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The world of James Herriot

By Carole Green
BBC North Yorkshire

The World of James Herriot.
The Kirkgate surgery in Thirsk is now a museum dedicated to Alf Wight

Fame for the man who put Hambleton on the map came late. Alf Wight was in his mid 50s before his first book was published. Years of storytelling to his wife and children finally put down on paper.

Spurred on by them he learned to type and bought books to teach himself writing skills. After many rejected manuscripts, James Herriot finally hit the bookstands with 'If Only They Could Talk' in 1970. From the 3,000 commissioned for the initial print run his books went on to sell in their millions, being printed in twenty six different languages.

Rosie and Jim Wight.
Success never went to Dad's head. He always looked after us, Mum, Rosie and I and his four grandchildren.
Jim Wight

By the mid 70s two feature films had been made. At one point four of his books had featured in the top ten bestsellers list and the BBC series 'All Creatures Great and Small' had begun its 13 year run.

But Alf Wight remained the vet, still working hard alongside Donald Sinclair and his son Jim, considering himself to be only a part time author.

He came to Thirsk in 1939 to join Sinclair as a partner in the now famous Kirkgate surgery.

Born in Sunderland in 1916, he moved to Scotland as a baby where his father worked as a welder in the shipyards. After qualifying at the Glasgow Veterinary College he found himself offered the Thirsk partnership. He stayed in Thirsk until his death in 1995.

"He hadn't a bean in the world so worked all hours God sent," said Jim Wight, who went out on his father's rounds from the age of three.

"He was always telling us stories. If anything happened he jotted it down. The essence of everything he wrote is true.

"It was my mother who persuaded him to write the books. He had a wonderful way with words and yet he didn't allow the fame to change him."

Although he set the books around the Yorkshire Dales, his family and friends became the characters. Helen was based on his wife, Joan. Donald Sinclair and brother Brian became Siegfried and Tristan Farnon. Only his children, Jim and Rosie, kept their own names.

Alf Wight, courtesy of The World of James Herriot
Alf Wight remained a vet, considering himself a part-time author

But Alf wasn't only a vet and author. He was a keen reader; music lover, playing the piano and trying his hand at the violin for a time; avid football fan - following Sunderland all his life and skilled tennis player. He was also a much-loved family man.

"Success never went to Dad's head. He always looked after us, Mum, Rosie and I and his four grandchildren. And he never wanted to leave the beautiful Hambleton countryside.

"When he was asked to compile a book about James Herriot's Yorkshire I told him no-one would be interested in the nooks and crannies we know and love. But that book outsold everything else he wrote. He may have always asked for our advice - it's as well he didn't always take it!".



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