How the new All Creatures Great and Small TV series does justice to James Herriot original – Sarah Todd

THERE was a little girl with bright orange curls who used to spend the whole week looking forward to watching All Creatures Great and Small.

Those Sunday evenings glued to a television, you had to actually get up to change channels (remote control is responsible for many an obese backside) were so halcyon that it felt like a betrayal to even consider watching the latest adaptation of the James Herriot books.

Yet the pull proved too much and somebody a couple of years off 50, with those vibrant curls toned down by time, sat down and cursed The Husband for not having got the fire lit.

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There is undoubtedly a cracking team at Channel 5 and one of the top brass must surely have a white rose county connection. After all, they’ve brought us such gems as the Yorkshire Shepherdess’s Our Yorkshire Farm and the Herriot-inspired The Yorkshire Vet.

The new All Creatures Great and Small cast on Channel 5 have been widely acclaimed.

Nobody has criticised the BBC more than this correspondent. One-sided coverage of Brexit, the General Election, Covid-19 and a long-running distaste for many of the viewpoints aired on Countryfile.

However, Tuesday night’s programme was a reminder how special it is to watch something that is not interrupted by an avalanche of commercial breaks.

It probably, on reflection, makes the licence fee ‘on the other side’ (as my late grandmother would have said) worth paying. If there had been an option to pay £5 not to have any adverts – providing the technology to do so wasn’t too difficult to understand – this viewer would have gladly done so.

Robert Hardy was so wonderful at playing the original Siegfried Farnon. The voice, the gravitas; he just had ‘it’ in spades. Not a big fan of beards, but
I have to admit that Samuel West’s effort as the eccentric vet at the helm of the Skeldale Veterinary Practice was not in vain.

This is actor Nichola Ralph arriving in Yorkshire to play James Herriot in the new series of All Creatures Great and Small.

Thank heavens, in our woke world, he was allowed to light up his pipe and encourage the dangerous driving of a car with no brakes. Looking at his backstory, of course he has some pedigree. He’s the son of theatrical royalty, Timothy West and Prunella Scales. While Anna Madeley initially seemed too young to be playing the housekeeper Mrs Hall, hers was a standout performance.

Of course, poor fresh-from-drama-school Nicholas Ralph has a hill as steep as any in Darrowby – Grassington in real life – to climb. He was a bit wet, a townie and there was a lot more stroking of animals than stripping off and getting on with the job. But to be fair, that’s exactly how Christopher Timothy arrived as the fresh-faced young ‘vet’nary’ in the original series.

We grew to think of him as one of us over time. Alf Wight, the author and the vet behind James Herriot, was from the middle of Glasgow and he would probably have appeared to locals as a bit gormless for want of a better word.

There will be the young vet’s burgeoning relationship with farmer’s daughter Helen to enjoy in forthcoming episodes. Can readers remember how the Seigfried of old used to pronounce it with an i rather than an e – “Helin” – or is it only this viewer who remembers this? The actor set to play the role of Tristan Farnon has a lot to live up to. Peter Davison’s rakish portrayal set many a heart a flutter.

Siegfried Farnon is played by Samuel West in the new All Creatures Great and Small.

It will be wonderful autumnal night whimsy to become reacquainted with the other characters from Alf Wight’s James Herriot books. Dame Diana Rigg will, of course, give both barrels as Mrs Pumphrey, the doting owner of the pampered pooch Tricky Woo.

Let’s hope this adaptation doesn’t steer away from the rougher rural diamonds that made the original show shine so brightly. Our farming family’s favourite was Jeff Mallock, the local knacker man. His truck turning down a farm lane to collect the latest casualty (dead animal) always signalled an entertaining scene. Farming used to be full of characters 
like this and let’s hope political correctness doesn’t see them toned down in any way.

All too soon the closing credits played and joy of joys; we got the original theme tune. But oh no, rather than appreciating the piano score in all its 1970s hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck glory, we had some clot of an announcer speaking over it.

Speaking of clots; what is it with clotted cream ice-cream from Cornwall sponsoring programmes made in Yorkshire? Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a softer or tastier ice-cream on the market. But really? Surely a more fitting partner would be Yorkshire Tea, Seabrook Crisps, Henderson’s Relish; all iconic products made in Yorkshire.

James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) and Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton) in the new All Creatures series.

Now hang on, here’s an idea. Let’s all chip some money in and get The Yorkshire Post up there as the sponsor. Something makes me think Mrs Pumphrey would have taken The Times, but all the others would have been checking the weather, births, deaths and the livestock market reports in Yorkshire’s national newspaper...

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.

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