The Yorkshire Vet's Peter Wright talks 5 on the Farm festival and what James Herriot would make of rural life's popularity

Peter Wright is one of many big names appearing at 5 on the Farm festival this month. He tells John Blow what Alf Wight would make of all the fuss and why animals are so powerful.

Hosting a showcase of rural life in Yorkshire may not be the most novel move – there are plenty to choose from during the spring and summer seasons each year.

But the advent of 5 on the Farm, which will take place during the August Bank Holiday, perhaps signals something a bit different.

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With seven stages or areas and more than 25 live shows, it feels like rural affairs can now claim an extra quality: star power.

Peter Wright, star of The Yorkshire Vet who will appear at 5 on the Farm, near his home in Thirsk.

Cast members from Channel 5’s All Creatures Great and Small remake Nicholas Ralph, who plays vet James Herriot, and co-star Rachel Shenton, who plays Helen Alderson, will appear on the main stage at Cannon Hall in Barnsley.

Adventurer Ben Fogle, the ‘Yorkshire Shepherdess’ Amanda Owen, Cannon Hall Farm’s Nicholson brothers and stars of The Yorkshire Vet, Julian Norton and Peter Wright, are also among the names on the billing.

Wright doesn’t want to give too much away about his and Norton's performance, The Yorkshire Vet Live: It Shouldn’t Happen to a Yorkshire Vet, other than to say he’ll be getting out of his comfort zone.

It’s perfectly logical to him, though, that there is such an appetite for the event between August 28 to 30 and the shows Channel 5 has delivered in the region.

Helen Alderson (played by Rachel Shenton) and James Herriot (played by Nicholas Ralph) in Channel 5's All Creatures Great and Small. Credit: Playground Television (UK) Ltd.

“I think Yorkshire sells itself without me promoting it, but at the same time we have so much to offer in Yorkshire,” he says.

“Well, to me, Yorkshire’s got everything.

“We’ve got the diversity, we’ve got the cultural diversity, we’ve got the fantastic countryside, we’ve got brilliant food.

“But above all else, I’ve got to say, it’s the people.

“The people make Yorkshire what it is. And I think when you throw all those factors into the mix, I think that’s why Yorkshire is so popular. And Channel 5 has tapped into this, and they’re showcasing Yorkshire because there’s just so much to see and do.”

What would his old mentor, veterinary surgeon Alf Wight – pen name James Herriot, the author of the All Creatures Great and Small books that became a film and TV shows – make of all the fuss about rural Yorkshire?

It is more than 26 years since he died in 1995 but programmes such as The Yorkshire Vet and All Creatures... remake have given a boost to The World of James Herriot attraction at his former surgery in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.

A massive three-day festival dedicated to stars of the small screen who are celebrated for their countryside credentials is something else entirely though.

“I think Alf Wight would have a smile on his face,” chuckles Wright, “because he came here in 1940 and fell in love with Yorkshire.

“He wasn’t from Yorkshire originally but he fell in love with it. And he recognised, going back to those very early days, what Yorkshire had to offer.

“Look at his books. Yes, it’s about the countryside and treating animals, but it’s also about the people, the characters.

“The warmth that the Yorkshire people have for each other and for visitors is still there and I think he would recognise that, and he would approve wholeheartedly of what’s happening.”

The festival will be a huge celebration of the countryside and its growing popularity in a way that could not be seen for some time until the recent lifting of coronavirus restrictions.

But Wright believes that people have actually become more in touch with nature and the animal kingdom during the lockdowns.

“People have become much more aware and tuned in to what the natural world has to offer and particularly animals, when we look at the number of people that have taken puppies in and new kittens in and embraced the animal world during lockdown. And I think a lot of people have taken a great deal of comfort from not only the natural world coming into their sitting room through the TV but also animals in particular, that they can bond with.

“I’ve often said, in our lives we must never underestimate the power that animals have over us, and what they do for us, and how they enrich our life.”

He has recently been working on a programme, due out in the autumn he says, about the effects of discarded litter on wildlife. It’s clearly an area Wright is passionate about.

“People throw their rubbish down inadvertently, but they don’t realise what damage it’s doing to our countryside, to our oceans, to our rivers.

“I’ve seen some pretty horrific pictures of animals... Seals that have been treated whereby someone’s been playing with a Frisbee on a beach and the seal’s found it – and they’re very inquisitive creatures – they’ve had it stuck over their neck, which they can’t get off, so it grows into the skin, into the tissues around the neck.

“Without rescuers seeing these animals and rescuing them, they would just die.

“Plastic bags, which we are trying to get on top of, animals are eating these and dying from it. From causing blockages in the stomach.

“Then we have all the microplastics that are making their way into our oceans from cosmetics. And we’ve all the bottom-feeders, the molluscs, the prawns. We’re finding microplastics in them,” he says.

“We need to drastically look at our lifestyles, take our litter home with us and not endanger the wonderful wildlife creatures that are sadly suffering as a result of our carelessness.”

His own profession has changed dramatically since Alf Wight’s days, but Wright, 64, who is married to Lin, believes the personal touch is essential.

“It is changing and it’s becoming much more technical, as technology moves on, and the practices can do more and more. We’re in practices now that have their own MRI scanners.

Obviously, it goes without saying, we have X-rays, blood samples you can do in-house. And it’s moving more now towards hospital-type facilities for a lot of what I would have called general mixed practices in the past.

“And that technology is going to continue unabated, in what we can offer for the treatment of animals that we wouldn’t have been able to treat successfully in the past. And it’s sort of shadowing what’s happening in human medicine.

“But I often say this: yes we have all the technology and advances that we’ve got in veterinary medicine. [But] we must never, ever lose sight of the Herriot ethos. And that it is a caring profession, and it’s a personal service that we’re giving,” he says.

“I don’t want our profession to lose sight of that fact, that we’ve still got to have the care and compassion that we need in looking after our patients, alongside the technology.”

It’s a fitting enough professional philosophy from a man who knows the value of Yorkshire’s personality.

For more information about the festival and ticket options, www.5onthefarm.com.

Line-up details

All Creatures Great and Small’s Rachel Shenton and Nicholas Ralph were confirmed on the full line-up for 5 on the Farm and will be talking about the making of the show.

Ben Fogle will perform his Tales From The Wilderness show, Julian Norton and Peter Wright will deliver The Yorkshire Vet Live: It Shouldn’t Happen to a Yorkshire Vet and Adam Henson will also conduct a talk, My Life on the Land.

West Yorkshire’s Karen Wright, who is known for being on The Great British Bake Off, will be joining cooks on The Kitchen stage including This Week on the Farm’s resident TV chef Tim Bilton, blogger Rebecca Wilson and Richard Nicholson.

Helen Skelton and Jules Hudson will host the festival and appear in live events.