We catch up with The Yorkshire Vet, Peter Wright
by Chloe McLaughlin
The Channel 5 hit show The Yorkshire Vet has everything you could possibly want from a TV show. It follows life in James Herriot’s former practice as the vets treat animals great and small, following the joys and heartbreaks of a country vet, all set in the heart of Yorkshire.
The show has proved a huge hit and has thrust the vets at Skedale Veterinary Practice in Thirsk firmly into the limelight including Peter Wright. Born and bred near Thirsk, Peter worked with the infamous Alf Wight and Donald Sinclair (the real life James Herriot and Siegfried) and has been working as a vet in Thirsk for ‘longer than he cares to admit’. Now, he’s written a book, The Yorkshire Vet: In The Footsteps of Herriot.
“I wasn’t going to write a book initially because I consider myself to be very boring!” Peter laughs, “It was suggested by many people I should do one and somebody said to me, ‘How often do people have a chance to write a book about themselves?’ and I thought, ‘well, that’s true, I’ll have a go.’
The book tells Peter’s own life story and is filled with memories and anecdotes.
“I could never act to save my life, so I’m afraid what you see is what you get”
“It’s quite an experience, racking your memory and going back over 50 years. I grew up in a world that’s very different from how it is now.” Peter smiles, “We used to make our own entertainment in those days – climbing trees, building dens, poaching trout from local streams – we didn’t have social media back then. I had an idyllic childhood as a country boy – spending my time on the farm where my Grandfather was farm manager. I look back with very fond memories of befriending the cattle on the farm and so I’ve always had this love of farming and animals generally, right from the word go.”
But, despite his love of animals, Peter didn’t always have aspirations to be a vet. In fact, it was only a meeting with a careers advisor that placed the idea in his mind:
“I was very keen on sport at school and that was a priority.” Peter explains, “It was only when it came to sixth form and The Head of Careers asked ‘what are you going to do Peter?’ and I thought ‘I don’t know!’
“He suggested dentistry and the thought filled me with horror – looking in people’s mouths all day isn’t for me and he said, ‘well, what about veterinary science?’ I hadn’t really thought about it. He had taught Jimmy Wight who was Alf Wight’s son and he said, ‘I know him very well, I’ll have a word with him.’ He paved the way for me to go and spend a day at Sinclair and Wight as it was then and within an hour of going through the door I thought this is fantastic! I loved the whole buzz of the place, I think it was the smell of the anaesthetic vapours and antiseptics. There were people going out to calf cows, other people operating on dogs and cats and I thought ‘woah, this is a brilliant life’! I was hooked from then on.”
To then be dumped in the middle of Liverpool city centre was a massive culture shock
Peter then went on to study at Liverpool University for five years which he admits was a huge culture shock:
“Being a country lad being brought up in a small village to then be dumped in the middle of Liverpool city centre was a massive culture shock for me but once I settled in I absolutely loved it.”
But while he did love his time in Liverpool he admits that he’s still a country boy at heart.
“When I wake up in the morning we have pet pheasants we feed that come to the bird table. I don’t have any human neighbours just sheep and wildlife. I’m lucky living where I do – we don’t get rich as country vets but we do have a fantastic lifestyle.”
Peter is living the very life described in the James Herriot books and he has fond memories of working with Alf Wight and Donald Sinclair:
“Alf was a lovely man. Donald was very different from Alf – they were both lovely men, lovely to work for and I learnt an awful lot from both of them but Donald was impatient and wildly eccentric whereas Alf was humble and quiet. He always said he was 95% country veterinary surgeon and 5% author. He loved his work. If you wanted advice from him as a young vet he would give it, he would never push it down your throat and his advice was always very useful.”
But the thing that sticks out to Peter about his former boss? When Alf went part-time and only worked Wednesdays and Fridays:
“There would be huge queues! Tourists came to Thirsk and bought his books and he’d see them all in the waiting room after we’d finished afternoon surgery. They’d queue 50 yards down the street, all clutching their books from all over the world! He’d see and make time for them all and sign all their books. He used to say, ‘well, people have made all this effort to come and see me, it’s the least I can do.’ He was a very kind man in that respect.”
Peter himself is now a famous vet and I wondered if he took some of Alf ’s kindness forward into his own dealings with the public.
“It’s bizarre getting seen and recognised! I was in India seeing the Taj Mahal and this chap tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘I know you from somewhere’ and as soon as I opened my mouth with my Yorkshire accent he went ‘oh, Yorkshire Vet!’ – He was Australian!
“When people meet us they say ‘oh, you’re just like you are on the television and I say to them, ‘I could never act to save my life, so I’m afraid what you see is what you get.’ What is particularly appealing is we have children as young as four right through to people in their 90s come to the surgery to see us. The huge age range that watches and enjoys the programme makes me so happy.”
Despite being a TV star, Peter’s main job is still very much that of a country vet which means dealing with the emotional as well as the scientific and Peter believes empathy is extremely important:
“In a community like ours you can never just look at it from a scientific angle. I know a lot of the clients and you can’t separate the empathy from the science. I had a case recently where this little old lady brought her cat in and the cat wasn’t well and was getting on in years and she thought it needed a worming tablet. When I examined the cat, I could feel a huge cancerous lump and you’ve got to breach that gap from a lady thinking her only companion just needs a worming tablet to saying look, we’re going to lose her very soon, and I find it increasingly difficult to give people bad news as I get older. Maybe it’s because I’m more vulnerable but I do hate giving bad news. Conversely, I do love giving people good news!”
Peter believes it’s vital to consider the humans involved:
“Some people get embarrassed when they are upset at losing one of their pets and I say, ‘this is your family, you have a right to be upset and I’d be more concerned if you show no emotion as that would tell me they don’t mean anything to you.’”
It’s evident that Peter loves Yorkshire, it’s people and its animals and he admits he feels very lucky: “I have a fantastic variety of life at work and I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world – I never lose sight of that or how I feel about that.”
The Yorkshire Vet airs on Channel 5 and his book is available from Amazon.