On this day in history : 3rd October 1916 – The birth of James Alfred Wight – better known by his pen-name James Herriot and the author of the much loved All Creatures Great and Small….

James Alfred ‘Alf’ Wight – James Herriot – Fair use

James ‘Alf’ Wight was born in Sunderland and while he was still a young child the family moved to Glasgow…. After graduating Glasgow Veterinary College at the age of 23 he briefly worked at a practice in Sunderland before moving to a rural practice in the town of Thirsk, Yorkshire….

In 1941 James married Joan Danbury and they were to have two children, Jim and Rosie…. He joined the Royal Airforce in 1942 but was discharged after being declared unfit to fly following a surgical operation…. He and Joan then lived with her parents for a while before returning to Thirsk in 1946….

The original practice at 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk – Image credit : Peter K Burian – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

James had always had a desire to write but his busy schedule as a veterinary surgeon meant there was never enough time…. It was his wife who managed to persuade him, once he had turned 50, to put pen to paper…. He wrote several stories which were rejected by publishers – and then he wrote All Creatures Great and Small…. It was followed by If Only They Could Talk, which was published in 1970…. Sales were slow – but then both books were published as one volume in the United States, under the title All Creatures Great and Small and became a massive success on both sides of the Atlantic…. A sequel of books followed, as did two films – All Creatures Great and Small in 1975 and It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet in 1976…. And then came the hugely popular television series….

The BBC series All Creatures Great and Small ran from 1978 – 1980 and then again a sequel 1988 – 1990…. In all a total of 90 episodes were made – with the characters played by Christopher Timothy (as James), Robert Hardy, Peter Davison, Mary Hignett, Carol Drinkwater and later Lynda Bellingham….

The cast of All Creatures Great and Small (TV series) – Fair use

In 1977 James and his family moved to the small village of Thirlby, about four miles from Thirsk…. Such was the popularity of All Creatures Great and Small – and with so many fans now visiting Thirsk – a move was required to gain a little more privacy….

James was awarded with an OBE in 1979….and in 1989 he retired from veterinary work, passing his practice on to his son Jim, who had also qualified as a vet…. His daughter, Rosie, became a GP doctor….

In 1991 James was diagnosed with prostate cancer…. He died on the 23rd of February 1995….

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