Birthday: October 3, 1916
Died At Age: 78
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: James Alfred Wight
Born Country: England
Born in: Sunderland, County Durham, England
Famous as: Writer
Quotes By James Herriot
Spouse/Ex-: Joan Catherine Anderson Danbury
father: James (1890–1960), James Henry Wight
mother: Hannah Bell (1890–1980) Wight, Hannah Bell Wight
children: James Alexander Wight, Rosemary Page (Née Wight)
Died on: February 23, 1995
place of death: Thirlby, North Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Cause of Death: Prostate Cancer.
education: Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
awards: Officer of the Order of the British Empire
Who was James Herriot?
James Herriot, born as James Alfred Wight, was a successful British veterinary surgeon and a celebrated author. At the age of thirteen, he decided to become a vet, eventually settling down in Thirsk, where he spent his days treating animals far and wide, in course of which he collected many anecdotes. At the age of fifty, he began writing them down, publishing his first book at fifty-four under the pen name James Herriot. Although it sold only twelve hundred copies, he continued to write, compiling his first two books as ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ to be published in USA in 1972. He received global acclaim for it. In 1975, the book was adapted into a film, and three years later, into a television series. Meanwhile, he continued to write and treat animals. In 1980, he stopped working full time, but continued to write, publishing his last book in 1992. He died three years later from prostate cancer.
Childhood & Early Life
James Herriot was born on 3 October 1916, in Sunderland, England, as James Alfred Wight. His father, James Henry Wight, was by profession a ship plater. In addition, he was also a good pianist who played background music for silent films in Sunderland.
His mother, Hannah Bell Wight, was a singer and a dressmaker. After their marriage, she sent her husband to Glasgow so that he could avail the opportunities available in a big city. However, she remained behind to give birth to their son, joining her husband three weeks after his birth.
In August 1921, James began his education at Yorker Primary school in Glasgow, studying there till June 1928, moving to Hillhead High School in September 1928. Possibly in the same year, he got his first dog, a red setter named Don.
Around the age of thirteen, he read a magazine article describing the life of a veterinary surgeon, which set the goal for him. In June 1933, he graduated from Hillhead High School and entered Glasgow Veterinary College, graduating from there on 14 December 1939.
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Career as a Veterinary Surgeon
In January 1940, James Alfred Wight moved to Sunderland, where he began his career as an assistant to veterinary surgeon J.J. McDowall. He remained there until July 1940. He then moved to Thirsk, a small market town in North Yorkshire, to start rural practice.
In Thirsk, he began working with Donald Vaughan Sinclair, spending his days driving from one farm to another, treating farm animals. Sometimes, he was helped in his work by Donald’s brother, Brian, whom he had met in November 1940.
In 1941, apart from treating farm animals for general illnesses, he also started testing cows for TB. During that period, he lived at 23 Kirkgate, the ground floor of which building doubled as his consulting room, waiting room, dispensary and surgery.
Although treating animals was a tough and sometimes dangerous vocation, he loved his work. He would return home to tell his wife funny stories and then go on to add that he was saving his stories for a book he was going to write.
In 1942, he joined the Royal Air force, where he served for one year as a leading aircraftman before being released due to ill health. During that period, his wife went to live with her parents. On being discharged, he joined her there, eventually returning to Kirkgate in 1945-46.
Continuing to work with the Sinclair brothers, he acquired full partnership in Donald Sinclair’s farm in 1949. Although he still wanted to write, all his time was consumed by his flourishing practice and growing family. As a result, he kept on postponing his literary ambition.
James Herriot is best known for his semi-autobiographical compilation work, ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. The stories here are centered on Darrowby, a fictional town based on Thirsk, Richmond, Leyburn, and Middleham. His friends, Donald and Brian, were portrayed as Siegfried and Tristan Farnon and his wife as Helen Anderson.
Awards & Achievements
In 1979, James Herriot was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's Honours List for his services to veterinary sciences. In the same year, he also received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.
In 1982, he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
In 1983, he received an honorary Doctorate of Veterinary Science from Liverpool University.
Family & Personal Life
On 5 November 1941, James Herriot married Joan Catherine Anderson Danbury at Thirsk. They had two children: a son named James Alexander, who grew up to be a vet, and a daughter named Rosemary, who became a doctor.
In 1991, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and died of it on 23 February 1995 at his home in Thirsk. His remains were cremated and the ashes spread over Sutton Bank, North Yorkshire.
His home at 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk, has now been turned into a museum called ‘The World of James Herriot’. His statue, inaugurated in 2014 at Thirsk Race Course, also bears his legacy.