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The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father Hardcover – February 29, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The name Alf Wight may not ring too many bells, but as James Herriot--the author who brought the British countryside into millions of homes--Wight certainly made an impressive mark. He grew up in Glasgow and enjoyed a boisterous childhood before deciding to embark on many years of training at the Glasgow Veterinary College. Wight finally qualified as a vet in 1939 and moved to the Yorkshire town of Thirsk to accept a position as assistant to Dr. Donald Sinclair--the man known to millions of readers as Siegfried Farnan.

The story of the young vet travelling to Thirsk (a.k.a. Darrowby) was immortalized in Herriot's bestselling books. But The Real James Herriot, Jim Wight's affectionate biography of his father, tells the story of the man behind the nom de plume, who worked in the same practice for over 50 years and was relatively untouched and unimpressed by his fame as an author. Wight the younger (who followed in his father's footsteps and later joined the practice in Thirsk), is undoubtedly the best person to reveal the depths of a man whose public persona was as respected and trusted as the real man who tended to animals in and around the small Yorkshire village where he lived until the day he died. Written with a tenderness that does nothing to detract from the honesty of the book, The Real James Herriot is a fitting, poignant, and often gently humorous portrait of a man who brought so much pleasure through his writing while remaining consistently faithful to the profession that was, ultimately, his first and last love. --Susan Harrison, Amazon.co.uk

From Publishers Weekly

When world-famous veterinary surgeon James Herriot died in 1995, the bestselling Yorkshire country animal doctor was known to millions of fans through his books and the TV series All Creatures Great and Small, although the inner man has remained elusive. Now Wight--Herriot's son and a veterinary surgeon himself, who worked in his father's practice and accompanied him on his rounds from the age of two--has written an affectionate, candid biography revealing many sides of Herriot unfamiliar to his fans. "Alf," as he was known to family and friends, was born James Alfred Wight (Herriot was a pseudonym) in England's industrial northeast, not in Scotland as many readers assume--though he spent his formative years in Glasgow and went to veterinary college there. His escapades as a carousing, lackluster veterinary student recall National Lampoon's Animal House. Herriot's many endearing tales of dogs and cats notwithstanding, he mainly treated large farm animals, branching out into pets later in his career. Wight portrays his father as a modest, down-to-earth and generous man, utterly unchanged by fame, a private individual who bottled up his emotions, which led to a nervous breakdown and electroshock therapy in 1960. This ebullient, moving biography, a worthy addition to the Herriot saga, shares many of the same qualities as the beloved vet's books: keen observation of human nature, gentle humor, vivid personalities (including the real-life people behind Herriot's semifictionalized characters) and lots of heartwarming anecdotes. Wight rounds out this solid bio with intimate details on Alf's writing career, the making of All Creatures (motion picture and TV series) and an account of his father's final brave battle against cancer. Photos.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 371 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (February 29, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345421515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345421517
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (178 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #681,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

167 of 169 people found the following review helpful By LINDA MATTHEWS on March 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I waited eagerly for 8 months to receive this book, then I had to wait another week before I could open the pages without weeping. The first two paragraphs in the Prologue are enough to set me off: "On that day a great friend had died. His name was James Alfred Wight, a father in whose company I had spent countless happy hours. A man I shall never forget."
We have all lost a great friend in Alf Wight. How many countless happy hours have we spent with James Herriot, either in books or TV shows? Indeed none of us will ever forget him. I wish I had been able to meet him.
I would like to thank Jim Wight personally for writing this book. He expresses his first feelings of misgiving about trying to live up to his father's excellent writing, but he need not have worried. He tells about a boyhood friend of Alf's who jumps out of a second floor window with an umbrella. "The old umbrella suddenly turned inside out and, accompanied by the screaming boy, zoomed to the ground." This could have come straight off James Herriot's pen.
Alf Wight had a huge heart, and it seems that his son does, too. It is clear that he misses his father terribly. He presents Alf as a perfectly ordinary person who was astonished at his own fame, and who still remained "99% vet." This book shows the good and the bad of Alf Wight, his family and his friends. And yet I came away still in love with Siegfried, Tristan, and all the rest. And still totally devoted to James Herriot.
Thank you, Jim.
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99 of 99 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For those of us who grew up watching ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL on PBS and who delighted in James Herriot's books, this biography of Alf Wight, the real name of the writer James Herriot, is fascinating, heart-warming, and wonderful.
What makes this book so good is that the author is Jim Wight, Alf's son and later partner in his vet practice. Jim describes Alf's life with real insight and shares his own opinions when discussing key characters in Alf's books. Jim talks about Donald and Brian, the real people behind Siegfried and Tristan, and the various farmers and family members with definite love; he knew them and worked with them, too.
This book is not just a collection of facts; it is a real tribute to the life of the man known to most of us as James Herriot. Jim's insights into his father and his life are extremely interesting, and the gentleness of his father's writings has surely filtered down to his son. Certainly, Jim writes critically, but he also writes with affection and understanding.
I cannot think of a more fitting memoir for Alf Wight. His vision of the world is unique, and his son's tribute to him, both a biography and a personal memoir, could not be better. Through Jim's book, we can see just how true Alf's descriptions are - and how lucky we are to have them.
I definitely recommend this book to all fans of James Herriot.
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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Less Antman on May 25, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is clear from this book that Jim Wight, like his famous father, doesn't like to say negative things about anybody, but this is a thoroughly honest book that includes information available nowhere else, and it is quite detailed. It makes the hoped-for identifications of what real individuals paralleled characters and how they reacted to their portrayals (Tristan loved his portrayal and Siegfried was so unhappy he actually threatened to sue!), and is honest about the embellishments in stories as well. It doesn't shy away from describing very bad times in the personal life of Herriot.
The bottom line is that any fan of James Herriot will truly enjoy reading this book, gain real insight about the man, and enjoy going back and reading the story books with the knowledge gained from this biography.
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45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By a-wish-upon-a-star on November 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
If you have read and enjoyed the "James Herriot" books, like I did, you will enjoy this intimate biography of the real James Herriot, Alf Wight, written by his son.

Although I have read all his books, I never thought too much about the real man behind them, but reading "The Real James Herriot" has a awakened a tremendous appreciation for one of my favorite authors. Too often after reading a biography of one of my favorite authors I found that their lives did not quite measure up to their books, but with this author I found quite the opposite, I found myself in awe of this modest and unassuming man.

My first reaction upon finishing this book was how unusually nice it is for a son to write so well of his father, and it certainly made me stop and think about my relationship with my own children. What greater tribute can a person have that his children should think so highly of them, should write with such love and devotion about a parent? How rare it is today (or at least psychologists would have us believe that it is rare) for a son to follow in his father's profession, working in the same practice, living just miles away, with hardly an unkind word for his father?

This book is an anti-dote for all those "dark" books, where the worst of human nature is emphasized again and again, and it is refreshing to read about a "normal", happy person, with a devoted wife and family, a humble and modest man who succeeded in life beyond his wildest dreams. A man who, upon making millions when his books hit the bestseller list, refused to change his lifestyle one iota, preferring to continue in the vocation and place (the Yorkshires) he loved rather than turn into one of the "rich and famous".
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