The Yorkshire Vet, Julian Norton has a surprise invitation to lunch with a veterinary "titan"

I had a serendipitous encounter before recent lockdowns.

Julian Norton enjoyed lunch with veterinary titan Peter Rossdale
Julian Norton enjoyed lunch with veterinary titan Peter Rossdale

An old friend called John came to see me at the end of morning surgery. There was nothing new about this because I had known John for years and he would always appear, with a Norfolk Terrier bundled under his arm like a rugby ball, way after surgery should have finished.

This always made me late because I liked talking to John and listening to his stories of the halcyon days of veterinary practice – his father had been a horse vet in Newmarket. I could happily pass an hour during a busy day listening to anecdotes about Twink Allen and other famous vets who John and his father knew.

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Today, though, John had no terrier under his arm. Instead he held a slip of paper with his phone number on.

“A mate of mine is visiting Yorkshire and he wants to go for lunch with you and your wife,” he said as he thrust the piece of paper into my hand. “He’s a massive fan and loves your books,” he added. “It’s Peter Rossdale. Give me a ring if you can come.”

If you were to make a list of the most significant vets of the last century, Peter Rossdale would be in the top five. He set up the most iconic and famous veterinary practice of them all: Rossdale’s in Newmarket.

As an enthusiastic student at Cambridge, just down the road from Newmarket, I was very well acquainted with this place but only the very finest equine students would be accepted to spend a few weeks learning there and only the crème de la crème needed to consider applying for an internship.

During the early episodes of The Yorkshire Vet, when we were suddenly exposed to an unexpected level of public comment, criticism along the lines of: “You shouldn’t do it like that!” Or “why didn’t you do a blood test on that poorly cat?”

While uncommon, were frequent enough to cause me anxiety. But I also received the occasional letter from Dr Rossdale and, when it felt that there was overwhelming public scrutiny on my practice and my practise, to receive positive comments from a veterinary titan was both humbling and reassuring.

Needless to say, when invited to a lunchtime meeting with Peter Rossdale, I put everything on hold and, with great excitement, headed to the excellent Stapylton Arms in Wass.

My old friend John and my new friend Peter, their respective wives and I enjoyed a superb meal and chatted about all things veterinary, both current and historic. As coffee was ordered and our lovely meal drew to a close I put to Peter the question I had been burning to ask. Out of all his amazing achievements during his illustrious veterinary career, what did he consider his most significant achievement?

I expected his reply would be the discovery of a new diagnostic test for a sick neonatal foal or a novel treatment for equine endometritis or something similar. He paused for a moment before giving an understated response.

“Well, I suppose I was the first vet who espoused and practised the concept of ‘evidence-based medicine’.”

Current veterinary journals and modern ‘experts’ use this phrase with abandon. It is the mantra of 21st century veterinary practice. But Peter Rossdale had conceived and instigated that way of working many years ahead of its time. I was privileged to have enjoyed a lovely lunch with a great man.

Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Vet continues with its twelfth series on Tuesdays at 8pm.