James Herriot's Yorkshire
The Making of the Film
By the producer, David Nicholas Wilkinson
The making of James Herriot's Yorkshire parallels in many ways the success of Alf Wight's books.
When Alf's first book, If Only They Could Talk, was published in the UK, it sold just 2,000 copies. The second book, It Should Not Happen To A Vet, sold slightly more due to one good review in a national Sunday newspaper.
That would have probably been it and the world would not have known of James Herriot and his work but for a chance reading of his book by the wife of Tom McCormack, then President of St Martin's Press, in New York. She was totally absorbed by the book and could not put it down. On finishing it she insisted to her husband, "You have got to read this book!". Tom McCormack was unsure of its appeal to American readers but asked Alf to write "some chapters in which the hero, you, gets the girl". Alf did this and McCormack published both books in one volume entitling it All Creatures Great and Small.
The book went into the New York Times best seller list and sold 206,000 hard copies and 4.1 million in paperback. All Creatures Great and Small still holds the record as the most popular Reader's Digest condensed book in the series 46 year history. The books were then re-published in the UK following this success and sold in large quantities.
Despite the huge popularity of the books with the public, both the BBC and Yorkshire Television turned down the television rights not once but twice - at the princely sum of £1. It was the American company Time Life that saw the visual potential of the books and made two films All Creatures Great And Small and It Should Not Happen To A Vet.
Eventually TV producer Bill Sellars was able to talk the BBC into making the books as a television series starring Christopher Timothy as James Herriot. Ironically again the American's came to the rescue as the series could only be made with American finance - first from PBS and later from A&E. Whilst the series was popular in the UK it has been far more so in the USA where the series is still being screened. The series is still shown in Germany, Belgium and Holland. Please let me know of other countries.
We had a similar problem with the film of James Herriot's Yorkshire. I have produced nearly 20 films and TV productions. It is one of the smallest budgets that I have had to raise yet it proved the hardest to do.
Chris and I took on the rights to the book in the fall of 1988. I spoke to over 1,000 broadcasters, venture capitalists, financiers and video distributors but to no avail. Even when extensive market research proved very positive I was still unable to convince anyone. Those that showed some interest rejected it saying that the most travel videos would sell is 5,000 copies making it financially a non-viable venture. Where this figure came from I do not know but 9 companies quoted it to me over 5 years.
We eventually found the money. Chris and I put up £15,000 each and worked on the project for over a year for no fee. The rest of the finance was provided by Tony Lewis, a veterinary surgeon from Stanmore, Middlesex. We filmed over 3 weeks in June, July and August 1993, spending most of our time chasing the sun as it seemed to rain most of the time.
James Herriot's Yorkshire - The Film, came out on video on 14 November 1993. One month later it had sold 22,000 copies. It has now become the most successful film made especially for the video market about the English countryside. Many of the companies who turned us down have now made travel videos but non of them have that extra special ingredient that our film has - James Herriot.
Just like the books this video has become hugely popular outside the UK. We have sold the video to USA, Canada, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Belgium and Ireland - all to people who want to know more about that small part of the world that is now called Herriot Country.
Copyright - David Nicholas Wilkinson 1996,
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