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James Herriot

No matter what else October 3 may bring, we herald it for having brought the world English veterinarian and author James Herriot.  Born James Alfred Wight in Sunderland in 1916 of James and Hannah Wight, he was moved to Glasgow when he was only three weeks old.  He ended up living there for 20 years. 

Although Herriot never wanted to be anything other than a veterinarian, he wasn't interested in being just another "country vet."  After attending school in Glasgow, he planned on opening state-of-the-art, flashy practice.  As things turned out, he ended up "sitting on a high Yorkshire moor in shirt sleeves and Wellingtons, smelling vaguely of cows." 

But Herriot had little choice in the matter.  He had fallen in love with the Yorkshire countryside and its people, so his future was set.  But, after more than twenty-five years in the field, Herriot began writing.  He said he wanted to tell people what it was like to be an animal doctor before the days of penicillin and modern medicine.  He also wanted to relay the numerous tales he'd amassed about all of the interesting people and humorous events he'd witnessed on his daily rounds.  Nevertheless, writing for him did not come easily.  Eventually, it was his wife who spurred him on. 

One day, while relating his experiences to her, he casually said that he would put them into a book one day.  She said to him, "Jim, you are never going to write a book."  She reminded him that he had been talking about it for twenty-five years and had never written a single word.  She said that old vets don't just suddenly write books.  Herriot replied, "That did it.  I went straight out, bought a lot of paper and got down to the job."

The book that led to...

The television series
His first book was If Only They Could Talk (1970).  It took him four years to find a publisher.  It sold fewer than 1,200 copies and was anything but a commercial success.  He thought that this would be his only book.  But he still had more stories to tell, so he wrote another, entitled, It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet (1972).  He suddenly became successful when both works were published together in the United States as All Creatures Great and Small (1972).  The book became a bestseller, spawned a popular PBS television series, and Herriot became a famous author.  It was as simple as that.

Other books by Herriot include All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, Every Living Thing, Children's Treasury, James Herriot's Yorkshire, and Cat Stories--a book no cat lover should miss.

James Alf Wight was respected locally and never allowed his fame as an author to change his lifestyle.  Despite an extremely high taxation rate that drove off many successful artists in the mid- and late-70s, he refused to leave Britain, preferring to remain in Thirsk.  He died of cancer on February 23, 1995, at his home in Thirlby.

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