The TV series All Creatures Great and Small is a remake of the beloved book series by James Herriot, premiering on THIRTEEN on January 10, 2021 (see entire schedule). The heartwarming tales of a veterinarian who serves an English countryside community kick off the 50th anniversary of Masterpiece, which first aired a television adaptation of the stories in the late 1970s and late 1980s.
Now, new viewers are being introduced to Herriot, who wrote about his life and barnyard and household visits as a veterinarian more than half a century ago. How real is the story? In this FAQ, Masterpiece covers both the true history behind All Creatures Great and Small, and how characters, plot, location, and even time period are embellishments on Herriot’s life experiences (see sources for this FAQ, below.)
Read on for 15 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about James Herriot, author of the All Creatures Great and Small books.
Was James Herriot a real person?
James Herriot was the pen name chosen by James Alfred “Alf” Wight, a rural veterinarian whose semi-autobiographical stories about caring for animals in the Yorkshire Dales have been enjoyed by generations. His gift was an easy, conversational style that captured a fast-disappearing way of life and offered insights into human nature with warmth and ample humor. Wight chose the pseudonym partly because the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons frowned on members who advertised.
The alter ego of Jim Herriot was actually the name of a professional soccer goalkeeper from Scotland.
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Was Wight Scottish or English?
Though both Alf Wight and his character James Herriot speak with a Scottish accent, Wight is actually a born Englishman. His English parents moved into a tenement apartment in Glasgow early in their marriage. Young Hannah Wight returned to her family home in Sunderland, England to give birth in October 1916. Mrs. Wight and her 3-week-old baby returned to Glasgow, where Alf Wight had a happy, if poor, working class upbringing in the industrial city for the next twenty-odd years. He always considered himself a Glaswegian at heart and certainly sounded like one!
Where did Alf Wight (a.k.a. James Herriot) have his veterinary practice?
Wight graduated from Glasgow Veterinary College at age 23 and started looking for a position. Contrary to popular belief, his very first professional job was back in Sunderland, England where he still had relatives to board with.
University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine. Photo: Vojtěch Dostál
That first position was tenuous; it depended on the success of a greyhound racing stadium nearby. In July 1940, Alf Wight found a more secure job in the rural practice of Donald Sinclair at Skeldale House, 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk, England. Incidents described in the James Herriot books mostly occurred in and around Thirsk—about 20 miles from the actual Yorkshire Dales.
With the exception of two and a half-years in the Royal Air Force during World War II, Alf Wight remained at the Thirsk practice for the rest of his career. He practiced alongside brothers Donald and Brian Sinclair, then a string of different students and assistants, and finally, his own son as of 1967.
After close to half a century caring for animals—long after his celebrity—Wight retired in 1989 at age 73. The veterinary practice is still an ongoing enterprise.
The town of “Darrowby” in the Herriot books is actually a mixture of Thirsk, Richmond, Leybourn, and Middleham. Despite the fictional name, readers soon identified the actual location, which became an attraction for tourists with sites celebrating the popular vet’s life. The original Skeldale House is now The World of James Herriot museum.
Part of the BBC TV set for All Creatures Great and Small (1978-80; 1988-90) on permanent display at the World of James Herriot museum in Thirsk, North Yorkshire. Photo: G1MFG
How did Wight become a writer?
Alf Wight thoroughly appreciated great authors and was himself a talented letter writer. Over the years, his correspondence addressed both the enormous changes taking place in his profession and observations about locals he met, their customs and folk remedies. When verbally regaling his family with anecdotes, Wight repeatedly pledged to turn them into stories someday. It wasn’t until he was 50 years old that he began to pursue publication in earnest.
After some false starts writing about his outdoor past times including golf and football (soccer), Wight turned to the subject nearest his heart: his own career. While he claimed to have not regularly kept a personal diary, Wight did consistently record his treatment of local animals as “headings” in notebooks. With these headings or diaries or both, he was able to reproduce incidents from prior years with great detail.
He began what would be his first published book in 1965, writing in the evenings in front of the television, Olivetti typewriter in lap. The first draft was completed in 18 months, but it took four years for Wight to find a UK publisher. If Only They Could Talk was released as a serial in the London Evening Standard and then published in April 1970 with 3,000 copies printed for UK distribution.
It was followed by It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet in 1972. Fearing locals would recognize themselves in the stories and feel others were having a laugh at their expense, Wight did not want anyone to know he had been published. His wish was thwarted soon enough.
When did James Herriot become famous?
