Ellie Harrison visits Thirsk to celebrate the centenary of vet Alf White, known to the world as James Herriot, and speaks to his children.
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Yorkshire, a landscape shaped by nature and cherished by man.
It was home to Alf Wight, known to millions as James Herriot,
the vet the world took to its heart.
And this year, we're marking 100 years since his birth.
He's famous for his real-life tales of working in the countryside that
are cherished by people across the globe, including me.
And I'm on a very special journey in Yorkshire to celebrate his life
I'll be finding out about the global impact his stories had.
The bottom line is, Herriot is responsible.
And we were just the messengers, weren't we, really?
Learning what life was like as a rural vet in the 1940s.
Very satisfying because you see the cow, this enormous, bloated animal,
just goes... Like a deflated balloon.
As well as indulging my own love of Herriot's Yorkshire.
I've always wanted to do that!
I'll also be looking back at some of our favourite
stories on Countryfile.
Those that reveal the work of people who devote their lives to
helping all creatures great and small.
Like the time Adam met the Yorkshire farmers who are keeping the
traditional county breeds going strong.
If you were out here all winter,
first thing you'd want would be a good warm, dry topcoat.
Pull it tight.
When Joe got to grips with a very dangerous rescue...
It's an incredible sound. Very guttural.
..and when John got more than he bargained for,
helping out smaller animals in need.
Ow! Oh, sorry.
That was a really big bite.
Empty and wild.
..but always beautiful.
I'm on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors near the market town
of Thirsk, the place that
James Herriot called home for most of his life.
We know him as James Herriot but his real name
was James Alfred Wight,
or Alf to his friends and family.
He was born in 1916 and grew up in Glasgow.
As a child with a love of animals,
there was only one job he ever wanted - to become a vet.
-How are you today?
-All right, how is yourself?
-Fine, thanks. Grand weather, hey?
-Yes, it's lovely weather.
It seemed to me a most fulfilling and marvellous life if I could spend
my whole time helping animals.
But animals to me were dogs and cats.
But I qualified at the time of the Depression.
There was only one job going, and that was in rural Yorkshire.
And it took me just a fortnight to realise that this was the kind of
life I wanted.
He fell in love with this landscape and its people,
and he stayed in his practice for 50 more years until his death in 1995,
but he wasn't just a rural vet.
He was also a world-famous author.
He wrote many books about his time as a vet,
set in a fictional Dales town of Darrowby.
But the characters were all real,
including his eccentric partner,
Donald Sinclair, and his flighty brother,
Brian, known as Siegfried and Tristan in the stories.
They were a witty and honest view of the hard-working but sometimes dour
Yorkshire farming community.
His books were a huge success,
selling more than 60 million copies across the world,
but it didn't end there.
Two films were made and a BBC TV series All Creatures Great and Small
brought James Herriot into millions of our sitting rooms for
more than a decade.
One of those sitting rooms was mine.
As a child, I adored All Creatures Great and Small.
But what was it about this place and its people that inspired him?
In a moment, I'll be joining his daughter, Rosie, on one of his
favourite walks to find out.
But first, we look back to when Adam gave us an insight into the breeds,
great and small, that made this rural county famous.
One or two of which James Herriot
would have been all too familiar with.
It fascinates me how throughout the country there are breeds particular
to individual places.
Our livestock has been shaped by the landscape it lives in and the way we
So today, I'm getting a closer look
at seven county breeds that are special to Yorkshire.
Come by, come by.
When I think about the traditional breeds of Yorkshire,
this is what springs to mind.
Swaledale sheep up here about
1,000 foot up on the weather-beaten hills of the Yorkshire Dales.
'In fact, there are 30 times more
'sheep in the Yorkshire Dales than people,
'more than half a million of them.
'They're hardy creatures, used to being out in all weathers.
'Roy Nelson has been a shepherd here all his working life.
'I've chosen to meet him on a day
'that shows why farmers here need to be tough too.'
This is a good bit of Yorkshire weather, Roy, isn't it?
Just have a marvellous view down there if it had been clear,
but it didn't so that's that.
And why is it that Swaledale suits this region so well?
Well, they're just hardier.
Ours live out on top of winter more
or less same as they did 50 years ago
and grow to a size that they can support themselves.
So, what should the ewe look like? What does she need to be like?
We like them with a good hard coat on, a jacket and waistcoat.
-What does that mean?
-It wants to be a thick bed of wool
that will keep wind out, it won't open with wind.
-And then it wants a bit of top on it to throw water off,
-so it's white today.
-It just runs away, yes.
And if you were out here all winter, first thing you would want would be
-a good warm, dry topcoat.
-So, you've got these tough sheep up here.
You've got to be a pretty hardy farmer too, haven't you?
Well, I don't know, it's just what we're used to.
You just don't think about it.
And do you feel the sheep are part of you as a Yorkshireman?
-Proud of them?
-Oh, definitely, yes.
