclair a.k.a. Tristan Farnon (27 September 1915 – 13 December 1988) – Donald’s younger brother, known as Brian. Worked as a student veterinarian for his older brother until graduating from Royal (Dick) Veterinary College in Edinburgh in 1943. Joined the Army Veterinary Corps. Later joined the Ministry of Agriculture’s Sterility Advisory unit, eventually becoming head of the Veterinary Investigation Centre in Leeds.
  • Richard Carmody – Oliver Murphy
  • Calum Buchanan – James Herriot’s assistant. Died in 1990. – Brian Nettleton
  • John Crooks – James Herriot’s assistant from 1951-54. – John Crooks
  • Frank Bingham – Sinclair’s first partner. Worked with Herriot his first months at the practice.
  • Mrs. Marjorie Warner of Sowerby a.k.a. Mrs. Pumphrey – Owner of the obese Pekingese, Tricki Woo a.k.a. Bambi. Died in 1983.
  • Denton Pette a.k.a. Granville Bennett – Fellow veterinarian who was very hospitable and could hold his liquor. Died in 1980′s.
  • Eve Pette – Zoe Bennett
  • Mrs Weatherill – Housekeeper – a.k.a. Mrs. Hall
  • Caroline Farnon, née Fisher – Audrey Sinclair, née Adamson
  • Miss Harbottle – Harold Wilson
  • Mr Worley – Mrs Bush
  • Ewan Ross – Frank Bingham
  • Boardman – Wardman
  • Lord Hulton – Sir Hugh Bell
  • Dr Allinson – Dr Harry Addison
  • Bob and Elizabeth Mollison – Douglas and Heulwen Campbell
  • Phineas Calvert – “Atom” Thompson
  • Mr Handshaw – Billy Goodyear
  • Joe Mulligan – Mr Thompson
  • Sister Rose – Sister Ann Lilley
  • Arnold Braithwaite – Harry Bulmer

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    Family

  • James Wight – Grandfather: ship plater
  • Robert and Jane Bell. Robert was a senior printer. – Maternal grandparents
  • James Henry Wight – Father: ship plater and musician – Died in 1960
  • Hannah Bell Wight – Mother: professional singer
  • Joan Catherine Danbury Wight – Wife, Died 1999 – Helen Herriot, née Alderson
  • James Alexander Wight – Son born on 13 February 1943 – Currently a practicing veterinarian in Thirsk – Jimmy Herriot
  • Rosemary Page – Daughter born on 9 May 1947. – Currently a physician practicing in Thirsk – Rosie Herriot
  • Emma Page – Granddaughter

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  • Locations

  • Darrowby – Thirsk
  • Skeldale House – 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk
  • Rowan Garth, Darrowby – Rowardennan, Topcliffe Road, Thirsk
  • High Field House, Hannerly – Mirebeck, Thirlby
  • Brawton – Harrogate