James Herriot … All Creatures Great and Small
James Alfred “Alf” Wight, (1916~1995), known by the pen name James Herriot, was a British veterinary surgeon and writer, who used his many years of experiences as a veterinary surgeon to write a series of books each consisting of stories about animals and their owners. He is best known for these semi-autobiographical works, beginning with All Creatures Great and Small in 1972. The British television series adapted from the books is also titled All Creatures Great and Small.
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. His first approach brought a phone call from Anthea Joseph who was deputy chair of a publishing house. 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 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.
Herriot’s veterinary surgery was at 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk in North Yorkshire. He worked here with brothers Donald and Brian Sinclair. In his books he renamed the town Darrowby, the surgery was at Skeldale House and the brothers were called Siegfried and Tristan Farnon.
He later moved with his family to the village of Thirlby, about four miles from Thirsk, where he resided until his death. At Thirlby he wrote in a spacious attic study on a large working desk and computer keyboard. Computing was in marked contrast with Alf’s early writing career. When he penned the first of his highly-successful Herriot books about the life of a vet in the Yorkshire Dales, he had half-hour fireside stints at the end of working days.