One of the biggest thrills to me is
when somebody buys one off me and then
they take it to a show somewhere and they'll maybe win a show with it.
I feel quite proud of that.
And the annual Ryedale Agricultural Show
is just the place to see the best
of this breed in amongst 1,000 sheep exhibits.
Now, here we are. Let me explain something to you.
The Swaledale ewe here, the female,
not only is a fantastic sheep for surviving on the hills but, also,
if she is crossed with this ram, the Bluefaced Leicester,
this great big brute, put him on her, you get a lamb called a mule.
And this is a mule ewe. A wonderful mother.
So, she has fine wool, lots of lambs,
plenty of milk from the Bluefaced Leicester,
and then that wonderful mothering ability and hardiness from the
Swaledale. It's an incredible mix that creates this fantastic sheep
that is now the mainstay of lowland sheep farming,
producing lamb for the table.
And that's why the Swaledale is the backbone of the UK sheep industry.
But Yorkshire's not just the birthplace of hardy sheep.
It has some good lookers too.
You've heard of Wensleydale cheese.
Well, this is the Wensleydale sheep.
This one's called Nosterfield Lulu 2.
She's just won
Reserve Supreme Champion of Show for owner Ernie Sherwin.
How long have you been breeding Wensleydales?
They've been in the family for nearly over a century, really.
Over the years with my grandparents and my dad and things.
So you feel really passionate about them as a breed?
Yeah, they're just a bit of a fun thing.
I love to keep these traditional breeds on for the wool.
Fleeces are worth in excess of £100 now in the right places.
-Beautiful. And they came from Wensleydale itself?
Yes, yes, the Cistercian monks are supposed to
have set up with the Wensleydale Creamery
to start off milking them and making cheese, apparently.
-So that's where the famous Wensleydale cheese comes from?
There are also 1,000 horses on show here,
and there's one local breed I'm particularly interested in.
In the show ring now is the Cleveland Bay.
They used to be known as the Chapman Horse
because the chapmen were the
travelling salesman and they used these
animals as pack horses to carry all their wares around.
And they were very versatile.
They could pull the plough,
they could be ridden or they'd pull carriages.
But sadly, now, they're in decline and they're a rare breed.
This is another classic Yorkshire breed.
The Middle White with its lovely squashed nose.
And it was developed about 200 years ago by a guy called Joseph Tuley in
Keighley, West Riding.
And they're great at producing pork
but there is another breed of pig from Yorkshire that's become
The Middle White's much bigger cousin is creatively called the
Large White. They used to be seen as the perfect pig,
sent all over the world to establish commercial breeding herds.
Earning them a great reputation.
They're still a favourite of Ron Fieldhouse,
who breeds them on his farm in Tadcaster.
Goodness me, how many piglets has she got?
Tell me about the breed itself. Where did it originate from?
It originated in West Riding of Yorkshire...
and was quickly developed into a
fast lean growing pig suitable for the
bacon trade and was exported worldwide.
And when was it at its height?
I would say it was at its height in
the '50s and then started declining in
the late '70s when the breeding companies started developing hybrids
which are basically a mixture of Large White and other breeds.
And do you think they still have their place?
They still have their place.
They are still a fast lean growing pig that can compete with the
We call them Large Whites
but worldwide they're known as the Yorkshire pig.
-Lovely. How does that make you feel?
-Oh, it's very proud, very proud.
Despite their recent decline,
it's hybrids of the breed that are used by the large-scale producers to
They're big pigs, aren't they?
-And here in Yorkshire the pure bred Large Whites are in safe hands.
Ron's son, David, is building up the herd to help preserve them.
We've seen that there's going to be a real problem
because people just aren't breeding them,
so there's a few of us that are just trying to get them out and get
them spread throughout the country.
Do you keep them because they're a good pig or because
they're Yorkshire pigs and you're a Yorkshireman?
It's a bit of both, really.
I mean, there's pride in it that they are a Yorkshire breed and we
are based in Yorkshire, so what better pig to keep?
Yorkshire's local breeds have spread their influence
far beyond the farmyard.
Bred here in the 1860s for hunting,
the Airedale terrier became a hero of the First World War.
They were trained to find wounded soldiers and carry messages.
But it's one of the world's smallest stocks that's the best known
Yorkshire breed of all.
So, why have you chosen to keep Yorkshire terriers?
Because they're a nice little dog. The hairs don't drop out.
Come on. And they're sporting. She does the ratting.
And very good at ratting.
And this little one that's hanging back...
Come on, mate. I use her for my deerstalking.
She finds all the deer and the rabbits that I shoot.
Really? So they're proper little working dogs, then.
-Proper working dogs.
-And how did they come about?
Why Yorkshire terriers in Yorkshire?
Well, they were bred initially for keeping the rat population down in
-And there would have been a lot of mills round here.
Hundreds. Hundreds of mills.
And I suppose, as a little dog,
they can get into all the nooks and crannies.
