James Herriot, who shared his experiences as a country veterinarian in the best-selling memoir "All Creatures Great and Small," died Thursday in the Yorkshire Dales, where he had ministered to animals for half a century. He was 78.
Herriot died of prostate cancer at his home near Thirsk, said his granddaughter, Emma Page.
Herriot--the pen name and alter ego of James Alfred Wight--wrote 15 books in the time that he could wrest away from his practice. They sold 50 million copies in 20 countries.
But he continued his veterinary practice long after his books made him famous.
"If a farmer calls me with a sick animal, he couldn't care less if I were George Bernard Shaw," he once said.
A quiet, modest man with a trace of his Glasgow upbringing in his voice, Wight kept out of the limelight as best he could.
Despite the pen name and Thirsk's disguise as Darrowby, many fans tracked him down at Skeldale House, the ivy-covered home and office familiar to his readers and viewers of the popular television series based on "All Creatures Great and Small."
The son of an orchestra leader who played background music for silent films, Wight was born Oct. 13, 1916, and grew up in Glasgow. He trained at Glasgow Veterinary College, arriving in Thirsk in 1940 for a now-famous job interview with Donald Sinclair--Siegfried Farnon in the book.
He joined the practice and, aided and abetted by the hapless Tristan--Sinclair's brother, Brian--settled in among the dour farmers of the Yorkshire Dales.
Wight started writing when he was 50, developing a conversational, first-person style.
He worked out most of his stories while driving along the rural lanes between farms.
Wight was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1979.
He is survived by his wife, Joan, whom he married in 1941; a son, James, who runs the veterinary practice; a daughter, Rose Page, and four grandchildren.