All Creatures Great And Small (1978 – 1990 Britain)

acgasJames Herriot came to Yorkshire as a young vet looking for his first job, and despite being Scottish, made the place his own. This classic TV series is full of gorgeous countryside, cosy fireside chats, home cooking and warm nostalgia. It makes you yearn for the 1930s/40s; relaxing in the sitting room while Neville Chamberlain speaks through the wireless.

From the very first episode the three vets in the practise set up an excellent rapport, with the kind-hearted James, (a quietly sincere Christopher Timothy) the gruff Siegfried (Robert Hardy – an actor who can best be described as Wagnerian!), and the bumbling Tristan ( the ever awkward Peter Davison). The first series has some odd stilted sections, as a result of a real-life accident that the lead actor suffered and which often isn’t covered up very well. But the stories start as they mean to go on with wise but bluff Yorkshire farmers and their sick cattle along with eccentric pet owners. Yes, many of the bit-parts are stereotypes, but the warm comedy mixed with gentle drama means they work well. And the inevitable on screen arm-length rubber glove sequences help to restore a feeling of reality.

As season 2 and 3 progress the repeat characters gradually gather a life of their own, and along with the domestic problems for James back home it comes over as a series that could run effortlessly forever. But it didn’t, and when revived a few years later there were big and not altogether successful changes. Lynda Bellingham takes over as the wife and she does a reasonable job, but still not as effective as the more natural Carol Drinkwater. Then there was the death of Mary Hignett, who had played the housekeeper, Mrs Hall, so well. But the big problem was that all the stories in the original novels had been filmed and the new stories drifted away from the style of the early series.

This is perhaps understandable. The original tales were touched with authenticity and it was easy to imagine that they really had happened to a vet in the 1930s. With the writers having to rely on their imaginations, it was inevitable they wouldn’t be able to dream up interesting and believable veterinary emergencies or situations that relied on a ‘there’s nowt as queer as folk’ aspect. For many, perhaps unfairly, the worst aspect was the new character of Calum, a young Scottish vet. I didn’t mind his character, but along with a more soap-orientated focus to the drama, the show gradually changes.

It’s still enjoyable, but it stops being a show about vets curing sick animals, who happen to have personal lives, and becomes a show about the personal lives of people who are vets. Towards the end of the run the new cast members leave and the show returns to its core personal. These later stories rekindle a show that was winding down, and so when it finally ends it bows out on a high. They really don’t make them like this any more! And an actor like Robert Hardy, who burns up the screen with his charismatic authority and fiery energy, just does not exist on British television these days.

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Comments

  1. “…the ever awkward Peter Davidson” LOL well said!

    Liked by 1 person

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