Yes, and they're lightning quick as well.
They have got a bit of a reputation as being a handbag breed.
Have they been bred smaller for that?
Yes. An old lady's dog.
But they're not. They're very, very game little dogs.
They would tackle any dog when they're out on a walk.
With or without the ribbons in their hair.
They've got a big attitude for a little animal.
They have got a big attitude.
They're very sweet, aren't they?
They can be a bit snappy, though, can't they?
This one's never bitten anybody yet.
-Always a first time!
-There's always a first time.
Tiny dogs, enormous pigs, versatile workhorses.
Yorkshire has given us so much.
But, for me, this is the image that defines the county.
A man, a dog and a flock of Swaledale sheep.
The romance and the grit of farming in Yorkshire.
Working side-by-side with farmers like Roy,
the rural vet has been an invaluable service for hundreds of years.
But it wasn't until the 20th century that one vet in particular reached a
So who was the real man behind James Herriot?
Why did he love this county so much that he felt compelled
to put pen to paper?
No-one knows the answers better than his daughter, Rosie Page.
I'm meeting her at a very special place to her and her father,
Sutton Bank near Thirsk.
This is such an incredible spot, Rosie.
What can we see from up here?
Yeah, I think it's incredible too and so did my dad.
We're looking right over the plain of York here.
From a very breezy point about 1,000 feet up.
You can see almost from York to Darlington from here.
One of the finest views in England, I think, this.
You look over what was his practice, basically,
all his best memories were up here.
He used to take us as kids to climb trees,
to press flowers and we had a whale of a time,
but this whole escarpment was very special to him.
The spot was so special to the family that, when Alf passed away in
1995, his ashes were scattered here overlooking his
beloved Vale of York.
What kind of man was your dad?
He was gentle, good-natured, didn't often see him in a bad temper.
He was the observer in life, usually.
His books were, I think, observing other people rather than himself
-and their animals.
-And yet, even in interviews that he gave,
he didn't really talk about...
He didn't mention his name or where he was from.
-Was he a very private man, your dad?
-Extremely private man.
He thought, fondly,
that nobody would find out who he was or where he lived.
Staying out of the limelight was important to Alf.
He didn't plan to be famous and was happy to continue being a vet.
Something made much easier with a pen name.
I was watching a football match and James Herriot
was playing for Birmingham.
He was the goalkeeper. He played such a good game that night,
and I thought, "By Jove, what a nice name, James Herriot."
And just at that time, I was looking desperately for a nice-sounding name
to use as my pseudonym.
What inspired him to write the books?
Well, he had these wonderful characters to write about.
He had the Yorkshire farmers, who were characters in themselves.
But then he had these heaven sent characters in Donald Sinclair,
Siegfried and Brian Sinclair's brother, Tristan.
And there were so many funny stories that he used to tell about them,
that it would have been a shame not to write them down.
I wanted to start writing funny books.
I wanted to tell people about Yorkshire,
about the beauties of the Yorkshire Dales.
And I also wanted to tell them about the sad and touching things
that there are in veterinary practice.
Triplets, eh? Oh, he's lively.
Look at him.
Do you have a favourite story?
I have several favourite stories.
I love them. But the ones that always
make me laugh the most are that first book.
They were what Dad thought were his best stories.
-And, of course, he had the ability to make you laugh out loud.
And I remember reading them and watching the TV and having the audio
tape as well. And they are very accessible.
I was a child when I read them.
And I remember this one story about
him going off to treat a cow that had
mastitis and it says here...
"One second later, I was sitting gasping in the dung channel with a
"neat imprint of a cloven hoof on my shirt front
"just over the solar plexus."
"And then the farmer replies, 'She allus likes to shake hands.'"
Brilliant. Very witty but very accessible.
What would you say is your dad's legacy?
His books brought such joy to millions of people.
He sort of touched their hearts and he made them laugh.
He made them feel better.
So I'd love to think that that legacy could be passed on to a
generation who've missed it.
Alf didn't just make a difference to his readers
but also closer to home, to the animals he looked after.
It's what vets and those who work with animals
do every day in Britain.
Even though it comes with its challenges.
As Joe found out in Sussex a while ago.
When there's an emergency,
the crew of this ambulance are ready for anything.
But it's not a human casualty we're attending
because this is a wildlife ambulance.
The East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service was the brainchild
of Trevor Weeks and, with around 50 emergency calls a week,
it's a full-time job.
Casualties happen 24 hours a day,
seven days a week, 365 days of the year.
So, whether you want your Christmas dinner with family,
you've got to take into consideration
that the phone could ring and you're going to have to go.
The centre deals with 2,000 to 3,000 animals a year.
There's all sorts of wildlife here, great and small.
From poorly pigeons to helpless hedgehogs.
East Sussex Wildlife Rescue.
The ambulance has been called out to something big,
a fallow deer stag has got its
antlers tangled up in some tough nylon rope
on a farmer's field and the animal is very distressed.
