The stories of James Herriot thrilled millions with his tales of treating animals, the people he met, and the unforgettable characters of Sigfried, Tristan, and Mrs. Pumphrey. Herriot was the pen name for James Alfred Wight (1916-1995) who used his real life experiences as a Yorkshire veterinarian for his books. The books were made into film and television. All Creatures Great & Small ran on BBC first from 1978-1980 and then from 1988-1990. It was one of the most highly watched shows in its first incarnation in the UK. The books have been translated all over the world. They almost did not get printed in the U.S. An employee of the printing company brought back one of the small Herriot books in his briefcase and did not even open it. But his wife did and told him what a great book it was. By putting together several of the smaller books into the larger All Creatures Great & Small, it took off. And so did the other books that followed. Herriot was a success but it took a while for people to learn his true identity of James Wight in Thirsk, UK.
I highly recommend the books and the first incarnation of the tv series. The books are a delight to read, full of interesting characters and the animals he treated. Back in the early days, there were few drugs so the vet really had to nurse an animal. And it was not without being messy at times. While many people were friendly,some were not. And there are some sad stories in the books as well of people losing their prized pets. Many were inspired by the books to become vets themselves. While some of the mucky work they did back then is not done as often (today all dairy cows are immunized against tuberculosis so little need to check every cow on a regular basis),it is still done today. You still have to put your arm inside a cow or horse to correctly determine what is wrong inside but you have protective wear (robots or drones may do it eventually). Today most animal doctors treat lots of pets and not just cats, dogs, and the occasional bird. Nope today it is a wide assortment of rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, mice, and even pet rats (yes,there are such things as pet rats). Of course now people are getting into raising chickens at home so some urban vets are seeing them too (fresh eggs!).
The tv show starred Christopher Timothy as Herriot,Robert Hardy as Sigfried Farnon,Peter Davison as Tristan Farnon, and Carol Drinkwater as Helen (she was replaced by Lynda Bellingham in the second incarnation). The character of Mrs. Hall was given more presence than in the books (which was great because the actress who played her was terrific). Some of the stories were altered for television (especially when Christopher Timothy was injured and thus could not walk around much in the last episodes of season 1 and opening episodes of season 2). Peter Davison, though much taller than the real Tristan, Brian Sinclair, was excellent in the role as the brother. Robert Hardy got to play Sigfried (Donald Sinclair)and gets him exactly as Herriot wrote him. Donald was not exactly happy with the first book depicting him as it did (it was toned down later)but everyone who knew the real Donald Sinclair says it was spot on.
All of the main characters of the show and books have passed away. Tristan (Brian Sinclair) passed away in 1988. Of the three, he was the only one who actually went to war-but as a vet in India!. James Herriot passed away in 1995 and his wife Joan (Helen in the books)in 1999. Sigfried (Donald Sinclair)passed away in 1995 a few months after James. His wife of 45 years had recently passed away and James death was a blow as well. He died from an overdose of barbiturate. Herriot’s books not only inspired many vets, it brought lots of tourists to Yorkshire to see what he so vividly describes in his books. He was made an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II, a fan of his books and tv show. Numerous other memorials exist including a statue at Thirsk Racecourse.
Earlier this month a letter was put up for auction in New York. The letter written by Belfast doctor John Edward Simpson aboard Titanic and mailed in Cobh, was thought to fetch $34,000 (£21,692). It failed to reach that reserve price but an anonymous benefactor has purchased the letter and is sending to Belfast. Although copies abound, this is the original. Needless to say the Simpson family is quite pleased. You can view the BBC video here.