Video: Unique glipse inside the great and small world of James Herriot

WHEN a young Alf Wight read a copy of Meccano magazine in 1931 it helped point him along a path that would see him become one of Yorkshire’s most familiar faces.

A collection of photographs from the TV programme, All Creatures Great and Small

In the magazine was an article on becoming a veterinary surgeon which was to lead the country vet to Thirsk where he practised for more than 40 years and where his experiences in the 1940s were to shape the books which made the name of his alter ego, author James Herriot.

The magazine features in a collection of James Herriot memorabilia, which has been acquired from a personal collector, which was unveiled yesterday as the World of James Herriot centre, housed in the former home of the late Mr Wight, at 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk.

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It is on permanent display at the museum and includes postcards, personally-written letters from the author to his fans, signed photographs of the actors involved in the films and TV series his books inspired. There is also a figure of formidable Mrs Pumphrey, ever accompanied by her beloved pekinese Tricky-Woo, one of the most enduring characters in the James Herriot books.

A collection of photographs from the TV programme, All Creatures Great and Small

Ian Ashton, the centre’s managing director said: “Its a fantastic collection of memorabilia ranging from the early days when he read the Meccano magazine about becoming a vet, where he got the idea from, through to the filming.”

He said the museum, which reopened yesterday, continued to attract interest from around the world.

Yesterday, among the visitors, were two vets, visiting Herriot country from Hungary.

Mr Wight became one of the most popular writers of the twentieth century. His books, a series of stories based on his experiences as a young veterinary surgeon working among the farming community of North Yorkshire, sold in their millions throughout the world.

His success spawned two feature films in the mid 1970s, followed by a BBC television series, All Creatures Great and Small, which enjoyed global success in the late 1970s and early 80s.

The glimpse of the vet’s old car crossing a bridge over Arkle Beck before negotiating a moorland watersplash as the signature tune played was a familiar one as families up and down the land settled down to watch the antics of the vet and the independent, spirited farmers of the time, on their TV screens.

The TV series and the novel also helped to put Yorkshire’s beautiful landscape on the map and today still continues to draw in the tourists.

Mr Ashton said of the enduring appeal of the books: “I think its about the way that he wrote the books and the way that he wrote about people and about animals that captured the hearts of so many people.

“He’s an icon of Yorkshire.

“We have got people from all over the world coming. That can only be good for tourism in Yorkshire and business in Yorkshire,” he added.

Last year a new tourism company took on the day-to-day running of the World of James Herriot attraction in the hope of turning around dwindling visitor numbers.

The museum was previously managed by Hambleton District Council, which agreed a 20-year lease with World of James Herriot Ltd for a peppercorn rent. The new arrangements will mean annual savings to the council of £60,000.

It opened in 1999 as a tribute to Mr Wight, who had used his experiences while working in the Dales to write the books. After his death in 1995, the district council bought and restored his practice with a £1.4m investment. But the Yorkshire Post revealed just over 8,500 visitors went through the doors of the Kirkgate museum between April and June in 2011, compared with 13,000 for the same period in 2010.

Mr Ashton said the museum, whose collections already include the restored Austin 7 car used in the original TV series of All Creatures Greta and Small, planned to reveal new exhibitions throughout the coming year.