A will-they-won’t-they storyline, plenty of cute and funny animals, and the stunning Yorkshire Dales as the backdrop; it’s no surprise All Creatures Great and Small has been a hit.
Channel 5’s remake of the timeless classic, which is based on the memoirs of vet Alf Wight, who wrote under the pseudonym James Herriot, first aired last autumn.
The second series of this new adaptation – it was first made into a TV show by the BBC back in the Seventies, starring Christopher Timothy in the lead role – is set three months later, and sees James (played by Scotsman Nicholas Ralph) heading on a trip home to Glasgow, to help out his old mentor at his forward-thinking practice. But his heart isn’t fully in it because back in the Dales is Helen Alderson (played by Rachel Shenton) who he has complicated feelings for.
Ralph explains there’s been no real interaction between James and Helen, who has been keeping a low profile since deciding to leave Hugh Hulton at the altar. But James is still hopeful he’s in with a chance…
So, what else is in store in the six new episodes? Here, we find out more from Ralph, and his co-star Callum Woodhouse.
No-one was more aware of the huge anticipation surrounding this new retelling of All Creatures Great and Small than the cast.
Durham-born Woodhouse, who plays young vet Tristan Farnon, recalls of series one: “We were filming on farms out in the middle of nowhere, and we got a lot of people coming over and being like, ‘What is it you’re filming?’ It was like, ‘We’re doing the remake of all creatures’, and the response every time was, ‘Don’t mess it up!’ And I’ve cleaned the language up there as well – it was a little ruder than that.”
“It’s been really nice how people have responded to it,” continues the 27-year-old actor, who’s also known for ITV drama The Durrells. “I remember walking down the street in London, and I was passed by this dad and his two boys, maybe 12 and eight, and they just went, ‘Tristan!’ It was just so sweet.”
In September last year, the brilliant Dame Diana Rigg, who played Mrs Pumphrey in the first series, sadly passed away at the age of 82. Taking on the role of the wealthy and eccentric lady for series two is Miranda star Patricia Hodge, 74.
“She was so good from day one,” Ralph – who was a relative newcomer before landing the role of James – says of Hodge. “She just made it completely her own character, which I think you have to do. And her relationship with Derek [who plays her dog, Tricki Woo] is just great – she was almost like a puppeteer. I saw her working with Derek, and I was struggling to keep it together in the scenes, it was so much fun.”
Meanwhile, we can expect to see the main characters changing and going on quite the journey this year.
Tristan, for example, does a lot of growing up throughout the new episodes, even if he starts off acting quite lazy still.
“He still doesn’t want to do any work,” quips Woodhouse. “He just wants to be skiving off and eating Mrs Hall’s breakfast. He starts to take on a bit more responsibility across the course of this series. We see more growth in Tristan than we did in series one, just in his approach to work.”
As for James, what Ralph really liked about the scripts for this second series is that “he grows into himself”.
“He’s a lot more confident, personally and professionally; he’s now a senior vet with Siegfried.”
Ralph promises “there are a lot more animals this time – a lot more procedures”.
The new series kicks off with one of his favourite storylines, involving a “gorgeous” and “lively” little cocker spaniel called Scruff, played by Bobbi.
“It’s Jenny’s – Helen’s little sister – dog, and she has quite a keen interest in the animals, and maybe even veterinary things as years go on. She’s having a little bit of trouble with her dog, so James tries to teach her whilst teaching Scruff as well how to behave around farm animals. He’s up against it a little bit – and of course, he hasn’t really seen Helen, and then all of a sudden he’s taking an interest in this dog and helping out Jenny…”
As previously mentioned, fan favourite Tricki Woo is back too – and in a big way.
“I love working with that little dog,” enthuses Woodhouse. “He’s so sweet. I have adlibs whenever I’m in a scene with Derek because I just want to get him and stroke him. In an early edit that I’ve seen in one of the episodes, my stupid dog voice that I do has made it into the show.”
Asked if anything ever went wrong with the animals on set, Woodhouse remembers a scene he had with this series where he “was at the business end”.
“During a take, wee shot out onto my neck, and then dribbled down my body, and I heard the director behind me start laughing. I just carried on saying my lines, and then they shouted ‘cut’, and as I was standing up, it then pooed all over my hand! I had to go for a costume change and then we did the scene again.”
Peter Davison, who played Tristan in the original series, has previously discussed how real animals were used on set all the time. But Woodhouse notes how the times have changed, and now they also use amazing prosthetics, made by a woman who makes corpses for shows like Unforgotten.
“One of the conversations, before we started series one, was that the rules for working with animals have changed completely, very recently, and we want to set the new standard of how you work with animals. And I really think we’ve done that.”
He adds passionately: “The way that these animals are trained by the animal handlers that we have… They are the real stars of the show, I’ve got to say. They’re absolutely incredible.”
All Creatures Great and Small will return to Channel 5 on Thursday, September 16.