Tony Earnshaw: Why a classic Dales tale should be saved from a US makeover

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So the American television behemoth that is HBO is considering a remake of All Creatures Great and Small. Apparently Steven Seagal is to play Siegfried Farnon and Chuck Norris will be James Herriot. Eddie Murphy will be younger brother Tristan.

Okay, so I made that bit up.

But the notion of something like HBO – purveyor of such disparate fare as True Detective and Game of Thrones – putting its money and muscle behind such a quintessentially British – nay, Yorkshire – story has got my knee diddling in nervousness. Industry insiders claim HBO has acquired the rights to the show on the back of the overwhelming Stateside response to period dramas such as Downton Abbey. And apparently the mooted reboot will sex up Herriot’s tales of veterinary life in the Dales. “There are some great ideas being thrown around,” is one worrying quote that has been conveniently leaked from the production.

The best that could happen is that the stories are transplanted to 1930s America. Think The Waltons. The worst is that Darrowby is recreated somewhere on a studio backlot with a wholly miscast ensemble. And made sexier. Think any number of overcooked turkeys… I’m reminded of Samuel Goldwyn’s legendary take on Wuthering Heights, starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier. Not a foot of film was exposed in Yorkshire. Instead the moors were recreated in California’s Conejo Valley, with fake heather painted purple (in a black-and-white film).

Yet the Oberon/Olivier version is still acclaimed as a classic. Beauty, clearly, is in the eyes of the beholders. And with HBO on board All Creatures Great and Small will be geared towards an American audience. The notion of a big bucks American production hijacking what was a modest BBC show gives rise to all sorts of strange visions.

Casting is of primary concern: the Beeb got it right with Robert Hardy, Christopher Timothy and Peter Davison. Would HBO go with English stars or, if the stories were adapted for an American backdrop, would they feature appropriately selected acting talent?

And what about the accents? Cut-glass British straight out of Buck House or Downing Street, or quasi regional (read “generic”) to give a sense of Yorkshire – but not thick-as-a-brick like Billy Casper in Kes, which was apparently subtitled for bemused US audiences?

The biggest question of all relates to the image of a grown man with his hand – sorry, his arm – deep inside a cow’s rear. We’ve all heard the stories of stars and their stunt doubles. Some stars even demand bum or breast doubles, such are their contracts. Who is brave enough to be filmed in such a situation? Or could it be faked to everyone’s relief? Faux cow, real actor? Or real cow, faux actor? It’s become an integral part of Herriot lore. The audience would demand it. And CGI – or Cow G I – simply wouldn’t do…