Happy Birthday

james herriot, all creatures great and small
Associated Press

Happy Birthday, James Herriot, Veterinarian and Author

October 03, 2010
by Caleb March
British veterinarian and best-selling author James Herriot earned his fame with the publication of his 1972 book, “All Creatures Great and Small.”

James Herriot's Early Days

James Herriot was born James Alfred Wight on Oct. 3, 1916, in Sunderland, England. Herriot’s parents moved the family to Glasgow shortly after, where his father worked as a ship plater and both his parents were accomplished musicians. Herriot’s interest in animals blossomed when he got his first dog at the age of 12. Sometime later, he read a magazine article that exposed him to the veterinary profession. In 1939, Herriot graduated from Glasgow Veterinary College and then moved back to his birthplace in Sunderland, where he was employed as a veterinary surgeon.

Six months later, Herriot moved to the picturesque town of Thirsk in northern England. This town, and the people he met there, would become the backdrop for his later books. In Thirsk, where he would spend the rest of his life, James worked primarily with farm animals.

In November 1941, Herriot married Joan Danbury and began living with her at 23 Kirkgate, the building that also housed the veterinary clinic where he worked. Eight years later, Herriot became a full partner of the clinic, where he would work until 1980. He and his wife had two children: Jim, who eventually became a veterinarian, and Rosie, who became a doctor.

Herriot's Notable Accomplishments

It wasn’t until 1970, at the age of 53, that Herroit’s writing career began with the publication of his first book, “If Only They Could Talk.” Herriot had purchased a typewriter a few years before and began writing down the many anecdotes he had amassed from his years as a veterinarian. He used the pen name James Herriot instead of his given name James Wight, after a Scottish football goalie he saw one night while writing in front of the television.

In 1972, Herriot’s fame reached international levels when his first two books were published as one volume and sold in the U.S. under the title “All Creatures Great and Small.” The book, and the many others that would follow, became sensations. The New York Times described these books as being “filled with heartwarming stories, told in simple prose, of ailing animals and their owners and the veterinarians who tramp across the muddy fields of North Yorkshire at all hours of day and night.”

Herriot published 18 books in his lifetime. At the time of his death, these books had sold over 50 million copies in 20 countries. In spite of his fame, Herriot continued to work at his veterinary practice in Thirsk, saying once, “If a farmer calls me to a sick animal, he couldn't care less if I were George Bernard Shaw.”

The Rest of the Story

Herriot died of cancer on Feb. 23, 1995. In 2000, Herriot’s son Jim Wight published “The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father.”

In 1974, the feature film “All Creatures Great and Small” was released in England, and later in the U.S. as a television release only. The movie features Simon Ward and Anthony Hopkins. Two later films, “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet” (1976) and “All Creatures Great and Small: The Lord God Made Them All” (1983), were also based on Herriot’s books.

In 1978, the BBC began airing a television series based on Herriot’s writings called “All Creatures Great and Small.” The show was very popular in England and lasted for 12 years, with more than 90 episodes produced.

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