Alf Wight’s first two books of stories sold a few thousand copies each in the UK. It was a New York publisher who changed the childish-looking cover art and combined the works under the title “All Creatures Great and Small,” a phrase borrowed from the 19th century English hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful.
The new volume wasn’t reviewed until months after its 1972 publication and only when positive word of mouth created a buzz. It became a U.S. best-seller soon thereafter and saved St. Martin’s press, which was financially struggling at the time.
Between 1972 and 1979, Wight wrote four more books, astonishing for someone working as a full-time veterinarian. By the mid-70s he was a household name. American fans became so commonplace in the waiting room at Skeldale House that he set aside two afternoons a week to greet them and sign books.
According to his family, Wight spoke little about his achievements, and his attitude to friends and clients remained unchanged. Regarding the people of Thirsk, his son has written that “There is no doubt that a large proportion of them—farmers included—were not only well aware of his achievements but derived pleasure themselves through his worldwide acclaim.”
Despite tremendous success as an author over 24 years, Wight continued to view writing as a cherished hobby and the welfare of the Sinclair and White veterinary practice his priority. He worked full time as a vet up until 1980 and didn’t outright retire for another nine years.
Are Herriot’s characters based on real people?
All Creatures Great and Small on PBS – shown L to R: Helen Alderson (played by Rachel Shenton), James Herriott (played by Nicholas Ralph). Photo: Ed Miller
The published stories share numerous autobiographical elements from Alf Wight’s life as a country vet: Wight lived and worked with Donald and Brian Sinclair in Skeldale House; there really was a love-hate relationship between the brothers; and, the elder Donald’s unpredictability and bluster, along with Brian’s antics and love of fun, provided much material when Wight later turned to writing.
Donald Sinclair was said to have strongly disliked his portrayal in the books and later on-screen, never believing himself to be impulsive or inconsistent. Meanwhile, Brian was delighted to be captured as Tristan and remained enthusiastic about all Wight’s books.
The character of Helen Alderson is based on Joan Danbury—not a farmer’s daughter at all but a secretary in Thirsk. (She actually did cause a stir in Thirsk by apparently being the first woman there to wear pants, however.) Contrary to the stories, Alf Wight met her in a group outing to a local dance. Evidently, he felt she was worth pursuing from the first, though she had a number of boyfriends and admirers. They wed in November 1941 and spent early married life on the top floor of Skeldale House.
Always concerned about locals’ anonymity, Wight set his stories in the Yorkshire Dales years before his real experiences occurred. He changed the name, age, and even the sex of many characters—although a Miss Marjorie Warner and her Pekingese Bambi are unmistakably embodied by Mrs. Pumphries and Tricki Woo.
In MASTERPIECE “All Creatures Great and Small,” Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs. Pumphrey, the owner of Tricki-Woo (Derek).
How did Wight feel about the film and TV adaptations?
Whether he wanted it or not, Alf Wight’s fame sky-rocketed once a film adaptation of his books was released in 1975. According to his son, Wight’s emotions at that time “were ones of pride mixed with incredulity.”Wight approved scripts but did not want the job of veterinary advisor on set. And though the role of Donald Sinclair went to Anthony Hopkins, Wight’s real-life partner again did not approve of his depiction. When the first film was well reviewed, a second was undertaken. It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet premiered in 1976, another box office triumph.
The BBC series came next and aired all over the world in two phases between 1978 and 1990. Again, Wight approved scripts, paid regular visits to the set, and was said to thoroughly enjoy the series. A relatively unknown actor named Christopher Timothy gained almost immediate fame playing James Herriot and developed a genuine respect for the real Alf Wight. The Wight family reports that of all the actors they met during those years, Timothy was the one who kept most closely in touch.
What is the legacy of James Herriot?
Commemorative plaque at Wight’s original practice in Thirsk.
The James Herriot books have never been out of print since their 1970 debut. They have sold over 60 million copies worldwide, been translated into 20-plus languages, and adapted for film and television.
For someone who started with practically nothing, it is a massive achievement. Alf Wight’s stories are timeless because of the emphasis on his relationships with the people of Yorkshire and their animals. Providing an image of veterinarians as caring for people and animals both, the stories have inspired many to become vets themselves. His focus on the importance of community in our lives gives Alf Wight’s work an enduring power and contemporary resonance.
Alf Wight died in 1995 at age 78 from pancreatic cancer in his home near Thirsk. Quite a variety of accolades were bestowed on him both before and after his death. There are two James Herriot blue plaques in Thirsk and Glasgow, respectively. A pub, a street, and a train are all named in his honor. A statue of Herriot stands at Thirsk Racecourse. Wight was no doubt much prouder of his many literary and veterinary honors. A highlight was being awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1979 for his contributions to literature.
