Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Book 28 of 2014: James Herriot The Life of a Country Vet by Graham Lord

I've been a massive fan of James Herriot ever since I went to North Yorkshire and visited the James Herriot Experience. Mr Click bought me the complete set of the books as well as the TV series which we watched a couple of years ago. So when I found a copy of James Herriot The Life of a Country Vet by Graham Lord in a British Heart Foundation shop, I snapped it up.

This is a biography of Alf Wight, better known as James Herriot who wrote the numerous stories about his work as a vet in North Yorkshire. It ventures right back to the very beginning, speculating on Wight's parents and grandparents lives before he was born and tracing his life through school in Yoker, to veterinary training in Glasgow and then on to his work in North Yorkshire. It includes plenty of information about the writing of the book series as well as his involvement in the TV series and films.

Since reading this I've seen that it gets several less than favourable reviews, lots of people cite the actual Memoirs of Wight/Herriot as being a much better book. I'm yet to come across a copy of that so not having any knowledge of that I found this to be very interesting.

One of the things that I especially liked was seeing the difference between the fact and fiction of the life of the character and the real man. At times the line seemed to be somewhat blurred. It seems that even Alf Wight himself blurred the lines occasionally, wholly adopting the character of James Herriot for the numerous fans that showed up in Thirsk.

It was also nice to read about all the places where Wight lived and worked, mainly because they were quite familiar to me. He was born in Yoker, where I briefly had a flat during my second year at university. I'm also familiar with Glasgow, what with university and the fact it's the nearest city to the island where I live. Then there's North Yorkshire, of course, which I've only been to once, but I drank up the place in my time there.

Graham Lord did actually know Wight and met him so there was quite a personal element to the text, despite the speculation at the beginning when it looked at the Wight family before Alf came along. Because it was such an in depth look at the man's life, the end was very sad.

Strangely enough though I was more affected by the description of Donald Sinclair. I got the impression that he was never really satisfied with his role of Siegfried Farnon in the books and there seemed to be disputes between himself and Wight over the years, though there was obviously a friendship there. Sinclair took his own life just a couple of weeks after the death of his second wife, such a sad end for the man.

I did enjoy the picture painted of Wight by this book. He seemed perfectly happy to meet his fans, sign things and was generally just the sort of writer that as a reader I would love to have been able to meet. It sounded like he truly appreciated his readers. I expect he would be very pleased to know that there are still new readers discovering (and loving) his books, all these years on.


  1. I remember hearing about Donald Sinclair's death back in the 90s and finding myself feeling very sad which was strange in a way as I only knew him through his fictionalised alter ego - but then that's the joy of Herriot/Wight's writing I guess

    1. I couldn't help but imagine the Siegfried I'd read about (who in my head looks suspiciously like Robert Hardy) and I think it's because the books were so personal that you felt like you knew the characters. So you knew Sinclair by association.


Let me know what you think. :-)