So Trevor has to act fast.
Once you've caught that animal,
you've got to get it basically either sedated or released within
Otherwise, you're technically looking at an animal that's going
-to have a heart attack.
So it's putting stress on the animal?
Yes, they're very highly strung animals.
Call-outs like this are rare so, when they do happen,
they require expert handling.
-There we go.
Yeah, he's just down there.
We'll keep our distance and we'll wait for the
rest of the team to arrive.
Got to be treated with respect, it's quite dangerous.
You are talking a dangerous situation here.
We are looking at him being caught
halfway along a long stretch of rope.
OK, so the net at full stretch.
-So, try and go in?
-Do you want to come round the back next to the legs?
OK. That's fine.
The first challenge is to pin the animal to the ground.
Keep it steady. Pull it tight.
-Can I have a blanket?
-Over his eyes.
Over his head completely. Step back, step back.
The blanket should calm the stag down
but it's still rough and tumble.
Trevor has to draw on 30 years of experience with wildlife to get the
animal under control.
Do you want Chris to come round the far side for an extra pair of hands?
-Just hold on.
-Watch the feet.
Cover his head completely.
Let's start cutting away, please.
Cut that one.
Yeah, cut that one.
-That's it, you're doing well.
-It's an incredible sound.
Very guttural. It's quite stressed.
The idea is to do this as quickly as possible.
They've got him pinned down and they've got a blanket
covering his eyes.
To try to calm him down but now they've got to hack through all
this rope and there is a lot of it.
Clearly, the deer has really become entwined in this over some time
perhaps. They've got to work as
quickly as possible to free him without doing him any damage.
Something's caught round there. What's this one?
That's the one that he's lying on. OK.
Joe, can you walk towards the net and
bring it round to my left so it comes
underneath his leg, if you can?
-Back over his legs?
-No, just keep it at that angle.
-Right, we're almost free.
-Not quite, not quite.
It's this one down here you're caught on.
OK, you've got that away.
Leave my blankets in place.
So if you can clear out.
Purple blanket away.
This is the really tricky moment.
The deer's completely free now, it's been cut loose.
Thankfully, there are no injuries but this is the most difficult time.
Sorry, can I have the meds bag? I'm just going to listen to his chest.
This is the point that he's got to be set free.
But first, I think he's doing a quick health check.
He's going to listen to his heart and see what condition he's in and
how stressed he is.
OK, back off from the area.
I'll clear the rest up afterwards.
-Pick the rest up afterwards.
What an incredible sight!
That is textbook animal rescue.
-That was amazing.
-You must be very happy with that?
That's what you do rescue work for, at the end of the day,
to get them back to the wild, where they belong.
Within an hour of us getting the call, it's released.
Amazing work. Well done, well done!
Time for a cup of tea.
I'm in Yorkshire, exploring the life and legacy of Alf Wight,
better known as James Herriot.
By the time his tales of life in the Dales had become an international
hit, Alf had been a vet in Thirsk for more than 30 years.
But what was the job like when he started out?
I've come to his original practice to meet his son and former partner,
Jim Wight, to find out.
-How nice to meet you.
-Thanks, you too.
Jim, it's the actual phone!
I've got to do this, forgive me.
Darrowby 385. I've always wanted to do that!
The house and surgery where he lived and worked has been painstakingly
restored - a time capsule of the life of a busy vet
in 1940s Yorkshire.
Now, this was your family home, wasn't it, Jim?
The whole building doubled up as a
family home and a veterinary practice
because there was very little dog and cat work.
It was an agricultural practice so this was what they used to call our
best room if we had visitors.
It also doubled up as the office
with the old-fashioned typewriter there.
The farmers would come here on a Monday to pay the bills.
-It was market day.
And the pubs were open all day.
What was veterinary work like back in the '40s?
Massively different. It was 90-95% agricultural work,
cows, pigs, sheep.
There was one job that took up much of Alf's time.
People were dying of TB through drinking
tuburculous milk off infected cows.
That's how my dad was introduced to the Yorkshire Dales and that is
why my father and his partner,
Donald Sinclair, better known as Siegfried,
they went up there to do to tuberculin testing
but it was a hard life.
Every animal had to be tested - dairy cattle, calves,
wild animals off the fells, off the moors.
He had to travel 30 miles up there in a car with no brakes, no heater,
holes in the floor.
-He used to arrive up there and his words were,
"stupefied with cold."
So, physical work, really, wasn't it?
He always used to say, James Herriot said in his books,
his work was harder but more fun.
'The sitting room holds row upon row of Alf's favourite books and the
'tankard that was used as the office till for many years still sits on
'But it's round the corner that the real tricks of the trade
This is incredible, like a vet's apothecary.
This was the days when my father first started here,
when the vets made their own medicines up.
We've got all these balances and weighs and they all had their own
recipes. A lot of these medicines here did no good whatsoever
but the vet had to do something.
