HIS STORIES of the life of a Yorkshire veterinarian continue to enthrall readers, 20 years after his death.
Today a new statue of Alf Wight, the man behind the James Herriot books, has been unveiled. And it is so life-like that his son expected it to turn around and send him on his next veterinary job.
Standing in the garden of The World of James Herriot in Thirsk, the museum that now stands in Mr Wight’s original home and surgery, the statue was installed on the what would have been the 96th birthday of his much-loved wife Joan.
When the idea was first proposed by Ian Ashton, managing director of the museum, Jim Wight, the author’s son, and other members of the family, were hesitant. But their minds have been firmly changed.
Mr Wight, who worked alongside his father as a vet for 25 years, told The Yorkshire Post: “At first we weren’t so keen. My dad was such a shy and retiring man, that he’d refused when a local sculptor had wanted to make a sculpture of him.
“But actually, when I saw the thing unveiled I almost jumped out of my skin, I expected him to turn around and say ‘go and castrate those bulls’. It’s so realistic.”
Another factor Mr Wight believes would add to his father’s approval of the statue is that sculptor Sean Hedges-Quinn also created a likeness of former Sunderland Football Club manager Bob Stokoe, “his hero”.
“This is another tribute to our father, who has been the world’s best selling vet since the 1970s, and done a huge amount not just for his profession but for the area,” he added. “We still get tens of thousands of tourists through the centre each year.”
Mr Wight and his sister Rosie Page will join James Berresford, chief executive of VisitEngland, and local dignitaries at the official unveiling of the statue.
It was made possible thanks to a £25,000 bequest in the will of Thomas Blinks, a Suffolk man who admired Alf Wight’s work. It has also sparked the creation of the James Herriot Legacy Fund, which will provide bursaries to young people working in animal welfare.
Mr Wight said: “It is very appropriate to do this in my father’s memory as he was a huge champion of animal welfare. When people would come to the surgery, he always thought the welfare of the animal was more important than the profit treating it would make.”
Fundraising for the Legacy Fund is now a continuous part of The World of James Herriot, to ensure that the vets and veterinary nurses of the future can apply for support.
Mr Ashton said: “The aim is to provide bursaries for people wishing to embark on a career concerning the welfare of animals, and for whom the James Herriot stories may well have been an inspiration. The fund has now reached its target for the statue to be installed and we will continue to raise funds for the Legacy Fund which is a fitting tribute to Alf Wight and his continuing worldwide appeal.”
EACH year thousands of tourists flock to Thirsk and The World of James Heriot, the museum built in the former veterinary surgery and home of Alf Wight.
From the 1950s onwards, his books, which were later adapted for the BBC series All Creatures Great And Small, became best sellers.
His son Jim Wight, who himself wrote a biography of his father, said: “He started writing in the last 1950s when he was working hard as a vet. He was writing in his spare time. I used to watch him writing them, sat in front of the television. It was only when I wrote my own book, and needed complete concentration, when I realised how hard that must have been!”