“Fabulous Centenary Anniversary” of famous veterinary surgeon and author Alf Wight OBE FRCVS, (‘James Herriot’) with original cast members of the ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ BBC TV series and worldwide fans in attendance.
A black tie gala dinner on Saturday, 1st October 2016 at Tennants Garden Rooms in Leyburn, included special guests from the cast of “All Creatures Great & Small” who joined family and friends to celebrate the life and work of the famous vet and author Alf Wight OBE FRCVS (James Herriot) on the 100th anniversary of his birth. The evening included performances by music icon Lesley Garrett CBE and was hosted by BBC TV’s Harry Gration MBE.
Rosie Page, Alf Wight’s daughter opened the evening with a tribute to her father and in her presentation said that he was an unassuming man but would be so proud to see so many friends, colleagues and fans who supported and followed his work in both his veterinary career and as the author James Herriot over many years.
Alf’s son, Jim Wight told the audience of the early years of life at Skeldale Veterinary surgery and the family home where he and Rosie grew up which Jim said, was a cold and draughty place but where happy memories prevail and is now preserved as the World of James Herriot and visited by thousands of people from around the world. Jim remembered the queues outside the surgery of many of these fans at the height of his father’s fame and at times the challenges for the local customers of getting into the surgery with their cats, dogs and other small animals. Jim also thanked the local residents of Thirsk for allowing his father to live a normal life despite his fame. He also talked about Alf’s visit to Buckingham Palace when Her Majesty the Queen told him that his books made her laugh out loud.
Many friends and family paid tribute to the life of Alf Wight including former veterinary colleagues at Skeldale Veterinary Practice, Thirsk, who are now following in Alf Wight’s footsteps on TV themselves on Channel 5’s ‘The Yorkshire Vet’. Vets inspired by Alf’s books also attended and paid their own tribute to his veterinary work.
Actor Christopher Timothy who played James Herriot, BAFTA winner Robert Hardy Esq, CBE, FSA (Siegfried Farnon), Peter Davidson, (Tristan Farnon), multi award-winning actress Carol Drinkwater (Helen Herriot), Andrea Gibb, who played Deirdre McEwan in Series 4-6 and who is now a BAFTA nominated writer and Ali Lewis who was a local schoolgirl picked for the role of Rosie Herriot in the final series in 1990. Ali had the advantage of knowing the real Rosie, who was her Doctor! Ali has followed in the footsteps of James Herriot and is now an award-winning writer herself.
Actor Peter Davidson who went on to become the 5th Dr Who and many other roles said: “People still ask me to diagnose their cat or dog’s illness, even after 26 years they still believe I am a real vet, such was the popularity and authenticity of the series.”
Attendees numbered fans from around the world including Ireland, Belgium, Japan and one avid Herriot fan from Australia, Rowena Cardwell, made the trip especially to attend the dinner having achieved a lifelong ambition two years ago to visit the World of James Herriot and sees the dinner as a ‘once only’ chance to pay tribute.
Ian Ashton Managing Director of the World of James Herriot said…
“The Alf Wight 100th Anniversary gala dinner has been a fabulous centenary anniversary evening and it’s especially pleasing that the evening brought together so many family, friends, fans and colleagues of Alf Wight, some of whom travelled thousands of miles for this once in a lifetime event. It’s been a fantastic tribute to a very special man. It has been a real treat have all the main cast of All Creatures Great and Small together on this wonderful occasion and will likely never happen again. Alf’s books, films and TV series are THE biggest thing to ever have happened to promote the Dales and Moors of North Yorkshire which have become world renowned as ‘Herriot Country’.”
Lesley Garratt sang over several sessions during the evening and included songs that she had chosen especially for the occasion that were fitting for the occasion including ‘Summertime’ which Lesley dedicated especially to Alf Wight’s memory.
A fund-raising auction held during the evening raised almost £3000 for the James Herriot Foundation Trust that that has been established to help young people who wish to pursue a career dedicated to animal welfare. The Foundation Trust began with a very generous bequest made to the Friends of the World of James Herriot by the late Mr Thomas Frank Blinks who lived in Robertsbridge, East Sussex, and was a life member of the Friends of the World James Herriot. A bronze statue of Alf Wight stands in the gardens of the World of James Herriot, marking the establishment of the Foundation Trust.
Hambleton District Council originally set up the World of James Herriot in 1999 and handed operational control to a private company under Ian Ashton’s management in 2012 whilst retaining ownership of the building. Council Leader, Mark Robson announced at the dinner the proposal to transfer the building to the company as a Community asset transfer subject to full council approval.
Jim Wight and Rosie Page, son and daughter of Alf Wight, speaking about the Gala evening said: “This has been a lovely opportunity to celebrate our father’s legacy and to support the James Herriot Foundation Trust that has been established to help young people who wish to pursue a career dedicated to animal welfare, which our father would have been proud to be associated. We are delighted that so many of the original cast members could attend the dinner and so pleased to that it was supported by so many friends, fans and colleagues for the tribute to his life and work.”
Christopher Timothy who played James Herriot in the TV series concluded the evening with a witty and thoughtful address, thanking in particular Alf Wight’s family, Ian Ashton, managing director of the World of James Herriot for his continuing enthusiasm and efforts especially for the organisation of the 100th anniversary dinner which has brought so many friends, family and fans together.
Alf Wight’s stories, based on his very own experiences of being a young veterinary surgeon who worked amongst the North Yorkshire farming communities, have sold in their millions and have touched readers from all over the world. His first book was entitled “If Only They Could Talk”. James Alfred Wight was born on 3rd October 1916 in Sunderland (his mother Hannah’s former home before she married Alf’s father James in July 1915). When Alf was only three weeks old the family moved back to their own home in Glasgow and Alf remained there for most of his young life. In December 1939 at the age of 23, Alf qualified as a veterinary surgeon with the Glasgow Veterinary College, taking on a brief post in January 1940 in a veterinary practice in Sunderland. He moved on in July 1940 to work in the rural practice of Donald J Sinclair in Thirsk, located close to the sweeping hills and rich valleys of the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks, where he remained for the rest of his life.
For further information please contact:
Ian Ashton, The World of James Herriot, 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk, North Yorkshire, YO7 1PL, Tel: 01845 524234 E-mail: email@example.com
John Gallery, Great Potential, Tel: 07967 032623 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors: The World of James Herriot is a unique tribute to Alf Wight, vet and author of the James Herriot stories. Based in his original surgery at 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk, North Yorkshire – the ‘Skeldale House’ of the Herriot books – it takes visitors on a journey back to the 1940s.