-Universal Cattle Medicine, UCM,
if you see the old vet day books, they're always saying,
"visit cow, dispense UCM",
so the vet doesn't know what's wrong with it but he knows that the UCM is
-going to cure it.
-It's kind of a placebo,
except the animals don't know.
Castor oil, the worst thing that happened was a stoppage.
Farmers called it opening medicine.
The old vet in Glasgow said to my dad,
"One of the secrets of veterinary practice is,
"keep the bowels open and trust the rest to God!"
There was other things, like, on
wounds, they would put turpentine on top of
iodine crystals. There would be a
great explosion of purple clouds, which
looked really good. This was the final,
the piece de resistance for the vet.
Utterly fantastic but it did no good whatsoever but the vet got
a lot of credit.
All our treatments were steeped in black magic and witchcraft and,
of course, that was one of the things that motivated me to write.
The treatment's so funny.
I often think, when science comes in the door,
the fun flies out of the window.
As well as the lotions and potions,
the vets of Alf's day had some rather primitive tools, too.
Oh, it's quite cosy in here.
Are these the implements that were used?
Yeah, these are a real blast from the past.
-They look slightly torturous, don't they?
is what my father used multiple, multiple times.
It's called the probang.
In those days, cows were often fed chopped potatoes, chopped mangels,
chopped turnips and sometimes these things would lodge in the gullet.
The cow blows up like a balloon and, if she gets really big,
she'll die because the pressure on the chest is such that the cow will
asphyxiate, so what does the vet do?
He puts that into the cow's mouth.
Oh, my goodness!
He puts this probang through there and he pushes the probang
down the gullet.
The full length of this?
He pushes it down until he'll feel the obstruction
and then, very gently, you tap the obstruction down, down,
down and, eventually, of course, it goes into the stomach.
You have released the obstruction
and it's very satisfying because you see the cow,
this enormous bloated animal, just goes like a deflated balloon.
An almighty belch?
You just watch it going right down.
Very, very satisfying.
It's such a fascinating insight into your dad's life and work.
Going around with my father from the age of three...
..to watch him doing all these things was a huge adventure.
Getting up close and personal with all creatures great and small
was Alf's bread and butter.
And, as John found out one Christmas in Gloucestershire,
sometimes, it's the little ones you have to watch out for.
Winter can be a hard time for a lot of British wildlife and this
prickly little fellow finds it particularly tough.
A hedgehog. He should be sleeping away the cold winter months
in hibernation but, like many others like him,
his calendar is a bit out of kilter.
The trouble is, hedgehogs often have a second and even third litter
of babies, known as hoglets, in late summer.
But when the weather starts to turn,
Mum goes into hibernation and the late arrivals are left
to fend for themselves.
Many of the youngsters haven't built up enough fat reserves in time
for the cold weather.
So, if they try to hibernate, they might never wake up.
Luckily, they're determined little creatures and, when it comes to
Christmas wishes, they've got quite a list.
Mary Hinton can fulfil some of those wishes.
She's a volunteer with Help A Hedgehog and her garage,
a few minutes from Westonbirt, doubles up as a hospital.
This one was found out in the day in a road.
When he first came in, he was only 355g,
so hedgehogs have to be 600g to have a safe chance of hibernating.
You weigh him in a food bowl?
Yes. Yes, just on a domestic pair of scales.
This is what people could do at home.
He is 605g so he's above danger level now?
-605, so this one has done very well,
it's now up to a safe weight.
So, top of the Christmas wishes list for hedgehogs is a nice fat tummy.
That means lots of lovely food.
So, in hedgehog terms, he's getting quite chubby now?
-What do you feed them on?
Basically, we do a mixture of wet cat food, non-fishy,
and we mix up that with dried mealworms,
which they're absolutely addicted to, so that's a bit of a treat.
Also, little cat biscuits and we mix that altogether and that gives them
a good mixture, a good range in their diet.
What shouldn't you feed them?
-You shouldn't give them bread and milk.
It's a complete fallacy because hedgehogs are actually lactose
intolerant so actually it makes them very, very poorly and can kill them.
Hedgehogs are tenacious characters, which often gets them
into a spot of bother.
In some cases, they need more than a good meal to put them right.
That's why another perfectly ordinary home has been transformed
into a life-saving facility for hedgehogs in need.
This bungalow also provides high-rise living for 53 hedgehogs.
That's a record number for another helper, the festively named
-Shall I hold him?
We want to... Come on.
Even the tiniest hedgehogs get 5-star treatment right here
in Carol's kitchen.
This is a special milk.
Milk? I thought you weren't supposed to give them milk.
But it is special, it is puppy milk that we feed the hogs.
Oh, there we go. Yes, he's got the hang of it now.
Well, he's really enjoying that, isn't he?
So this is a kind of emergency unit here, is it?
It is the intensive care unit in here.
Mainly because little ones need such constant care.
What's wrong with this one here?
That is our strimmer injury.
