Yorkshire Vet star Peter Wright shares his thoughts on casting of popular Channel 5 series All Creatures Great and Small starring Nicholas Ralph, Samuel West and Rachel Shenton based on personal encounters with James Herriot and Donald Sinclair

The Yorkshire Vet star has shared his views on the casting of All Creatures Great and Small based on his personal experiences with Yorkshire vets James Herriot and Donald Sinclair.

Peter Wright has been following the Channel 5 series All Creatures Great and Small since it first aired in 2020, initially with some apprehensiveness. The huge success of the 1978 TV adaptation of Alf Wight’s books, who went by the pen name James Herriot, set the bar very high.

His close encounters and friendships with Herriot himself - as well as his wife Joan and his colleague Donald Sinclair - added an extra layer to his suspicions.

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One of Peter’s first experiences working in a veterinary practice was during his school days in the 1970s where he was regularly mentored and taught by Herriot and Sinclair.

Peter with statue of Alf Wight. (Pic credit: Peter Wright)Peter with statue of Alf Wight. (Pic credit: Peter Wright)
Peter with statue of Alf Wight. (Pic credit: Peter Wright)

Peter would work with Herriot when he was a veterinary student from 1976 to 1981, when he graduated, and again in 1982.

His first impression of Herriot was his passion for his job as a vet and how humble he was even with all the fame and millions of his books sold.

“He was just a vet. He always considered himself as 95 per cent vet and 5 per cent author, even when he was internationally famous and selling millions of books,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

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“I used to go down from [Thirsk School] initially. I was very fortunate to have a good education.

Peter Wright with ACGAS stars Nicholas Ralph (James Herriot) and Rachel Shenton (Helen).Peter Wright with ACGAS stars Nicholas Ralph (James Herriot) and Rachel Shenton (Helen).
Peter Wright with ACGAS stars Nicholas Ralph (James Herriot) and Rachel Shenton (Helen).

“I suppose I saw all the Herriot mania develop; he’d written a couple of books in the early seventies and people were starting to talk about him and then there were the feature films in 1975 and 1976 and things were gathering pace.

“What created massive widespread fame was the introduction of the [original] TV series All Creatures Great and Small, not just in this country but in the United States and across the world.

“But he always shied away from the media. He wasn’t interested in the media and was never a person either as a veterinary student or as a veterinary surgeon to ram information down your throat, but if you asked him for advice he was always there with a little snippet of wisdom. That’s what was so endearing to me, he was always there.

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“One day I was down in the dumps, one of my patients had died unexpectedly, and he asked me what was wrong and I told him. He said: “Did you do your best?” I said yes I did, I did my best. He said: “Look, whatever cases you have in life, if you’ve done your best for them you can do no more.”

Peter with Stonker the raisin thief. (Pic credit: Daisybeck Studios / Channel 5)Peter with Stonker the raisin thief. (Pic credit: Daisybeck Studios / Channel 5)
Peter with Stonker the raisin thief. (Pic credit: Daisybeck Studios / Channel 5)

“It was little things like that which have stuck in my mind ever since. Do your best. Certainly, with young graduates who have worked for me over the years, I’ve passed that information onto them. Look, as long as you’ve done your best, you can’t do any more. He was such a lovely man to work for.”

Peter Wright has also worked closely with Donald Sinclair, known as Siegfried in the books and series.

“Donald was also a massively experienced veterinary surgeon when I went to work there,” Peter said.

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“Yes he was a character, he was quite an eccentric character, but he was also a very humble man and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him and learning from him as well.”

Peter with a Valais Blacknose lamb. (Pic credit: Peter Wright)Peter with a Valais Blacknose lamb. (Pic credit: Peter Wright)
Peter with a Valais Blacknose lamb. (Pic credit: Peter Wright)

And so, since its inception, Peter has been diligently watching the Channel 5 series of the show.

The 2020 TV series All Creatures Great and Small cast Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot, Rachel Shenton as Herriot’s wife Helen, and Samuel West who portrays Siegfried.

“I do watch it. I suppose I started to watch it with some trepidation that the first series was such a huge success in the late seventies,” he said.

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“It’s hard to think now with viewing figures we get nowadays but in those days All Creatures Great and Small was getting 18+ million views. 18+ million viewers were watching it every Sunday night and that says a lot about the popularity of it. So when [the remake was aired] I thought it was [going to be] a hard act to follow.

“But I’ve got to say, it speaks to a wider generation now. When the remake came out, obviously there had to be changes.

“Taking into account the change in viewers' expectations, I was watching the main characters very closely; I think they’ve picked the main characters so well.

“When I look at [Samuel West as] Siegfried - what a lovely man! I had the pleasure of meeting him; he was in his Siegfried 1940s outfit and it was like standing in front of Donald Sinclair himself.

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“I’ve said that to Sam, I couldn’t have given him a higher accolade than that because he never had the opportunity to meet Donald Sinclair and see first hand his mannerisms.

“When I look at Nicholas Ralph, who plays James Herriot, Nick didn’t have the opportunity to meet Alf Wight and Alf Wight is, I think in some ways, more difficult to portray because he wasn’t the eccentric character that Siegfried was.

“Nick has his soft Scottish accent, which Alf Wight also had because he was brought up from a very early age in Glasgow. Alf Wight always maintained a very soft Glaswegian accent and Nick has that.

“He also has the personality of Alf Wight; a very gentle man, very quiet as Alf was and so I think they’ve got the casting spot on.

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“As they have with Helen as well, Helen is a lovely person. Rachel Shenton portrays her very well, again she never got a chance to meet Alf Wight’s wife Joan but I think she has done very well.

“I think there has been some poetic licence in how the series is played out because Joan Wight wasn’t brought up on the farm and possibly there has been a little bit of divergence from the original books but I think with the modern audiences we have now, it had to happen.

“I would like people who are interested in The Yorkshire Vet and All Creatures Great and Small to watch their television sets very closely in December. I can’t say any more than that but there is something there that will appeal.”

Peter talks about the nature of the show and reasons it appeals to a wide audience.

“It is wholesome,” he said.

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“Going back to the earlier books, even the people who were described as nerdowells, it was all done in a very gentle way. There was no sex and violence or anything like that.

“The beauty of it is, and I’ve said this about The Yorkshire Vet as well on numerous occasions, it appeals to children of four years of age through to people in their nineties and I know that from the fan mail that I get. There are not many programmes that do that and that’s one of the great beauties of the two programmes, that they cater for all ages.

“You put the news on now and wherever you look it’s all doom and gloom; you get sick of hearing bad news after bad news, tragedies in the world, the environment and you think, gosh, how much more bad news.

“Then you put a programme on, such as All Creatures Great and Small and The Yorkshire Vet, and it takes people away from the doom and gloom that we have in the world and I think that’s one of the reasons why these programmes are so well-received.”

The Yorkshire Vet is on tonight (August 15) at 8pm on Channel 5.

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