What is the order of James Herriot titles?
If Only They Could Talk (1970 in UK)
It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet (1972 in UK)
All Creatures Great and Small (1972 as US compilation)
Let Sleeping Vets Lie (1973 in UK)
Vet in Harness (1974 in UK)
All Things Bright and Beautiful (1974 as US compilation)
Vets Might Fly (1976 in UK)
Vet in a Spin (1977 in UK)
All Things Wise and Wonderful (1977 as US compilation)
James Herriot’s Yorkshire (1979)
The Lord God Made Them All (1981)
Every Living Thing (1992)
James Herriot Anthology Compilations
Animal Stories, Tame & Wild (1979 in UK)
The Best of James Herriot (1982)
James Herriot’s Dog Stories (1986 in UK)
James Herriot’s Treasury for Children (1992 in US)
James Herriot’s Cat Stories (1994 in UK)
Seven Yorkshire Tales (1995 in UK)
James Herriot’s Yorkshire Village (1995)
James Herriot’s Favorite Dog Stories (1996)
James Herriot’s Yorkshire Stories (1997 in UK)
James Herriot’s Animal Stories (1997)
James Herriot’s Yorkshire Revisited (1999)
James Herriot’s Treasury of Inspirational Stories for Children (2005)
James Herriot Children’s Picture Books
Moses the Kitten (1984)
Only One Woof (1985)
The Christmas Day Kitten (1986)
Bonny’s Big Day (1987)
Blossom Comes Home (1988)
The Market Square Dog (1989)
Oscar: Cat About Town (1990)
Smudge’s Day Out (1991)
Smudge, The Little Lost Lamb (1991)
FAQ Content Sources
- James Herriot’s Yorkshire by James Herriot and Derry Brabbs. St. Martin’s Griffin. 1981 edition.
- James Herriot: The Life of a Country Vet by Graham Lord. Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. 1997.
- James Herriot: A Critical Companion by Michael John Rossi. Greenwood Press. 1977.
- The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father by Jim Wight. Ballantine Books, 1999.
- Veterinary Practice Journal, “All Creatures Great and Small” by John Periam. Improve International. February 2020.
- Sunderland Echo, “The Story of James Herriot: The Lad from Roker Who Sold Over 60 Million Books” by Tony Gillan. August 2, 2020. JPI Media Publishing Ltd.
Jim Wight — a veterinarian like his father — writes that 90 percent of the stories are based on real cases, even if sometimes they are borrowed from other animal doctors (including Jim). Can Alf Wight the man be cleanly distinguished from his celebrated stand-in, James Herriot?Are the stories in All Creatures Great and Small true? ›
Is All Creatures Great and Small based on a true story? Yes! The drama is adapted from the books by veterinary surgeon Alf Wight, who wrote his novels-cum-memoirs under the pen name "James Herriot". This TV adaptation closely follows the James Herriot books – but with some dramatic liberties.Was there really a James Herriot? ›
Was James Herriot a real person? James Herriot was the pen name chosen by James Alfred “Alf” Wight, a rural veterinarian whose semi-autobiographical stories about caring for animals in the Yorkshire Dales have been enjoyed by generations.Are the characters in All Creatures Great and Small based on real people? ›
Some of the characters were inspired by people the real James Herriot lived and worked with, and here is all you need to know.How did Herriot prove himself? ›
He understood Tricki's real problem In order to help Tricki, he cut down on Trick's food and made him exercise. For the first three days, he did not give him food but only water. He did not give any medicinal treatment but made him play all day with the dogs.How many children did the real James Herriot have? ›
On 5 November 1941, he married Joan Catherine Anderson Danbury. The couple had two children, James Alexander (Jim), born 1943, who also became a vet and was a partner in the practice, and Rosemary (Rosie), born 1947, who became a physician in general practice. Wight served in the Royal Air Force in 1942.What happened to the real vets in All Creatures Great and Small? ›
The vet and author retired in 1989 and was sadly diagnosed with prostate cancer just two years later. He died in February 1995 aged 78. His wife Joan died four years later.Did they use real sick animals in All Creatures Great and Small? ›
So I hate to spoil it, but for 90 percent of those scenes with the animals, the animals actually weren't there. It was just cleverly chosen and prosthetics and extremely well-trained, happy animals when we did see them. And the rest was down to the tricks of film-making."What happened to James Herriot during the war? ›
He did well in his training and was one of the first in his flight to fly solo. After undergoing surgery on an anal fistula in July 1943, he was deemed unfit to fly combat aircraft and was discharged as a leading aircraftman the following November.Who was the real Helen Herriot? ›
Joan Catherine Danbury Wight died today, Jul 14, 1999. She was the inspiration for Helen Herriot.