Here's an object lesson to be very careful when you're out
in the garden.
-Because it's easy to give a hedgehog a haircut
without really intending it.
That's right. He's been on antibiotics for a week.
He's also got round worm so he's actually on medicines
for that as well.
So, how do you see the future for hedgehogs,
because we keep hearing they're in a bad way in the wild?
Well, it's said that, by 2025,
there won't be any hedgehogs as we know it now.
Do you believe that?
I do actually because there is just so many things...
Oh, sorry, that was a really big bite.
Look at that!
No, no, no.
He's obviously got a little bit fed up.
We'll put you back in there.
Hedgehogs are a threat to me now,
I don't know about humans being a threat to hedgehogs!
Good job you had your gloves on!
Talk about biting the hand that feeds!
But this little fellow will survive to join the dwindling hedgehog
population, down to just under a million today,
compared to an estimated 30 million in the 1950s.
So, it's a good job that people like Carol are able to do their bit.
But there's one more Christmas wish that you can help with.
So, if you come across a tiny hedgehog like this that's obviously
underweight, best to try and keep it warm
and then call someone like Carol or Mary to get help.
But should you find a fully grown hedgehog that's hibernating cosily
somewhere safe, just leave it in peace.
That's the best Christmas present any hedgehog could have.
The 1970s were a time of huge success for James Herriot,
the author, while Alf continued life as a vet.
It's a funny smelling stuff, this.
His adventures hit our TV screens with a BBC programme,
All Creatures Great and Small,
and it made a star of Christopher Timothy, who played him.
As a big fan myself,
I wanted to find out what it was like and I'm meeting him
somewhere he should feel right at home.
Does this all feel familiar, coming back to a farm?
Well, yeah, but I did visit farms prior to being a vet.
-To being James Herriot?
I grew up in North Wales so the smell of cow poo is one of my favourite smells.
And that's a fact.
I've got to declare my absolute dedication to the programme.
I used to love All Creatures Great and Small,
it was compulsory viewing for me,
and I can even remember how your wife answered the phone,
-I remember that.
-You remember the number?
Hello, Darrowby 385.
Yes. Hello, Mr Mellis.
What was it like for you working on that really important series?
It was a gift from heaven.
I arrived in Yorkshire, not knowing it very well and, suddenly,
this glorious, glorious countryside
and these amazing people who say it like it is.
It's not often, or not always, what you want to hear,
but at least you know it comes from the heart and it's true.
Straight-talking Yorkshiremen, that's what you mean, isn't it?
How did you prepare for the role as a vet because you were working with
real animals, weren't you?
I spent a week with a real vet in Leyburn called Jack Watkinson
who became a dear, dear friend.
I arrived at this house wearing faded denim,
because I thought that's what you wear when you play the lead
in a television series, and a pair of white moccasins
and when Jack arrived at the house to meet me,
I saw his face fall and I went out on all his calls, all of them.
He'd wake me up sometimes in the morning at four and say,
"You did say to wake you up?"
So we used to get out in the morning as dawn was breaking.
Oh, goodness, he really put you through your paces?
It was, without exception,
as much as I adored playing James for all those years and everything,
it was the best week of the whole job.
Christopher's early training would come in handy episode after episode.
Didn't you, in the series, deliver a foal?
Yes, it was a story whereby Siegfried and James both went out
to a foaling and the foal that James delivered is born dead.
There's the head, David. There's the head.
Can you get the cowl off?
I was used to delivering calves, I'd never done a foal before,
standing up. And I knew that the legs were there and there.
Lying down, they were in a different place, so I forgot that.
So, I was really getting a bit uptight about it
and out came this beautiful foal.
It is an extraordinary moment and then, almost immediately,
they brought in a dead foal and I had to pretend to give it
the kiss of life but the actual joy of the birth was...
-Never got over it.
-Stays with you...
-That sort of thing, yeah.
That's laminated tissue,
she's got haemorrhages under the soles.
The TV show introduced Herriot's stories to a new audience,
many of whom were so inspired by the programme they signed up to become
It soon picked up the attention of the press and became known as the
People used to stop me and say, "Excuse me,
"I'm sorry to trouble you, but I am now a vet and I'm a vet because of you."
The bottom line is Herriot is responsible
-and we were just the messengers, weren't we, really?
-I suppose so.
Which is incredible.
And what did Alf think of his alter ego's performance?
I was in hospital with a badly broken leg and he wrote to me
and he said very nice things and my biggest regret
is that I lost the letter.
-Oh, what a shame.
-Well, I framed it and put it near the front door
so everybody who came to the house would see.
Yes! It was part of the grand tour of the house.
He was very, very complimentary and I was very relieved.
The way we treat and understand animals has changed dramatically
since the boom days of the Herriot effect.
It's down to the passion of those who dedicate their lives to helping
them, as I found out on a trip to Nottinghamshire last year.
We use them for recreation, a gentle canter in the country,
some people work the land with them.
