His heart-warming memoirs of life as a vet in Yorkshire are winning another generation of fans thanks to the new TV adaptation of All Creatures Great And Small.
But James Herriot would ‘turn in his grave’ if he could see British farming today, according to his son.
Jim Wight said his father would be championing local producers whose livelihoods – and indeed our glorious countryside – are at risk from post-Brexit trade deals.
Jim, who took over his father’s Yorkshire Dales vet practice, said cheap and inferior imports could be the final nail in the coffin for the dwindling number of family farms.
James Herriot (pictured) would ‘turn in his grave’ if he could see British farming today, according to his son, Jim Wight
Speaking of his dad – real name James ‘Alf’ Wight, Jim said: ‘He would be turning in his grave about the way his farming clients had all but disappeared and he’d be appalled about what is happening to farming today.
‘If James Herriot were alive, he would be right behind The Mail on Sunday’s Save Our Family Farms campaign.’
Alf Wight, who died in 1995, wrote about his bucolic life as a farm vet between the 1930s and 1950s.
The books were adapted for TV in the 1970s and 1980s by the BBC and are now back on the small screen again on Channel 5 with Nicholas Ralph in the starring role.
Critics are hailing the latest production as the perfect antidote to our troubled times.
Jim, 77, accompanied his father on farm visits from the age of three and now, only half-jokingly, claims he was a ‘fully qualified vet by the time I was five’.
He added: ‘In those days, farms were full of strong men. Now they are full of machines. I was always with these guys on the end of the rope, helping to pull a calf out.
Alf Wight wrote about his life as a farm vet between the 1930s and 1950s which were adapted for TV in the 1970s and 1980s by the BBC
‘It was great fun for a kid.
‘My father used to always say it was farmers whose company he enjoyed most. He spent most of his life with them.
‘It was a time when we served lots of family farms but now there are hardly any left. They are part of our population that we desperately need to support.’
Jim joined his father’s Thirsk practice in 1967 and, much like the opening scene of Herriot’s first book, If Only They Could Talk, would strip to the waist on cold winter nights to deliver breeched calves.
‘It was a macho profession back then,’ he recalled. ‘Although obstetrics – bringing animals into the world – was the best part of a vet’s life in those days.’
Over the decades, the number of family farms declined as it became harder to make a living from dairy cows.
Jim said: ‘When I joined, there were about 80 or 90 dairy herds in our practice.
‘Some of them only had 20 cows and one man milking them but they could still make a decent living. Nowadays, you have got to milk at least 200 to break even.’
By the time Jim retired in 2001, his world-famous 23 Kirkgate practice was looking after just two dairy farms.
Jim continues to be in awe of farmers’ resilience. ‘If a field full of spuds is rotten, who takes the loss?’ he asks.
‘The supermarket the farmer supplies certainly doesn’t. It’s the farmer who takes it on the chin all the time.
‘That’s why I have got this admiration and respect for them – they’re such a hardworking and resilient bunch.’
This newspaper has highlighted how the home-grown industry is at risk if foreign producers are allowed to undercut Britain’s farming and its superior welfare standards.
Jim said a US trade deal could even put the countryside at risk, including the Yorkshire Dales, affectionately known as Herriot Country.
Speaking of his dad – real name James ‘Alf’ Wight (pictured), Jim said he ‘would be turning in his grave’ and ‘appalled about what is happening to farming today’
He continued: ‘It isn’t just about the food farmers produce – they are the guardians of the countryside, the living breath of our country.
‘Without farmers, what the hell would the place look like?
‘All these American tourists – Herriot fans – used to come over and say, ‘Gee, what a wonderful, wonderful place you got here in the Yorkshire Dales.
‘But who makes them look so good? It’s the farmers and we’ve got to look after them. Boris Johnson has said that he’s going to support the farmers. I hope he does.’
Jim, who claims never to have bought foreign-bred pork, beef or lamb, fears trade deals could see the UK market opened up to products such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef from large-scale American feedlots.
He added: ‘They don’t have the same welfare standards as us and it means they can produce food more cheaply but it’s not as good quality.
‘It’s just not fair – buy British for heaven’s sake.’