James Herriot Biography

James Herriot was a successful British veterinary surgeon and a celebrated author. Check out this biography to know about his birthday, childhood, family life, achievements and fun facts about him.

Quick Facts

Birthday: October 3, 1916

Nationality: British

Famous: Quotes By James Herriot British Men

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

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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.

More Facts

education: Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

awards: Officer of the Order of the British Empire

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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.

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Childhood & Early Life
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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.
Career as James Herriot, the Author
  • One day in 1966, as it was his usual practice, Wight related the day’s incidents to his wife, adding that he was saving certain incidents for the book he was going to write. At this she replied, “Who are you kidding? Vets of fifty don't write first books.”
  • Wight took his wife’s words as a challenge. Storming out of the house, he bought some paper and began to teach himself how to type. Initially, writing did not come easy and all his works were rejected by the editors. Eventually, he decided to write about what he knew best.
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  • Since it was unethical for a vet to advertise, he could not write in his own name. He solved the problem by taking up the name of a Birmingham goalkeeper, James Herriot, as his pseudonym.
  • In 1970, after improving his skill for four years, he had his first book, ‘If Only They Could Talk’ published by Michael Joseph Ltd. It was a semi-autobiographical work, based on his everyday experiences.
  • Although his first book was not very successful, he did not give up, publishing his second book, ‘It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet’ in 1971. In the same year, the two books were published in USA as ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, which instantly became a global best seller.
  • In 1975, ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ was adapted into a film. Meanwhile, he continued to write, publishing ‘Let Sleeping Vets Lie' in 1973, and 'Vet in Harness' in 1974. They were compiled in 1974 as 'All Things Bright and Beautiful'.
  • In 1976, he had his second film, ‘It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet’ (known in USA as 'All Things Bright and Beautiful'), released. Also in 1976, he published ‘Vets Might Fly’, following it with ‘Vet in a Spin’ (1977) and ‘The Lord God Made Them All’ (1981).
  • In 1977, ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ was adapted into a television series that was broadcast on BBC1 in two runs; from 1978 till 1980, and from 1988 till 1990. His last book, ‘Every Living Thing’ was published in 1992, reaching the top 10 best-seller list in Britain.
Major Works
  • 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.

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How To Cite

Article Title
- James Herriot Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- December 19, 2019
James Herriot

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