But bio-mechanics - pilates for horses -
apparently, it's something every rider should know.
And it starts with some colouring in.
This might look like an unusual art class but there's a serious reason
for painting on this horse.
Horse therapist Gillian Higgins isn't teaching art.
She's teaching anatomy.
-Gillian, how are you doing?
-Good to meet you.
What are you painting here?
Well, this is Derby.
I'm painting the muscles on the side of Derby's body so
we can really see what's going on inside when he moves later on.
-Can I have a little go at some colouring in?
-Yeah, of course.
Absolutely. So what you're painting here is the muscle called the
longissimus dorsi muscle
and this muscle is the one that we actually sit on
when we're riding and it runs either side of the length
of our spine and, quite often, people get back pain,
it would be in the longissimus dorsi muscle.
It takes quite a lot of paint, doesn't it, to get it on?
-It does, yes.
-You must get through a lot.
The paint is washable and doesn't harm the horse.
What it does do is give us a picture
of how the animal's bones and muscles flex when we ride them.
And that's important to understand because horses weren't designed to
carry us. The stresses we put them under can give them back problems
and bad posture, just like us.
Why have you got me dressed like this, Gillian?
Well, just like with the horse posture,
rider posture is really important as well.
Posture and position and, when you're wearing that skeleton suit,
we can really see how your bones are on the inside.
-Of course, how you sit will affect how the horse moves.
As soon as you sit on the horse,
we're adding weight onto the horse's back and, actually,
to help reduce the burden that we place on the back,
it's important that we maintain a really good balance and posture
position so that they're comfortable and perform well.
Put your left foot...
I'm not an experienced rider but I am keen to see how this works.
Well done. That's good.
OK, so thinking about your general posture.
-You'd sit up nice and tall, wouldn't you?
So that's better already. You're sitting up much taller.
You want to imagine a balloon attached to the back of your head,
pulling you up really tall.
Gillian has spotted many potential problems this way,
and she's put them right by using a very human solution.
She's devised a set of stretching exercises for horses based on Pilates.
But how do you get a horse to do Pilates?
This is a really good exercise for stimulating the abdominal muscles,
that I've painted on here in pink, and the hip flexors.
It's really important to make sure that your horse is happy
for you to be around the back end before you get started.
I'm pretty confident with him.
Just come up to the back end. Just give him a bit of a rub here to say,
"Are you all right with that, Smoky?"
He seems absolutely fine.
What I'll do is just gently change that from a flat hand to a scratch.
To give him a nice feeling, as if they're having a good itch.
-He likes that. And then he should start rounding his back up,
contracting his abdominal muscles, his hip flexors.
And you might see the saddle's gone up as well.
-A perfect response.
The next exercise involves a little bribery.
I'm going to stand on the other side so you can see what's happening.
And you should notice that, as I move his head,
it will get him to contract his abdominal muscles
and his back will round up.
So I'm going to come and stand by his shoulder here.
I'm going to use the first carrot. Here we go, Smoky.
Stand still. First carrot to get him to lower his head down.
And then the second carrot to take his head back.
And there you should see he's recruiting his abdominal muscles
and really rounding his back up.
Oh, good boy, Smoky.
-He likes that carrot.
Well done. The human equivalent of this exercise would us be doing...
-A bit of a stomach crunch, yeah.
-Good boy. Absolutely.
-A little cheeky reward along the way.
Gillian's also created routines to help improve performance
and uses them to train amateur owners
as well as professional eventers,
like Fiona Davidson, who's now taken over in the skeleton suit.
What about with jump work?
Well, Fiona's now just about to go through this grid that we've set up.
So the design of it is different fences, different shapes,
and they're all different distances to get Smoky up in the air,
powerfully using his body.
And you'll see, as she comes through here,
just how much movement there is in his skeleton
and just how much power's required to get him over those fences.
-That's a big fence coming out.
-That's really impressive, isn't it?
The range of movement, just to get over that fence.
-The whole body...
-..is really being tested.
Absolutely. He's done a very, very good job.
Patchwork farms and ancient moors.
I'm here learning about Alf Wight,
the man behind the James Herriot books that put Yorkshire
and its farmers on the map. But what of his surgery?
Well, it may have moved house, but it's still going strong in Thirsk.
Peter Wright is one of the partners in the practice today
but was trained as a young man by Alf himself.
Let's go on your rounds.
So you trained with Alf?
-What was that like?
Within two hours of being there,
if they said, "Look, bring your sleeping bag
"and sleep in one of the consulting rooms at night,"
I probably wouldn't have left.
I just liked the whole thing about the work, the atmosphere,
the challenges, the variety.
Being out in the open air.
So it was just phenomenal, as far as I was concerned.
It was exactly what I wanted, I knew straightaway.
But times have certainly changed for rural vets.
A lot of the family farms are disappearing.
The children don't want to go into farming because...
..there's no money to be made at it.
When Peter started out,
there were more than 50 dairy herds in the area.
