Welcome to a page about one of the greatest writers of our time, James Herriot. Herriot being his pen name, James Alfred Wight began writing about his experiences as a country veterinarian in England. His stories have touched millions of people. Be sure to check out everything that is at this site, including his books, his life and times and much much more. Also, be sure to leave comments!
15 Replies to “About”
This is a great site. When I was a boy, in 1990, I wrote a child’s fan letter to Mr. Wight. He sent back a form letter, and at the time because of my age, I didn’t realize it was because this man was just that busy. I was already devouring Tolkien by that time so his works were enjoyable, though the 30s era Yorkshire verbiage confused me very often.
I have always daydreamed of reviving the series, but this time embracing the almost slapstick humor that Mr. Wight used in his writing. I say slapstick in reference; a comic myself here in New York City, I know the value of it and how it can be used to great effect without demeaning the story one bit. It’s all in how the listener/reader interprets it, and Mr. Wight had a gift for disarming depth in the simplicity of his storytelling.
I miss him, though I never met him, and it’s comforting to know, now that I am a grown man in my forties, that he was just as human as any of us. If one-tenth of his stories can be believed, the man surely earned his seat in Heaven several times over.
I look forward to reading about Tricki, Tristan, Siegfried, Robert Maxwell, Gobber New house and, of course, Helen with my own children. The stories will awaken in them the same love for animals that I have.
All the best,
Can you please let me know where I could find a piece written by James Herriot named ‘ The Recital’?
I don’t think this is helpful to anyone but I’ll write anyway …
I was a farm animal stockman in the Vale of York during the seventies and early eighties. The Sinclair and Wight Vets were our farm vets Normally, I would dread a visit from the vets because they always found something wrong. Not so with Alf Wight. He looked around the pig unit, declared all was well and asked if I had any coffee? Of course I did!
We sat for a long while on a bale of straw just talking – well I talked while he munched my sandwiches and drank my coffee. Nice man, very gentle and understanding of a stockman’s life.
My boss, next day, advised me not to entertain Alf with food as he’d eat anything free.
On subsequent visits Alf would sign off without looking around and spend his time eating my sandwiches …
We met on many other occasions and in different circumstances. I didn’t then know he would become a famous writer. When he was famous he still did farm visits. James Herriot. Who? He was just Alf Wight, Vet.
My next door neighbour for several years was Mrs Hall’s daughter-in-law, a Mrs Weatherall. A sweet elderly lady, she had many kindly memories of Alf as a younger man and always praised him as a vet.
Believe it or not the above is true, and there’s much more besides, if any one is interested
Hi Terry –
A lovely tale of knowing Alf Wight!
I never met him but LOVED his books. As a lad I really wanted to be a vet but ended up a doctor, to my eternal regret!
We found on-line the house where the woman who inspired ‘Mrs Pumphrey and Triki Woo’ used to live, in Sowerby just outside Thirsk. So we visited yesterday, for want of anything better to do in lockdown! The field opposite the house is full of dogs being walkedthese days. Very nice to see.
Hello Ed, I hadn’t realised my comment had been published.
Sadly, most people who knew Alf Wight and Donald Sinclair have either moved away or passed on. The influx of tourists and new comers wanting to live the legend have destroyed the very things they came to experience. The Dales farms no longer exist in any numbers and so an historic way of life Alf Wight crystallised in his books exists now only in our imaginations. But, for various reasons, I experienced that Dales farm way of life.
Livestock farming is an all consuming way of life. Moving to Thirsk I had no idea there was a living legend in the making. Even some years later the Herriot industry and TV programmes had passed me by. Such time off I contrived to get we went to York.
30 odd years ago I was on a hike through the Hambleton Hills to raise money for some local children’s camps. We came across a red brick hall set in those rolling hills; isolated and stark. There were horses in paddocks; the path took us close to an elderly couple sitting under umbrellas in their garden. ‘It’s Donald Sinclair,’ someone said as a tall, very well dressed gentleman strode over to us.
He and his lady invited us all into their garden and a tray of soft drinks was passed around the youngsters. We adults, however, were treated to a Donald special. A large tumbler of decent cognac.
Now, I seldom drink and so after a few sips tipped mine on the grass before easily getting several sheets to the wind. Donald gave us three tenners toward the camps. Knowing what we were doing he treated my dogs at no charge for quite a while. In the surgery he was the irascible Siegfried. I wouldn’t want to cross him, not even today!
