I’ve been spending time lately watching the All Creatures Great and Small Complete Series Collection that I recently purchased (28 disks worth) and am enjoying them all immensely. Again. The characters, from Seigfried and James to Tristan, Helen and Mrs Pumphrey and her Pekinese, Tricki Woo, are all a delight to revisit and to pass time with. The Yorkshire farmers the vets encounter during the course of their practice are real characters, at times funny, at others infuriating, but always entertaining.
The television series was based on the books by British veterinarian Alf Wight, who wrote under the pseudonym of James Herriot and is set in the fictional Yorkshire town of Darrowby, where the vets practice at Skeldale House surgery.
At the head of the practice is Siegfried Farnon, played by Robert Hardy (Sense and Sensibility) whose contrary nature and huge heart both often cause consternation for all concerned. Working alongside him is the younger James Herriot, who moves from Scotland to Yorkshire in order to join the practice.
Siegfried’s younger brotherTristan muddles his way through veterinary school and eventually graduates, working sometimes at the practice, at other times for the Department of Agriculture. What Tristan is always most serious about are girls and beer. He is generally acknowledged as being the best customer at the local pub, the Drover’s Inn. “I wouldn’t treat a mad dog the way he treats his liver,” mutters Siegfried. Never taking life too seriously, Tristan also has the habit of answering the practice telephone in a Chinese accent. Occasionally, those phone calls will necessitate his actually having to trudge out, often at night, in order to do vet-like things, which always elicits a grumble – i.e. “I know all about that ruddy pig; it’s a killer! It’s also pitch dark. What am I supposed to do, hold a torch in one hand and a lancet in the other while it disembowels me?”
James is the steady partner, the one who takes on morning surgeries in place of a hungover Tristan, the man who can be relied upon for good judgment and a mature attitude. Unless, he’s anywhere near Granville Bennett, a nearby veterinary surgeon with whom they occasionally work. Granville has a wooden leg when it comes to liquor and, more disastrously, the power to persuade James into drinking more than his fill, despite James’s good intentions. Helen, James’s patient and long suffering wife, is always on hand to offer sustenance, as well as a few well deserved barbed comments.
All Creatures Great and Small is filled with gentle humour, appealing characters, the Yorkshire dales and some of the best photography of it’s time – people were astounded at how realistic the scenes involving veterinary treatments and live animal births were made to seem.
This past December, BBC announced that it will begin production on Young James, a prequel drama inspired by the true story of how the world’s most famous vet, “James Herriot” came to learn his trade in Scotland. Drawing on an amazing archive and exclusive access to the diaries and case notes Herriot kept during his student days in Glasgow, as well as the biography written by his son.
Cast of the original, television series
James Herriot — Christopher Timothy
Siegfried Farnon — Robert Hardy
Tristan Farnon — Peter Davison (series 1-5, 7)
Helen Herriot — Carol Drinkwater (series 1-3 and specials)
and Lynda Bellingham (series 4-7)
Mrs Pumphrey — Margaretta Scott (recurring)
Visit The World of James Herriot Museum website here.