Monday, 3 October 2016

It happened to a vet

James Herriot, doyen of (pre-Strictly) Saturday-night viewing and light, nostalgic reading, a man who could (according to one TV reviewer) strike terror into cows everywhere at the mere unbuttoning of a shirt sleeve, was born 100 years ago today.

Although the books (which I've read many, many times) are considered trifles, they're actually superbly-crafted tales, each spun (seemingly) from a real-life anecdote and populated by larger-than-life (but delicately written) characters. What's not to like?

Growing up in Yorkshire as I did, they were also great at confirming what was best about the county - not least, the wonderful scenery. As a bit of a groupie I took the trail long before Herriot-country existed and used the books as an excuse to visit some of the most beautiful landscapes - although it has to be said that the real Herriot's patch was generally east of Thirsk rather than reaching into every nook and cranny of the dales. But TV clearly decided the latter was the better backdrop. And why not?

The real 'James Herriot' was a hard-working country vet by the name of Alf Wight, who had been born and brought up in Glasgow. Siegfried and Tristan Farnon were in real-life Donald and Brian Sinclair, the former of whom casts a long shadow over the story, having committed suicide not long after James' - Alf's - death some years ago.

But then, the stories always had their light and shade. There was sadness, illness, death, both human and animal and the books certainly don't shy away from the hardships of hill-farming, especially in the 1930s.

You can visit the original veterinary practice in Thirsk, sit in the car that used to splash through the stream in the TV series, even answer the famous 'Darrowby 385' telephone. But the real-life veterinary surgery - in new, purpose-built premises - thrives, and includes among its partners James' - Alf's - own son.

So the legacy lives on.

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