During the first three seasons of the show, Christopher Timothy and Carol Drinkwater, who played James and Helen Herriot, had an off-screen relationship. Although the relationship ended amicably, Drinkwater decided not to return to the show when it was revived for Seasons 4-7.Who was the real Tristan Farnon? ›
Tristan is based on the real-life British veterinarian, Brian Sinclair, who died in 1988 at the age of 73. Tristan is hilarious! His older brother, Siegfried, supports him as he goes through vet school, but his heart's really not in his studies.Was there a real Mrs Pumphrey? ›
Mrs Pumphrey, who pampers and fusses over her beloved Pekingese dog Tricki Woo, was one of the few characters recognisable to the real person on whom she was based: Miss Marjorie Warner (and her Pekingese Bambi). The character is a figure of fun.Is Mrs Hall still married? ›
But of course, we can't forget that Mrs. Hall is technically still married, so that complicates her world enormously. This is a tricky time for that. You've met Diana Brompton, who's divorced, and who's quite a modern woman taking on the new idea.Why is Diana Rigg not in All Creatures Great and Small? ›
Episode four of All Creatures Great and Small will be dedicated to the memory of Dame Diana Rigg, who makes her final appearance in the drama as Mrs Pumphrey. The former Bond Girl, Avengers actress and Game of Thrones star died of cancer on 10th September at the age of 82.What kind of person Dr Herriot was? ›
Solution : Dr James Herriot is a famous veterinary surgeon. He is very sensible, practical but genuinely concerned about Tricki. He is really worried at his miserable condition. He is tactful as well as full of common sense.Did the real James Herriot serve in ww2? ›
As for whether the real James Herriot went to war, the answer is yes - he joined the Royal Air Force. READ MORE: All Creatures Great and Small: Do Siegfried and Mrs Hall get together? In November 1942, Wight enlisted in the RAF and was one of the first in his flight to fly solo.Why did James Herriot have a nervous breakdown? ›
The sudden death of Alf's father was the catalyst for sending the author spiraling into a nervous breakdown but that was not the only reason. He was a worrier who kept concerns to himself. He fretted about his wife, his children and his finances which were not great until his books were published years later.Who is James Herriot's wife? › Do James and Helen have a baby? ›
While it looks certain James will serve his country, an Express.co.uk theory suggests he will return home before the war is over when he receives a telegram confirming Helen is carrying his unborn child named Jim.Did Tristan pass his vet exams? ›
Tristan finally passed all of his exams.Is James Herriot still living? › Where did the real James Herriot live? ›
The 1940s home and surgery
Stepping through the famous red door of 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk is to step inside the World of James Herriot, the fully-restored site of his original 1940s home and veterinary practice (known in his books as Skeldale House, Darrowby) set in the heart of stunning Herriot Country.
I did a little research and found out by word of the director that the animals didnt suffered any actual harm, and even the scenes where they are attacked by predators are just tricks (each animal was fimed separately).Are the animals in cats and dogs real? ›
In all, 33 cats and 27 dogs were employed in the movie, along with more than a dozen different animatronic puppets and a legion of computer graphics to portray pitched battles, projectiles and chase scenes without endangering any animal.Why did BBC refuse All Creatures Great and Small? ›
Channel 5's hit revival of All Creatures Great and Small was turned down by the BBC because executives feared it would not appeal to younger viewers, the show's producer has claimed. The BBC was given first refusal but would commit only to a pilot, despite having screened the original in the 1970s and 1980s.How did Dr Herriot saved his life? ›
Herriot took Tricki to his surgery and stopped giving him the unhealthy food items which Mrs. Pumphrey had been giving him to eat. He put Tricki on a diet and left him to play with other dogs in the shelter. To save Tricki and bring him back to good health, he had to even lie to Mrs.Do Tristan and James go to war? ›
The show's run came to an end in 1980 after three series, with Herriot and Tristan Farnon heading off to World War 2.Who was the first actress to play Helen in All Creatures Great and Small? ›
Helen Herriot (née Alderson) is played by Carol Drinkwater in the first three series and two specials, then by Lynda Bellingham in the final four series.