Now there are just three.
The modern-day vets now, that are predominantly small animal,
they tend to be standing consulting all day long.
But it would be wrong to say there aren't some of the same perks
there used to be working in this wonderful countryside.
All around me was the beautiful Yorkshire moors.
I used to stop the car and get out
and let the breeze blow under my shirt
and look over this wonderful panorama.
I say to people that come to work for us in Thirsk,
Thirsk's the centre of the world!
So has it got easier, then,
as technology and techniques and medicine has improved?
Nowadays, veterinary surgeons, young veterinary surgeons,
rely more on laboratory assessments, on X-rays,
on ultrasound scans and this sort of thing.
But as my old boss used to say,
there is nothing to beat a good clinical examination.
An ethos that seemed to have passed on to Alf, too.
In the immortal words of my partner, Siegfried,
there's more to be learned up a cow's backside
than in many an encyclopaedia.
And this is literally true.
I'm in Yorkshire, exploring the life and legacy
of the world's most famous vet, Alf Wight,
better known to millions of us as James Herriot.
Although times have changed,
Skeldale Surgery still has his farmers on its books.
Here we are.
Today, John Swales needs a hand pregnancy testing
some of his pedigree heifers
and Julian, Peter's partner in the practice, is already on site.
It's all go here, John, isn't it?
-Yeah, it certainly is.
-Tell me about this breed that you've got here.
-At one time, they were classed as very, very wild.
We've bred the nastiness out of them, if you like.
So today, you're hoping that each one of these is in calf?
They haven't told me anything any different yet.
We'll find out. The moment of truth shortly.
You knew Alf Wight, didn't you?
-Have you got fond memories?
Very fond, yes.
He was a gentleman.
When I was starting in farming, he always had time to explain things.
He didn't tell you just what the problem was but he told you why,
and then, of course, you learned things.
So he helped you become a more knowledgeable farmer?
Thank you, Josh. That's brilliant.
And it looks like John's grandson, Joshua, is benefiting
from the know-how of a new generation of vet.
That's a calf there, look.
-That little white thing that looks like a kidney bean.
That's about six weeks.
There may be a lot more technology around than in Alf's day
but the vet's most useful tool will always be a steady arm.
The scanner probe looks through into the cow's uterus
and tells me whether there's a calf in there or not.
She is well and truly in calf.
So that's good news for her.
And you can't use this ultrasound from the outside,
you have to do an internal to get the image?
That's right, a rectal probe.
A cow's abdomen is too big to put the scanner on the outside,
-like you would with a human baby.
They're big animals and you need to be inside to do it.
Nowadays, it's a bit easier
cos we've got the benefit of modern technology
but, as you can see, you know,
we're just as plastered in mess as Alf would have been,
even without the benefit of modern equipment.
Just as it was back then.
-And did the James Herriot effect work on you?
Very much so. I was a young kid
watching the television series in the '70s and '80s
and it was really what set me on the path towards being a vet.
Our practice is probably as close as you can get
to the Herriot way of working
and it's a great privilege to be part of that.
And time for the news that all farmers want to hear.
So John's been waiting on this news.
So far, what success rate have you got?
So far, everything's good. We've been to about six or seven cows
and they're all pregnant.
So the bull's obviously been working and this is good news.
It's a really nice, good-quality suckler herd
that John's got here and it's important for him
that his cows are pregnant.
-So far, it's looking good.
-100% success rate, John, how about that?
-I hope so, yeah.
-How do you feel about that?
-That's what you wanted to hear today?
That's what it's all about.
So much has changed since James Herriot first arrived in Yorkshire
in 1940 - farming, being a vet, the way we live and work.
But his wonderful stories full of humour and humanity will live on,
inspiring future generations. HE WHISTLES, DOG PANTS
Come on, then.
Are we going home, then, eh? Are we going home? Come on, then.
Next week, Anita will be exploring an area of the countryside
that's close to her heart and we'll be taking a trip down memory lane
with some famous faces to their favourite places.
To find out where, you'll have to join us then.
See you next week. Bye-bye.
Ellie Harrison is in Thirsk in Yorkshire to celebrate a special anniversary. It's one hundred years since the birth of arguably the world's most famous vet. Friends and family knew him as Alf White, but for the rest of us, he will always be James Herriot. Ellie meets both his daughter and his son, as well as the vets running his practice today. She learns of the landscapes and people that inspired James Herriot's books and finds out what life was really like for a rural vet. She meets actor Christopher Timothy, who played James Herriot in the television series All Creatures Great and Small, a programme loved by millions during the 70s and 80s, including a young Ellie Harrison. Plus a look back through the Countryfile archive, rediscovering the many people who dedicate their time and efforts to helping animals. Like the time John Craven met the team giving hedgehogs a helping hand through Christmas and the winter months, the dramatic moment Joe Crowley assisted a stag caught up in fencing, and when Ellie met the woman who paints horses to help others understand them!