All Creatures Great and Small
Despite being born elsewhere, James Herriot is one of the most famous of Yorkshire people, thanks to
the wonderful books he wrote about his life here. He found the county to be more fascinating than any other place. Such was his devotion to his adopted county he chose to continue to live and work here despite the high tax rates (up to 83%) the royalties from his books "attracted".
Born in 1916 as James Alfred Wight, he chose the pen name James Herriot to publish his books. This provided him with the opportunity to remain anonymous as he travelled around England. He also chose a pen name because the laws did not allow veterinarians to advertise their business. Many of his
stories reflect his experiences as a vet. He is probably best known for his omnibus book and television series All Creatures Great and Small.
James Wight graduated as a veterinary surgeon from the Glasgow Veterinary School in 1939. He practiced
until 1940 before serving for two years in the Royal Air Force. Whereupon he returned to the veterinary practice in Thirsk to live out his eventful life. The home and practice he and his wife lived in until 1953 is now a museum called The World of James Herriot.
What many people don’t know is that James Herriot did not start writing until 1966 when he was 50 years old. While he had always intended to write long before that, he was too busy with his family and veterinary practice. With the encouragement of his wife, he challenged himself to achieve this life long ambition.
James Herriot initially wrote about many different things including football, but his writings were
continually rejected by publishers. He decided to write about the passion of his life and the one thing he knew in great detail – animals. His first book entitled If They Could Talk was published in 1969 in England. The book was released in the United States after a gentleman who worked for a press company in New York read it. The result was a lucrative book deal with six sequels and a movie.
Throughout his books, Herriot featured the land and the history of the villages throughout Yorkshire. He included stories of his training in the Royal Air Force and about the people he knew and observed in the area. During this time he continued his veterinary practice with his son who had become his partner in the business.
He continued to write until 1992 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. James Herriot died in 1995, but his writings continue to touch millions of people all around the world. At the time of his death, he was considered to be one of the best selling authors in both Britain and the United States. He was a modest man and, on his fame, he is famously quoted as saying "If a farmer calls me to a sick animal, he couldn't care less if I were George Bernard Shaw".(1)
(1) Margolis, Jonathan (Dec. 12, 2002). "But It Did Happen To A Vet". Time Magazine
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