1930s Glasgow was gripped hard by the Depression and Young James Herriot draws a striking contrast between the misery on the streets and the indolence of well-heeled students spinning out their time at veterinary college.
"My father's parents weren't on the poverty line, but they didn't have money to throw about," says Wight. "My grandfather was a shipbuilder on the Clyde, but he had another trick up his sleeve because he was a professional musician. Glasgow was a very cultured city and my grandfather used to give recitals in cinemas and playhouses.
“My grandmother was a seamstress – she made wedding dresses for some very wealthy people – so, unusually for the times, she had her own income as well. My father was an only child and they had great ambitions for him. He went from his local primary school to Hill Head High School, one of the top fee-paying schools in Glasgow."
As a reward for passing the exams for Hill Head, the young Alf Wight was given a dog, an Irish setter called Don. "It was Don who sparked his interest in animals and nature. If you read his diaries, every spare minute was spent out on the hills around Glasgow with Don.
“Then he saw an advert in the Meccano magazine from the President of the Royal College of Veterinary Medicine. It was talking about a career as a vet. And my father thought, "Hey, that's for me!"
The fact Alf Wight had no aptitude for science was no bar to his chosen career. "Nowadays,” points out Wight, "there are three or four thousand applications for 30 or 40 places on a veterinary medicine course. The competition is unbelievable.
“My dad was hopeless at sciences and maths – actually almost educationally sub-normal at maths – but he was very good at the arts and he sailed into Glasgow veterinary college with three Higher leaving certificates in English, French and Latin."
While the plotlines of Young James Herriot are largely fictional, the atmosphere and character of “young James” are drawn directly from diaries Alf Wight kept from boyhood through to his second year in college. The sense of the future author as “an innocent abroad” rings entirely true to his son.
"Wine, women and song hit my father overnight at Glasgow vet college. He writes in his diary about going to what they called a 'college smoker' and says ‘I found some of the wisecracks and stories a bit astonishing!’
“You can imagine it, because he'd come from this god-fearing, non-drinking, non-smoking family into this wild, unruly place where he'd spend all afternoon playing cards at the back of lectures or going to the dog tracks. But he adjusted very quickly."