The series of autobiographical books by British nonfiction writer James Herriot (pseudonym of James Alfred Wight) focuses on his daily life as a country veterinarian in rural Yorkshire, beginning at the time of World War II.Why is James Herriot Scottish? ›
That's because the real James Herriot, James Alfred Wight – although born in Sunderland in 1916 – lived in Glasgow for the entirety of his childhood and early adult life, moving to England in 1940 at the age of 23 after qualifying as a veterinary surgeon in Glasgow the year before.Are Peter Davison and Christopher Timothy friends? ›
The popular duo Christopher Timothy and Peter Davison (friends for 40 years and famed as the two younger vets in All Creatures Great and Small) experience the thrills of the era when Britain first fell in love with the motor car, when the open road was a gateway to adventure and exploration.Will there be a season 3 of All Creatures Great and Small 2022? ›
James Herriot is back with new creatures and crises in All Creatures Great and Small Season 3, premiering Sundays, Jan. 8–Feb. 19, 2023, 9/8c, on MASTERPIECE on PBS.What happened to the cow in All Creatures Great and Small? ›
A cow dies, and it's pretty terrible. Mrs. Dalby starts crying and asks James what if her best isn't good enough, at which point my notes say, “this is too close to home, zero stars.”Did the real Tristan Farnon get married? ›
Both brothers were married in real life and in the series, Siegfried Farnon (Sam West) shares insight into his love life.Did Brian Sinclair become a vet? ›
Sinclair worked for his brother while studying veterinary medicine until he graduated from the Royal (Dick) Veterinary College in Edinburgh in 1943, subsequently joining the Royal Army Veterinary Corps in India.Is Siegfried Farnon a real person? ›
The fictional character Siegfried Farnon is portrayed as outspoken, opinionated, bossy, quick to lose his temper, and also quick to blow over.Where is Mrs Pumphrey's house? ›
Pumphrey's Digs. mp_sf_list_6_description: The home address for the wealthy widow and her Pekingese, Tricki Woo, is an estate near the village of Skipton in North Yorkshire. As Smith told Screen Yorkshire, “We filmed in the fabulous Broughton Hall, a stately home treasure” in the Georgian style of architecture.How many eggs did Mrs Pumphrey bring? ›
The word 'convalescing' seemed to do something to Mrs Pumphrey. She started to bring round fresh eggs, two dozen at a time, to build up Tricki's strength.
To learn about Derek, the dog who plays Tricki Woo, we spoke with Jill Clark of 1st Choice Animals, the official animal handlers of All Creatures Great and Small. She also happens to be Derek's owner!Why is Mrs Hall estranged from her son? ›
After the service, he asks why she and Edward are estranged. It's a sad story—Edward had robbed her former employer and wanted his mother to lie for him, but she refused. Ever since then he's refused any contact with her. He was sent to Borstal, and Mrs Hall had to leave her job.Is Christina Hall remarried again? ›
Real estate agent and HGTV star Christina Hall (née Haack) is starting a new chapter in her life, and career, through her marriage to realtor Josh Hall. Josh and Christina got married in April 2022, about a year-and-a-half after Christina announced her divorce from British TV host Ant Anstead in September 2020.Is Natalie Hall still married? ›
|Notable work||All My Children|
|Spouse||Jack H. Robbins ( m. 2017)|
Diana Rigg, who played Mrs. Pumphrey, died in 2020. Patricia Hodge has joined the All Creatures Great and Small cast in her stead, stepping into the role of the owner of the pampered Pekingese Tricki Woo.Which actress died in All Creatures Great and Small? ›
James Alfred Wight OBE FRCVS (3 October 1916 – 23 February 1995), better known by his pen name James Herriot, was a British veterinary surgeon and author.Did Tristan on All Creatures Great and Small pass his exams? ›
This Christmas special is such a satisfying end to All Creatures Great And Small Season 2. James and Helen are on their way to the altar despite all of the bumps in their road. Tristan finally passed all of his exams.Did Tristan enter war? ›
The show's run came to an end in 1980 after three series, with Herriot and Tristan Farnon heading off to World War 2.What kind of a person was James Herriot? ›
Solution : Dr James Herriot is a famous veterinary surgeon. He is very sensible, practical but genuinely concerned about Tricki. He is really worried at his miserable condition. He is tactful as well as full of common sense.Who owns the James Herriot museum? ›
In 2011, operation transferred to the not for profit World of James Herriot Ltd led by Ian Ashton and, as of 2022, the directors include James Herriot's real life son and daughter. Hambleton District Council retains ownership of the building.Why did Carol leave All Creatures Great and Small? ›
She decided to leave after she met her husband Michel in Australia who had proposed almost immediately after a "love at first sight" encounter.