A Yorkshire-based vet is getting used to being a household name after starring in a documentary about his working life.

Julian Norton
Set to be a star: Julian Norton is the Yorkshire Vet in the documentary. Photo credit: © Daisybeck Studios Ltd 2015.

Julian Norton of Skeldale Veterinary Centre in Thirsk, Yorkshire, appears in documentary The Yorkshire Vet, which is running on Channel 5.

The six-part series, which started on September 15, follows Mr Norton, his business partner Peter Right and their team as they administer medical and surgical aid each day.

Skeldale Veterinary Centre was the “real life” practice of Alf Wight, author of the James Herriot books, which recounted his time as a vet in the 1940s with his business partner and fellow vet Donald Sinclair (who was depicted as Siegfried Farnon in the books).

Mr Wight’s books made him a household name and something of a star. Now, Mr Norton and his team are experiencing fame in their own right, as the documentary plays out over six episodes.

The practice had been approached by television companies before, but had always declined offers to make a documentary – until now.

“Initially, we said no, then we thought, in fact, it might be quite a good thing to be involved with,” Mr Norton said. “We’ve got a decent practice here and we like to think we do things to a good standard and felt we were in a good position to show ourselves off.

“We also thought it would be good for the area, because of the Herriot heritage in Thirsk. When Alf Wight was writing his books, it was a real big boost to the town, but that has died off a bit now. So we thought the documentary would be positive for the area as well as the practice,” he said.

As well as raising the profile of the practice, the team thought the experience would be a unique and entertaining way to spend some time over the summer, which, according to Mr Norton, it was. “It has been hard work, but largely been quite good fun,” he said.

Filming started in April and went on until September.

Speaking to Veterinary Times before the documentary aired, Mr Norton said the prospect of appearing on TV was daunting.

“We’ve seen the trailers on Channel 5, and it is not very comfortable seeing a great big picture of yourself on the television. We knew it was coming, but we hadn’t really prepared ourselves for what it was going to be like. It’s rather weird,” he said.

While the team knew Channel 5 was going to run with the title The Yorkshire Vet, it transpired they wanted someone in the show to be the titular vet, and it ended up being Mr Norton.

“They are trying to make this connection between me and James Herriot and Peter, as the senior vet, the sort of Donald Sinclair/Siegfried Farnon character.”

“We were expecting they would put a spin on the documentary. I mean it’s not quite like that (in the books) in the practice I don’t think, but viewers will make of it what they will,” Mr Norton said.

News of the documentary has spread quickly, with items appearing in the Radio and TV Times. There has also been interest from local and national media.

“It’s all becoming quite different to our normal routine work,” Mr Norton said.

The highlight of the experience, as far as Mr Norton was concerned, was the relationship the practice team built up with the camera crews.

“They were really helpful, lovely people. It was nice to make some new mates who we wouldn’t have met otherwise. The client liked them and when the crew goes, we will miss them.”

Daisybeck Studios chief executive and executive producer Paul Stead said the show captures a style of veterinary services in decline.

“Most vets in the UK specialise in either small animals or livestock, James Herriot’s former practice is one of the few that really do still cater for all creatures great and small. So to go with all the fluffy pets we’ve some hard core coverage of raw, rural care provided by Julian and his team for farmers and their cattle and we’re making a no holds barred honest account of the work that they do,” he said.

Actor Christopher Timothy who played James Herriot in the TV series All Creatures Great and Small, narrates the documentary.

  • The Yorkshire Vet airs on Channel 5 on Tuesdays from 8pm.
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