cover image The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father

The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father

Jim Wight. Ballantine Books, $25 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-345-42151-7

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. (Apr.)