The Yorkshire Dales are one grand and beautiful office for Anna Madeley while she is filming All Creatures Great and Small, so she is pleased that she managed to see rather more of God’s Own Country while making the second series than she did while making the first. “It’s so lovely to film in the spring and the summer because, the first season, we were filming autumn through winter, and we actually did the Christmas episode at Christmas, but it meant you were leaving in the dark and coming home in the dark. This time, it was absolutely gorgeous – I was up listening to Farming Today on the radio.”
Like a Yorkshire farmer, then? “I think they have a slightly tougher life than I do,” she says.
Going back to the set of Skeldale House felt like going home. “I’ve got a new pantry which is huge with lots of pickled things,” she says. “It’s a brilliant set. The actors come in and sit down and want to have a cup of tea and a chat – it’s got that vibe. And it’s aged beautifully so nothing is pristine.”
And then there is Darrowby – that is, the beautiful Dales village of Grassington, dressed by the production team to look as it would in the 1930s. “You have those beautiful buildings, the cobblestones on the market, and you strip away a few modern things and it’s amazing how quickly it turns into a completely other world,” Anna says. “It becomes quieter. You take away the cars, have a horse and cart potter by, and a few sheep wander through… it really helps give that sense of what the pace of life was like. The little chores that would have been the daily trip for the milk, and that local community that you just step into in the square from the front door. It’s really lovely.
“The shops there are so supportive. The Stripey Badger keeps us in coffee. I learned quickly not to lean on the postbox – it’s not as sturdy as you think.”
Anna has enjoyed discovering Yorkshire both on set and off. “Brimham Rocks was my favourite little foray,” she says. “And going up to our lovely pub, the interior of the Drovers, is always great.” This is the Green Dragon, in real life, by Hardraw Force waterfalls, near Hawes.
Series two sees Anna, as Mrs Hall, roaming with Jess the dog. “I had a wonderful time with Jess in Skipton when we were out walking and we had beautiful views across the Dales,” she says. “You could see all the way down to the canal. Mrs Hall is out walking and Jess is super-strong. She pulled me down the hill at speed, but she then pulled me back up the hill, which was incredibly helpful.”
During a break in filming, Anna’s partner and two children were able to come up from London for a holiday. She says: “We went exploring together, and that was one of the lovely things at half term – lots of great places that you can take the kids. Yorkshire has got so much to offer. I was asking the crew because lots of them have family, and I ended up with this enormous list.”
The Yorkshire Dales is an integral aspect not just of the visual success of All Creatures Great and Small, but also of its storylines. The recently released teaser trailer opens with James declaring: “You forget how beautiful this place is.” But series two will begin with him back home in Glasgow. Writer Ben Vanstone says: “We wanted to make sure that James’s choice was about more than just his relationship with Helen. It’s also a love story between him and the Dales.”
One key difference between the Channel 5 Playground adaptation and the 1970s BBC series is the depiction of Anna’s character, Skeldale housekeeper Mrs Hall, as a strong, complex and rather younger woman. Ben says: “Both Mrs Hall and Helen are women of their time but who are perhaps more forward looking and progressive than many of their contemporaries of that era.”
Anna had no qualms about taking on the role. “It is quite an interesting period of life to see her through, having left her marital home and having a kind of independence living at Skeldale House,” she says, adding that 1937 was when the divorce laws changed. “She is an active part of that community, not just tucked away in the house, so I really enjoyed that fresh take on her.”
There might be romance on the cards for Mrs Hall, too, with the introduction of a new character called Gerald. “We’ll see,” Anna says. “It’s a friendship that grows. It’s quite a door to open for Mrs Hall. She is still married, technically, and also thinking about what does she actually want.”
And then there is Mrs Hall’s intriguing relationship with Siegfried. Anna says: “It’s an interesting mixture, the intimacy of a friendship, but they are also work colleagues, employer-employee, and they live in the same house. You have to be really respectful of that relationship, because it has all those facets to it.”
When it comes to the relationship between James and Helen, Helen’s sister Jenny, played by Harrogate schoolgirl Imogen Clawson, might have to help romance along, assisted by new dog Scruff.
Nicholas Ralph, who plays James, says: “It’s a really lovely relationship. Jenny has a keen interest in the animals and that side of things and James is more than happy to teach her. Imogen is brilliant – it was her first job as well as being my first TV job and she’s a joy to work with.”
Anyone who has seen the trailer will already know that Patricia Hodge makes a brilliant and hilarious debut as Mrs Pumphrey, taking over from Diana Rigg, who sadly died after filming series one. Mrs Hall’s wardrobe is not as glamorous as Mrs Pumphrey’s, of course. Anna laughs. “Do you not like my cardigans?” she asks. “She does that funny mixture of jobs, having to be a bit smart to let people in, but also she’s got her overalls. But we do see a few summer items come out.”
It is testament to Anna’s versatility as an actor that she has been much in demand for less gentle and picturesque TV drama than All Creatures, with recent roles in the BBC’s Time, alongside Sean Bean, in Channel 4’s Deadwater Fell, with David Tennant, and in the acclaimed Patrick Melrose with Benedict Cumberbatch. “I love having that variety,” she says.
And All Creatures offers a rich mixture too, she says. “It is able to dip into being funny or take a slightly heavier storyline because those things are part of life, of what a community deals with.”
Ben Vanstone agrees: “I think the success of the show has far more to do with the fact that it portrays more relatable human experience. Hard-working people, trying to find ways to get through life, where small and simple acts of kindness have huge significance.
“This has never been more true in the difficult times we’ve all experienced lately and maybe there is a desire for a more gentle form of storytelling alongside the high-octane fare that dominates a lot of the various platforms.”
All Creatures Great and Small returns to Channel 5 on Thursday at 9pm. The Darrowby vets’ home and surgery will be the subject of a new book, The World of All Creatures Great & Small: Welcome to Skeldale House, released later this year.