Biography of James Herriot

James Herriot was the pen name of James Albert “Alf” Wight. James was born in Sunderland, County Durham, England on October 3, 1916. His parents, James and Hannah, lived and worked in Glasglow, Scotland, but Hannah returned to England to give birth to James. When James was three weeks old, his mother brought him back to Glasgow, Scotland, where he was raised.

In 1939, when Wight was 23 years old, he graduated from Glasgow Veterinary School. In 1940, after briefly joining a veterinary practice in Sunderland, England, he joined a veterinary practice in Yorkshire. Wight lived in Thirsk, near the Yorkshire Dales, in England, which was where he set his novels.

In 1941, Wight married his wife, Joan Catherine Anderson Danbury. They had two children: James Alexander, born in 1943, and Rosemary, born in 1946. In 1942, Wight joined the Royal Navy and fought in World War II. During this time, his wife went to live with her parents (“Life and Times”).

Because Wight spent most of his professional life busy with his veterinary duties, he did not have time to write, despite the fact that he had always wanted to write a novel. However, at the age of 50, he finally wrote his first novel, If Only They Could Talk, which was published under his pen name, James Herriot, in 1970 in the UK. He chose to write under a pen name because professional veterinary etiquette at the time did not permit him to advertise his services (“James Herriot”). Later, If Only They Could Talk and his second UK novel, It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet (1972), were published together in the US as All Creatures Great and Small (1972), which met with much success. Other books from the series include: All Things Bright and Beautiful (1972), All Things Wise and Wonderful (1977), The Lord God Made Them All (1981), and Every Living Thing (1992). The series was on the New York Times bestseller list, sold over 15 million copies, and inspired a TV show and movie. While Wight wrote, he continued to practice veterinary medicine for many years. He enjoyed much success, but did not earn much money from his books due to heavy taxes. Despite his fame, he preferred not to give interviews to the press; when asked about whether he considered himself more writer or veterinarian, he responded, "I'm 99 per cent veterinarian" (quoted in Gonzalez).

Wight continued to write about his experiences and published a number of other novels, short stories, and children’s books from 1970 up until his death. He died on February 23, 1995, at the age of 78, after a battle with prostate cancer.

Study Guides on Works by James Herriot