In nearby Ripon there was another vet practice. I’d better not name it here. The practice owner and senior vet was an out and out businessman. Whereas Alf trained to treat animals we all thought the other vet was in it solely to make money. I don’t know of their relationship, but the Sinclair Wight practice remained very popular indeed.
Finally, my first employer in Yorkshire ran an intensive pig unit – essentially a factory farm. Alf Wight utterly deplored the way we so liberally used drugs to manage the animals. 20cc Streptopen before a farrowing along with Pituritrin and something I can’t now name to cleanse on time. 20cc more after farrowing and medicated feeds on top of that. Alf point out to me we were helping build up an antibiotic immunity in meat eating people. Of course, that is now so evident.
A wise man and a good vet.
That something I couldn’t remember is Oxytocin!
Lovely tales from Terry!!
For quite a few years I lived in a hamlet with a bridge across the Swale and just a few miles from the A1- the Roman Watling Street. We were six miles from Thirsk in a small village whose centre piece was a Wesleyan Chapel which is now an animal crematorium.
In my time the chapel steward was a fine Welshman from the Valleys, a dear friend and brother in the Faith whose eldest son was at school with Jimmy Wight. Jimmy went on to be a vet and Graham became a pharmacist, and a missionary in the Sudan. As far as I know they remain friends.
We occupied one of a terrace of three houses adjoining the bridge keepers house. The very elderly lady who occupied that bridge keepers house was Mrs Weatherall. As said above she was the original Mrs Hall’s daughter-in-law and had worked at the Kirkgate practice from time to time. That, as I understand it, was around the time Alf Wight arrived in Kirkgate.
At the time Alf was just becoming famous but would find time to visit Elsie who would say, you must meet my little friend – I’m quite small – but of course he and I knew each other quite well. We would take afternoon tea in a treasured Victorian china tea set with biscuits and fancy cakes she had baked for the occasion. A million miles from the Yorkshire brew!
Even with the weight of fame piling up upon him Alf was a jovial chap with a ready laugh or a tale or two. He was out of the lime light and with people he knew. In my memory a nice man. Generous and kind hearted. I learned a lot about life from him and that has served me well.
Wherever I farmed in Yorkshire Alf Wight seemed to turn up, even after he was famous. I believe he grounded himself in what he knew so well, just being a vet.
As I look back, the inherent goodness of people, the open-heartedness and generosity of people of those , and earlier times has been supplanted by greed and selfishness. No one seems to need anyone else! Personal loyalty and life long friendships have disappeared. Everything is about money now but it wasn’t then. But that was forty odd years ago, when there was a kindness of mind about, the heart for people and animals that characterised Alf Wight and Donald Sinclair. The last gasps of a dying way of life. That saddens me to this day.
My last words to Alf Wight in Mrs Weatherall’s living room were, ‘did you really need to eat all my sandwiches? Doesn’t Joan feed you?’
I’ve retired now and fetched up in East Anglia near my birth place. In farming I met many fine men and women but Alf Wight stands out for his sheer humanity. Fame didn’t diminish him as a person, no, it enhanced him as a farm vet.
I was in Kirkgate for his funeral service. The crowds were endless. It was a truly sad day. As to where he’s buried I know not. Sufficient I knew him in passing.
Hi Terry – Thank you for all of your comments. I come from a rancher and farmer background and have very fond memories of reading all of Mr. Wight’s books with my mother and then watching the original series – the new one is ice but the original I watch whenever I need to see something that calms me down and is relaxing. What an era! Times, life, etc. was simple and shows so many things I miss. Anyway – thanks again! One day I want to go to Thirsk (have been to England but not that way).
Wonderful to read your memories Terry. Thank you so much.
Are the books in the public domain?
This comment is exclusively to James Alfred Wight. I relish the stories he wrote. I am afflicted with mental disabilities & regard the tales (per chapter &, to-date, only of one volume, which is being serially read, again) as a veritable tonic. As another comment indicated: “that calms me down”. The world described & the humans indicated are a reality unknown, generally, in 2022, in New England (cannot compare to Old England) — & the effect creates an effusive enjoyment, which brings tears of joy & repeated laughter at the wry, clever, & gentle reminiscences of the farmers (or sailors) & the country-side James Alfred Wight venerated. Moreover, is there pedagogic utility [ 2. Something that serves to teach; a source of instruction or guidance. a1425—1999; —OED], which is, but pleasantly gleaned, — more instructive than a sermon — from the kind humility learned from a man (kin to my own Father’s epoch—though all similarity ends there) of such personal stature. Indeed, I agree. James Herriot was a remarkable man. & I am very grateful.
