STARS of hit drama series All Creatures Great and Small reunited amid emotional scenes to mark the centenary of James Herriot author Alf Wight’s birth, as a dramatic announcement was made that looks set to secure the future of one of the region's leading tourist attractions.

Christopher Timothy, who played the County Durham-born vet in the TV show which averaged more than 17 million viewers, paid tribute to work that had led The World Of James Herriot, in Thirsk, being named the country's best small attraction, after the centre's owners revealed it would be gifted to the community.

In a surprise move following brief discussions, Hambleton District Council leader Mark Robson told the 350 people at the event, including acclaimed soprano Lesley Garrett, TV vet Julian Norton, former Sunderland AFC chairman Sir Bob Murray and Mr Wight's children Rosie and Jim, the authority would in the coming months work towards handing over the deeds to the extensive site.

Councillor Robson said: "As a mark of respect for Alf Wight and the 100 years he would have been this month, subject to members' approval, his surgery which has become The World Of James Herriot will be transferred as an asset for the benefit of the community."

The museum's managing director Ian Ashton said: "This would appear to be a very positive step towards preserving what is regarded as the jewel in the crown of tourist attractions in this part of the North for the long-term.

"It is worth an awful lot of money to Hambleton and the region as a whole."

It is understood transferring its ownership will give the museum, which draws 30,000 visitors from around the world annually and is regarded as the lynchpin for hundreds of businesses across a vast area, the financial ability to significantly expand.

The move will cement a remarkable turnaround in the attraction's fortunes, which Mr Timothy told the audience was nearing closure in 2012, before businessman Mr Ashton took over its management from the council and oversaw a 50 per cent increase in visitors.

The 100th anniversary event at Tennants Auction Rooms in Leyburn saw the leading cast members of the TV series, which was filmed between 1978 and 1990, joyfully embrace each other on the red carpet in front of fans who had travelled to the ceremony from as far as Australia, Japan and the US.

Lesley Garrett performed two sets for the event, including a Durham folk song to mark Mr Wight's passion for the region and that he was a life president of Sunderland AFC, where a Stadium of Light suite is named after the author who died in 1995 aged 78.

His daughter, Rosie Page, told the ceremony her father would have been "bemused and astonished as he always was at the fuss being made about what he often referred to as his little cat and dog stories".

She said: "He helped put Yorkshire on the map, boosted the tourism industry immensely and also inspired a generation of youngsters to join the veterinary profession, but much more importantly, his books were uplifting, he had a gift with words that brought his readers into his stories.

"James Herriot gave great joy to millions of people worldwide and continues to do so, that is why I think we are celebrating."

Mr Wight's son, Jim, a retired vet, added: "I saw American tourists come up and shake him by the hand and spontaneously burst into tears. We used to stand and gawp at this.

"The other side of the coin was that nobody said anything around his home town. My dad said 'the farmers don't read my books, they're too busy'. But one did. A man came up to him one day and said 'I've read one of them books Mr Wight', My father replied 'did you like it?' and the man replied 'aye, it's all about nowt'."