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
  • 33 Replies to “Life and Times”

    1. Pingback: Bedtime stories. « Between you and me
    2. I was wondering if James ever visited the MSU VET CLINIC at MICHIGAN STATE VETERINARY HOSPITAL at Michigan State U niversity

    3. Where did Donald Vaughn Sinclair practice before he bought the practice in Thirsk?

    4. I have been re-reading all the Dr. Herriot books during this current coronavirus crisis and they have been very comforting to me. I wish I could tell Mr. Wight how much he has meant to me for so many decades.

    5. Yes – it has been a great comfort in these times to reread these marvelous books. I feel I am with him high on the moors with the wind blowing and it is great laugh out loud!

    6. During recent months I’ve been working my way through all seven seasons of the “All Creatures” DVDs and find them very comforting in their reminder that life was once so much kinder and gentler, before the covid-19 pandemic and political upheaval in the U.S. I’ll probably reread the books next. What I especially appreciate about Herriot/Wight’s success is that he was a hard-working vet, never wealthy in terms of dollars and cents but well aware of the intangible rewards he was reaping, who later became rich beyond his wildest dreams but continued to live as he always had in the place he truly loved. Many thanks to him for the example he set for all of us!

    7. I agree with all these comments about the calming effect of James Wight’s books.

      Especially worth reading is the ‘Best of James Herriot” compilation narrated by the author, with the beautiful photographs and amazing drawings depicting historical farm equipment and practices on the moors in the 30s and 40s.

      The new TV series is also very well worth viewing even if you’ve watched every one of the original series.

      Our favorite place for holidays too., especially Thirsk and the Herriot museum.

    8. I’ve thought carefully about this and I’m sure that of all the people in history, Alf Wight is the one person I’d love to have had a cup of tea with.

    9. Can someone help find an episode, please? I seem to recall Helen and James taking for another vet, temporarily. He had a very odd wife (or housekeeper?) who complained about too much heat, too much this, too much that, being wasted…
      As I remember it, touch scenes were really funny, but the woman seemed a bit nutty. I wanted to rematch, but cannot figure out how to find that particular episode, despite having the box set. We’re any of the original episodes aired on PBS left off of the box set? I have no idea…
      Thank you for any help in this matter!

    10. James Herriot and creations have seen me through stressful times – whether in a war zone as a soldier or working as a police officer – his stories were sane, sensible, and kind. I could read them and push all other thoughts to the side. They have been in my bookshelves since the late 1970s. In these last 50 years I have lost many dogs, cats, and farm animals. I hope that as they crossed the Rainbow Bridge – James “Herriot” Wight is there to greet them – walking the hills and dales of Heaven.

    11. ALL CREATURES…was the only TV that we allowed our children to watch during dinnertime during the ’70s/’80s. Never regretted it. Perhaps the best of thousands of hours of TV during a lifetime.

    12. Albert D. WRIGHT – Yes James Wight did come to speak at the MSU Vet school in 1972 or 1973. I was lucky enough to see him speak. We had a family friend that was a vet student who invited us to join her family at the talk. I have a signed copy of the paperback version of the book, All Creatures Great and Small.

    13. My son bought me the books of James Herrit for Christmas in 2008 right after he graduated from veterinary school . I have read every word of the books many times. I told you son how wonderful his profession is and to always be proud of it. James Herriot(Wight) is an inspiration, and now my son is as well. God Bless

    14. I have been reading and re-reading his books for decades, and I wish I could thank him for the pleasure they have brought me over the years. I’m so grateful he took the time to write these stories — they still have the power to bring tears to my eyes or make me laugh out loud — and to share his life and love of animals with us. Truly a gift!

    15. In the 1970s I was married and living in California. My husband gave me a beautiful book titled “All Creatures Great and Small.” Oh what a wonderful book. Then I received another book All Things Bright and Beautiful….. the rest is history!
      I’m so enjoying the new PBS Masterpiece adaptation of the above first book about Herriot’s life as the iconic vet in my home county of Yorkshire. What memories!

    16. As others have expressed so well, the stories of James Herriot have been a welcome treat again, three decades after first reading about them and watching the TV series. So glad the show has been brought to us in a new production. We love James Herriot and is world.

    17. I too am rereading his books while hunkered down at home. I’m especially comforted by his appreciation of treasures found in his daily life & am reminded that those “intangible rewards” are the most enriching. His ability to freely reveal his all-too-human missteps & mistakes—made with the best intentions—reminds me to practice more acceptance of well-intentioned mistakes, mine as well as mistakes of others.

      Despite all the self-reflection I also laugh out loud (by myself), especially when reading about—or even thinking about—Mrs. Pumphrey & her Tricki Woo!

    18. My best trip of all times was the surgery Thirsk and the English country side. My favorite books of all time was the James Harriet series

    19. Did the real Mrs. Hall really serve in the WRENS? It must have been in WWI? I love the scene in which she
      proves she’s a crack shot at the Darrowby Fair, and gives her prize to Helen’s little sister.

    20. How very interesting that so many others have turned to re-reading theJames Herriot series during this very stressful and isolating year of pandemic and politics. I thought it was just me that remembered the comfort I received from these books. I have loved the Masterpiece series as well. One other thing: similar theme, a present day country vet show The Incredible Dr Pol on National Geographic Wild has helped me while away many long days and lulls me in a similar way. We all need to escape to the simpler life. Thanks, James Herriot, for all you have done for us.

    21. I have been watching the episodes over and over couldn’t contained myself. I really enjoying it. Looking forward to the next season. Thank you PBS for bringing us joy in this uncertain time.

    22. I absolutely adore his stories. They are warm, enchanting, and just good. They are so endearing. Grateful to have this series during these difficult times.

    23. I am enjoying the new PBS series very much. Of course, James and Helen are my favorites but I also love Mrs. Hall and Siegfried and Tristan, too. Looking forward to reading the books. I agree with other commentators that the calmness and compassion of James are qualities that our world needs right now.

    24. REPLY TO: R Benjamin
      The vets name in the show was Angus Grier, Season 1, Episode 12.
      There may have been one before
      that but I’m not sure. It would be in season 1 because in episode 12 it says James returns to Angus Grier.

    25. When I was younger I wanted to become a vet, but didn’t have the grades to get into vet school. After graduating with a B.S. degree, working as a vet assistant and attending night school it was my plan to become a vet tech, but that was interrupted by being diagnosed with hydrocephalus, getting a shunt infection and losing some of my short-term memory. Though I didn’t get to become a vet tech, I was blessed by working in two clinics as a vet assistant and have had many pets that I have loved dearly. I began reading and re-reading Mr. Herriot’s books as a young woman; they are my vicarious way of getting to do what I always wanted to do! Thank you so much for continuing to publish Mr. Herriot’s stories! I’m now looking forward to reading his biography; thank you, “Jimmy” for continuing your dad’s legacy.

    26. What a consolation to be able to come into the lives of the people and animals in James Herriot’s books at this time. The ending of Episode 7 of the new PBS series is perfect. Caring and warm for all living things is really very simple. Thank you James Wight and PBS.

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