ACTOR Christopher Timothy was standing in a beck near the Yorkshire Dales village of Reeth wearing a women's plastic hat, to protect his recently dyed hair.

As he waited for the All Creatures Great and Small crew to start filming, a hand landed on his shoulder and he heard the words: "I am your alter ego."

It was his first encounter with publicity-shy Thirsk-based vet and author Alf Wight, who he had spent months pursuing in a bid to develop the character of North Yorkshire vet James Herriot.

Standing alongside the novelist's children, Jim Wight and Rosie Page, Mr Timothy gasped as a £60,000 bronze statue of the author in Wellington boots, holding a dog, was unveiled at Thirsk Racecourse.

He said he was stunned by how sculptor Sean Hedges Quinn, who has previously immortalised Dad's Army's Captain Mainwaring and North-East footballing legends Sir Bobby Robson and Bob Stokoe, had managed to capture the likeness and personality of Mr Wight, who died in 1995.

Mr Timothy said: "I think Alf would have been touched, but ultimately he would have been horrified, he certainly wasn't a self-publicist, he hated all the attention."

Retired vet Jim Wight said for that reason, he and his sister had been reticent about the idea of having a statue made, but changed their minds on seeing the completed artwork.

He said: "When I saw the statue, I nearly jumped out of my skin.

"I expected his head to move like the bronze in Jason and the Argonauts and for him to say 'Jim, there are 40 bulls that need castrating'."

Mrs Page added: "I think it's as good as we could possibly have hoped for."

The statue, which will be placed in the garden at the World of James Herriot, the vet's home and surgery in Kirkgate, Thirsk, next year, to mark the 75th anniversary of Mr Wight's arrival in the town.

Attending the unveiling, Welcome to Yorkshire boss Gary Verity said the author's economic and literary legacy placed him among North Yorkshire's greatest residents.

Also attending the event was former Scotland and Birmingham City goalkeeper Jim Herriot, 74, who the author had named the fictional vet after.

Ian Ashton, the museum's managing director, said the unveiling had marked the climax of an appeal to recognise Mr Wight's achievements with the statue and to provide bursaries for people wishing to embark on a career concerning the welfare of animals, for whom the James Herriot stories may have been an inspiration.

The fundraising drive had been triggered after devoted fan Thomas Blinks, of East Sussex, left the museum a £25,000 bequest.

Ahead of the unveiling, dinner and auction, the fund had reached £30,000.

The initial aim is to double this figure to £60,000, which would allow the first bursaries to be allocated.