No, I don’t think the books are yet in the public domain. I believe the threshold for that is seventy years after the author’s death which would make it 2065 before they’re free for all.
It’s not all bad news. They’re cheap enough in charity shops and second hand shops at around 25-50p.
Veronica, yes it is worth a trip to Thirsk if at all possible. But bear in mind World of Herriot is a museum. I’m not saying anything bad about it at all, but the living presence of the books main characters has long gone and we now live in a very different world. It’s difficult now to enter into their times.
In closing this, I’d like to say I’ve now met a very few famous people, well a couple were more famous in their own eyes! Alf Wight didn’t ever become anything other than Alf Wight, vet and raconteur; a quite surprisingly humble man given all that happened to him. A thoroughly likeable chap the sort I’d have a pint with, well, if I drank anything!
For Robert John Boren:
Robert, the Alf Wight I knew professionally, (I didn’t know any of them socially apart from an occasional meeting in the Golden Fleece in Thirsk,) was not so unusual in his time. I’m country lad through and through and now well into my seventies well recall in both my home in Norfolk and working in North Yorkshire so many generous spirited and kind people. Then, it was common place. If I said a warm friendliness that might describe it better. It was just normal among country folk. As I’ve said above, everything today is about money; not so in Alf Wight’s time, nor my younger days. People and animals matter more than our bank balance. I know well his practice didn’t get paid for some things they did: my own pay didn’t cover the very many nights sitting up with sick animals either. But we didn’t complain.
Having spent most of a life time with animals; mostly farm livestock but also with Border Collie dogs which I’ve bred, trained and kept in numbers, and still have one, I believe if we don’t have a powerful compassion for people we won’t express a compassion for animals. And vice versa. Alf liked people as well. My one irritation with him is he would always call me Laddie, which in my home, Norfolk, means a child!
Robert, I think your word venerated in relation to the Yorkshire countryside maybe misleading. Like Alf Wight I came as a stranger to the grandeur of North Yorkshire. A farm accident left me unable to lift weights so after a while I took a job van driving, delivering pharmaceuticals, vaccines and such things to small farms all over the Dales area. Occasionally I would bump into Alf. But the majestic countryside gave me a perspective of our Great Creator God. Like Alf, I was affected by this environment and, although I’ve seldom spoken of it even to family, I believe today Alf probably experienced the same thing. I now think one would call it a love affair. Yes, a love affair.
In as much as the presence of the main characters is long gone from the Kirkgate museum, one must also take a similar viewpoint in reading Alf’s books. They’re set in a comparatively short time slot, just pre-war to Post War and the early sixties. Perhaps thirty years during which there were great changes in the nation. It’s been suggested not all stories originated with Alf; some were, perhaps from Eddie Straiton. I don’t know. Today, unless one is elderly, like me, there is no point of reference for those times. No link back.
I well recall in the very early sixties my grand mother having a heart attack in my arms. I was twelve years old. It was late evening. Her doctor came out from the nearby town, the village Anglican priest came and within minutes several village people came to offer my grand father comfort and me a bed for the night. Today, I doubt any such voluntary aid would arrive.
Different times. People with a different view of others.
Robert, please read all Alf’s books, they are indeed calming as I know so well. I don’t know where you live but if you can get the DVD’s of the BBC TV productions of Alf’s books please do so. I hadn’t read the books until last year! This last Christmas my step daughter bought me a box set of all the BBC TV programmes, All Creatures Great And Small. It’s strange, my second wife was watching the TV programmes and reading the books while I was in North Yorkshire with Alf and Donald. This year is the first time I’ve read or seen anything about the man I knew from farming. How rich the TV prgrammes are, and … dare I say, so true to the characters I met quite a few times. Yes, Donald Sinclair was just as Robert Hardy portrays him.
Robert, if I can fill in anymore gaps for you please do come back on this website. I’ll do the best I can.